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Thoughts & Jots: From Browns new coaching hires to the USFL to Josh Gordon

Some things on my mind in the universe of pro football 

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

1. Have you noticed the new coaches coming in with the Browns just recently? Each one will instantly improve the roster. I did a piece on new safety coach Ephraim Banta and I can tell you, our safety group will be more aggressive and accountable from this point on. No more taking plays off from John Johnson III or riding shoulder pads. I expect Grant Delpit to explode at a Pro Bowl level, and D’Anthony Bell to be discovered. I assume either a high-profile free agent safety will be signed and I expect fully one taken in the draft within the first four rounds.

Kansas City Chiefs v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Would love to see S Jessie Bates signed March 13 in free agency. That would absolutely blow the lid off this unit.


And former Browns’ special teams ace Bubba Ventrone now in house is equally exciting. He built the Indianapolis Colts’ ST unit into an elite level for several years so expect Cleveland to have a good return game and K Cade York to dust off the rookie tag and improve. Those were the most glaring issues last year with this group. Most likely RB Jerome Ford will not return kickoffs with the probability he will become Nick Chubb’s backup going forward. This means the Browns are now looking for one returner if KR Jakeem Grant doesn’t do both or isn’t ready for the season coming back from his knee injury.

2. The USFL charged $25 for tickets last year which came with three free passes for children. This year, individual game tickets are as low as $10. Plus, they offer discounted season ticket packages, and then Premium Club/Midfield season tickets in the $100 - $120 range. Which we all know is cheaper than cheap. The league has eight teams again, with Tampa moving to Memphis. However, they are only playing in four cities.

USFL Week Eight - Pittsburgh Maulers v New Jersey Generals Photo by Elsa/USFL/Getty Images

Each host city is then the home field for two teams. And one host city is Canton, Ohio which doesn’t even have a team (although playoffs and the championship will be held there again). My question is: why? Why not just place these clubs in their own city? How can they expect a fan base to grow from afar? Detroit, Canton, Birmingham, and Memphis do align as far as travel costs, but are they renting Greyhound buses instead of flying? Last year with all eight teams in the City of Birmingham, the contests with the home team drew well but was a ghost town with the other games. Okay, they wanted a hub “bubble” as their reason/excuse. But now? Doctor’s office employees don’t even wear masks. I just don’t get it.

3. Aaron Rodgers left his darkness retreat in Oregon yesterday where he spent four days in total darkness at a place called Sky Cave Retreats. Since there is an actual place that caters to this type of off-time, I guess it’s a real thing. Now, will everyone want to spend their vacations there? Before going, Rodgers was on the “Pat McAfee Show” and said that he was hoping to “have a better sense of where I’m at in my life” but not necessarily decide on his playing career this year nor the city in which he will play. I could have told him all he needed to know if he is that confused. He is a face-recognized Superstar quarterback who has more money than he can ever spend, has never been married, does not have any children, has been engaged/unengaged several times, lives in a $28 million 1,198 square feet ocean view mansion in Malibu in the off-season (paid cash).

Oh, and he also owns homes in Del Mar, California, Green Bay, and Scottsdale, Arizona. Rodgers is estranged from his younger brother Jordan Rodgers and in fact, did not attend his wedding to JoJo Fletcher from the show “The Bachelor” although he did get an invite. I guess Aaron just thought he could get all the intel from his issue of People Magazine. Every female relationship Rodgers has had became dissolved. Now he is sleeping in dark rooms – and paying to do so. Oh, and my guess at where he plays in 2023? Jets? Titans? Saints? Packers? Mark mine down as the Las Vegas Raiders. They love sideshows.

4. The Baltimore Ravens hired offensive guru Todd Monken away from the Georgia Bulldogs and now have hired another college coach in Willie Taggart as their RB coach. Taggart was supposed to be the savior when he landed the Florida State head coaching gig in 2018 but only lasted less than two seasons when numerous “For Sale” signs began sprouting up in his front yard. His first year the Seminoles finished 5-7-0, the first losing season for the program since Bobby Bowden’s maiden season in 1976. This also broke the longest active bowl appearance streak in college football when Florida State was snubbed. After a 4-5-0 start the following season, he was fired but received an $18 million buyout. When most folks get fired, they have the remainder of the day to collect their belongings until security escorts them to the parking lot.

5. Speaking of the Ravens, what will happen with Lamar Jackson? How odd is this situation? Looks to me like it will be yet another year in limbo. He supposedly had a Grade 2 PCL sprain and as he got healthy told the club he didn’t want to risk further damage to the knee. This is because he is protecting his impending mega-contract.

Denver Broncos v Baltimore Ravens Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

We all know he could have signed last year and gotten all this behind him. In the locker room, many wondered if he had signed a new contract five months earlier if he would have been available for the playoffs. Now they are faced with placing the franchise tag on him by March 7 in order to keep him from becoming a free agent. What a mess. The question has always been: why not just hire an agent? Yes, he/she will take a percentage. But with the money he would make that amount is negligible and like paying a parking ticket against that amount. The rub is that the Ravens are still balking at a total guaranteed contract. Jackson turned down a five-year $250 million deal with $133 guaranteed. All of his counteroffers to the club were with fully-guaranteed totals. I see a standoff in this camp on the horizon.

6. Catch the first weekend of the reboot of the XFL? I watched every game because, well, just because. Obviously, the talent level is not parallel to the NFL or even the Canadian Football League, but it is not supposed to be. Most players signed to this league have been to an NFL or CFL training camp or were even paid by a club either as a roster member or on the practice squad. Now, they were working as real estate agents, high school coaches, teachers, and whatever their new employment happened to be. Leagues like the XFL and USFL are designated as “developmental” leagues. Both entities are devoid of individual club owners, which means each team is league-owned. This also points to not being an NFL-rival league which would then sign away players, coaches, and front office personnel. The NFL has a working relationship with the XFL, something the USFL does not have. This means the NFL can train referees, coaches, and front office folks as well as experiment with rules and equipment. If the league ever came out with a football with a computer chip inside, you can bet it would experiment in the XFL first. Major League Baseball will use a pitching clock for the first time which was used in Class AAA and AA for three years to gauge its effectiveness.

Seattle Sea Dragons v DC Defenders Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

7. Staying with the XFL, former Browns WR Josh Gordon of the Seattle Dragons had a good first game against the DC Defenders. He caught a touchdown early in the game, his first score since 2021 when he was with the Tennessee Titans. Oddly enough, the Dragons will play home games at Lumen Field, home of the NFL Seattle Seahawks and MLS Seattle Sounders. It seats 68,740, which for Seahawks’ games is fine. The Sounders fill the entire lower bowl and most of the second tier against rivals Portland and Vancouver. But the Dragons? T-Mobile Park is home to the Mariners and can be situated for football with just over 30,000 seats. Makes sense to fill a smaller venue and then relocate as the fan base forces the issue. By the way, you can catch Gordon’s next game as Seattle plays the St. Louis BattleHawks tonight at 9:00pm (Eastern) on FX and ESPN2.

Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images

8. I am hoping the Browns re-sign C Ethan Pocic and make it at least a three-year deal. My thoughts are Nick Harris does not have enough girth to be effective and is more of a guard. Cleveland also has last year’s seventh-round pick C Dawson Deeton who is now healthy to compete for the backup role if Pocic is not signed.

9. Most improved player for the Browns last year? My vote goes to LB Deion Jones. He did not play the entire season as he came to Cleveland in a trade with the Atlanta Falcons after the defense’s disastrous play against the Los Angeles Chargers, a game they should have won. Before the game, the Chargers were one of the worst rushing teams yet gouged the Browns for 238 yards with a 7.0 yards per rush average. Jones was currently on IR with Atlanta, so the asking price was cheap.

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

The Browns have a linebacker problem that I believe is bigger than one would assume. At season’s end, Cleveland had seven unrestricted free agent linebackers: Anthony Walker, Reggie Ragland, Jermaine Carter, Sione Takitaki, Jordan Kunaszyk, Tae Davis, and Jones. Jacob Phillips is just not the answer, Walker is the heart and soul of this defense, Kunaszyk has already been released, Takitaki is a good tackler, Tony Banks is still a developmental guy, Davis remains a journeyman, Ragland showed flashes, and Carter played in only seven games with minimal results. JOK remains this unit’s best candidate. It is the hope that Walker and Takitaki will be re-signed along with Jones who had 44 tackles in just five starts. The dude has put up huge tackling numbers: 2021- 137; 2020 – 106; 2019 – 110; 2018 – 53; 2017 – 138; and 2016 – 108. He only played in six games in 2018 due to a foot injury. Jones is something I am hoping that new DC Jim Schwartz will implement as a standard in that he is a great tackler.

10. There are three key wide receivers who might find a new home before training camp via trades. Tee Higgins with the Cincinnati Bengals is still on his rookie deal, but the franchise won’t be able to afford all three of its exceptional receiving corps so one has to be dealt. Last year A.J. Brown of the Titans was in the same boat and found a new home. I think the Bengals will go all-in on re-signing S Jessie Bates and will need to cut the roster somewhere in order to pay him. Higgins has been very productive for Cincy and is great on contested throws. Another receiver that could be on the move is Brandin Cooks of the Houston Texans.

New England Patriots v Arizona Cardinals Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images

If traded, this would make Cooks’ fourth time involved in a trade. Last year he ranked an 82.1 cumulative receiving grade and is a good deep-ball tracker. Cooks’ remaining contract being fully guaranteed works against him at this point. Then there is DeAndre Hopkins of the Arizona Cardinals, although he has a no-trade clause in his current contract. If he rescinds this, just like Deshaun Watson he can dictate his next destination and pursue a club that has winning ways. A Watson/Hopkins reunion would be wonderful, but the Browns are in Cap Hell unless they can restructure deals with players such as Amari Cooper, Joel Bitonio, Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward as well as Watson.