Q: I haven’t seen anything about the Browns being interested in Dave Toub. Could this be the same as the Baker Mayfield draft where nobody knew who they were going to pick until the last minute?
— Sean Mullins
A: I’m stunned the Browns didn’t request an interview with Toub, the Chiefs’ assistant head coach/special teams coordinator, or Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy during their playoff bye. I assumed they’d be high on GM John Dorsey’s list after their time together in Kansas City and all the positive things he’s said about Bieniemy.
Perhaps Dorsey was never a huge fan of either or, more likely, he doesn’t want to rely on the Chiefs for his coach after he was fired by them.
I wouldn’t rule out a stunner in the coach search, and Dorsey likes secrecy, but the timing just doesn’t point to Toub.
Q: So I trust GM John Dorsey, but not owner Jimmy Haslam. Please tell me the head coach hire will be all Dorsey and not Dorsey being forced into it by Haslam. Also, what are your thoughts on timeframe for hiring a head coach? Dorsey giving information can be like pulling teeth, so I am curious.
— Justin Nalley
A: I wish I could erase all your fears but I can’t guarantee Haslam won’t interfere. I can tell you the plan is to let Dorsey, with the help of the search committee, make the coaching choice and go to Haslam for a simple stamp of approval. Given Haslam’s history of hires, it’s the only way to go. But knowing Haslam’s history of awful decisions and meddling, I wouldn’t feel completely comfortable until the hire has been made.
Not to make you more nervous, but ESPN reported Sunday that Haslam is part of the committee. That’s more involvement than many fans want.
As for timing of a hire, I see two windows. Early this week after Mike McCarthy and Freddie Kitchens interview, or when Dorsey’s desired candidate (perhaps New Orleans’ Dan Campbell) is knocked out of the postseason.
Q: Would you call Gregg Williams’ bluff — so to say — and invite him to return not as head coach or defensive coordinator but as the special teams coach, so as to retain his influence within the organization, clubhouse and upon the returning young core? He says he wanted to come here, assume the challenge, loves the area and coaching regardless of duties. Says he has deep regard for many of the guys in that locker room and has coached special teams before, an authentically needy unit on this club. Given all of this, his advanced age and the favorable impact he might have in that capacity, this role for him might be ideal.
— Mark Leonard
A: I wouldn’t but I like the idea.
My problem with keeping Williams in any capacity other than head coach is that his presence could be distracting and divisive given his half-season as interim coach. Some of the players could look to him as the leader rather than the head coach, or even the defensive coordinator.
Having said that, if I were another organization, I would love to have Williams in charge of my kicking game if he were serious about the offer. I have no doubt he’d improve the units and bring an edge.
Q: What is J.W. Johnson’s football background and does he have a role in choosing the new head coach?
A: Johnson, the son-in-law of Jimmy and Dee Haslam, was named executive vice president July 1. GM John Dorsey declined to answer when asked if Johnson would be part of the search committee, so I can’t answer with full authority. (ESPN reported Johnson is part of the committee). I know Johnson has taken on a much larger role within the organization this season, including attending many practices, and I would expect him to be involved in the search on some level, likely as part of the committee.
His bio in the media guide doesn’t mention a football background.
Q: Odds on Freddie Kitchens getting the head coaching position?
A: This is far from scientific, but I’ll place them at 8-to-1. I have Kitchens third on my board, behind Mike McCarthy and Dave Campbell. GM John Dorsey could be meeting with all the outside candidates to see if anyone surpasses Kitchens. More likely is he would turn to Kitchens if things don’t work out with McCarthy and Campbell.
I’d be stunned if Gregg Williams got the job but not at all if Kitchens does. He opened a lot of eyes over the final eight games as coordinator, is loved by pretty much everyone who knows him and developed a strong bond with Baker Mayfield.
For what it’s worth, gambling site BetOnline.ag has Kitchens at 5-to-1, behind Josh McDaniels (7-to-2) and tied with Campbell and Williams. The site has Kitchens as the 3-to-1 favorite to become Cardinals coach.
Q: Which of the following players will not be starting on the Browns defense next year — linebacker Jamie Collins, defensive tackle Trevon Coley, defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, linebacker Christian Kirksey? All four?
A: I feel strongly Coley won’t be a starter after having little impact this season. I’m much less certain about the other three.
Collins gets a lot of criticism for a lack of effort, but he’s still one of the most talented players on the roster and makes enough plays to put up with occasional lapses in effort.
Kirksey missed much of the year with injuries and wasn’t nearly as effective as he was in 2017 when he played every defensive snap and was among the league leaders in tackles. I think he’ll get one more chance to keep his starting job.
Ogbah was one of the biggest disappointments of 2018, with only three sacks. An upgrade at end is necessary, but I could see a scenario in which Ogbah begins the season as the starter while a draft pick works his way into the lineup.
So in summation: Collins and Kirksey start, Ogbah and Coley don’t.
Q: Defensive tackle and linebacker are two definite positions that need to be addressed this offseason. If you could pick one to address in free agency, which position would it be and what players would you be looking at?
A: I would put a much greater emphasis on defensive tackle but expect that to be addressed in the draft. End Myles Garrett and tackle Larry Ogunjobi have proved themselves as playmakers but need another stud tackle to turn the front four into something special. I haven’t done enough research yet to drop names but the draft is supposed to be deep in defensive linemen.
I also see the Browns using the draft to address linebacker, which would become a need if Jamie Collins or Christian Kirksey is jettisoned.
As for free agency, I could see John Dorsey targeting a defensive end to pair with and mentor Garrett.
Q: Do you think we keep all our free agents or does anyone walk?
A: The Browns have the money to keep whomever they want. It just depends on whom GM John Dorsey values.
I expect him to make reasonable offers to left tackle Greg Robinson and receiver Breshad Perriman — the former first-round picks played significant roles in the second-half turnaround — while letting quarterback Tyrod Taylor and cornerback E.J. Gaines walk.
Less obvious is what to do with fullback/tight end Orson Charles and a pair of restricted free agents in receiver Rashard Higgins and nickelback Briean Boddy-Calhoun. Charles brings a physical presence and bad-ass attitude but is limited as a receiver. Higgins and Boddy-Calhoun had roles on bad teams the previous couple of years, but Dorsey should be looking to upgrade at both positions. He can tag them with low tenders and see how the market develops.