Q: How concerned should we be about the kicking situation? This team is good enough to compete with the very best and special teams may decide a few crucial games. Is it time to consider using a mid/late draft pick on a guy that can kick here for a decade?
A: I think the kicking situation is a considerable concern as the season is set to kick off.
I believe the Browns are as talented as just about anyone in the league, but it would be foolish to think kicking won’t matter. The vast majority of games in the NFL are just too close for extra points and field goals not to matter. And as you reference, that’s even truer in the biggest games of the year — inside the AFC North and in the playoffs.
The Browns didn’t feel great about Chase McLaughlin, even before he injured a hamstring Friday. (He looked good in warmups this afternoon.) So I’d expect general manager Andrew Berry to be on constant lookout for an upgrade, especially a veteran with big-game experience. To your point about using a draft pick, it’s an interesting discussion. I wouldn’t object to using a pick in the fifth round or later on a kicker, but after recent draft busts at the position, they might decide that the position is too big a crapshoot to spend a pick and instead wait to pounce on an undrafted rookie.
Q: The poker game between Kevin Stefanski & Andy Reid is going to be fascinating. These two coaches tweak plays and adjust tendencies masterfully.
Baker Mayfield chewed up the NFL last season on designed rollouts off play-action. An opposing coach must at least be thinking about trying to blow up a Browns rollout or two. The risk being that a gamble focused on Baker might open a lane for Nick Chubb or Kareem Hunt.
Do you think Reid tries to take a specific part of the Browns attack away or just plays it straight on defense?
— John Palazzo
A: I think the Browns offense has evolved to the point that the opponent has to be worried about everything, so I’d guess play it straight. With that said, I could see the Chiefs devoting bodies to stop Chubb and Hunt and forcing Mayfield to beat them downfield, at least until he proves he can.
I think that would play into Stefanski’s hands. I expect more passing early this year with the goal of getting a lead and making opponents play catch-up vs. Cleveland’s run game and pass rush. Today could be an exception because of the temptation to slow down the game to keep the ball out of Patrick Mahomes’ hands, but I still expect Stefanski to be aggressive.
Q: With it being the beginning of a new season, do you have any favorite memory or story of the opening days you’ve covered? Of course, these stories won’t be involving many victories.
— Phil from Brooklyn
A: I have a lot of less-than-positive memories — Dwayne Rudd’s helmet toss, Braylon Edwards’ big drop, Jake Delhomme’s bum ankle — but the first good one that popped into my head is the comeback in 1999. I know how the game ended … and the season … and the next two decades … but the return of football to Cleveland was worth celebrating.
And still is.
And maybe this opener will move to the top of the list.
Q: My question concerns guys waived off IR with injury settlements.
It is my understanding this is usually done when the club is attempting to do as much as it can to protect its claim and investment, but ultimately reached a point at which it felt safe enough to risk loss of the player by arriving at this settlement so as to re-sign him once a three-week-wait window expires.
Is this accurate?
Tackles Alex Taylor and Greg Senat, both of whom had been basketball players, are two with whom the Browns are having this experience. Cornerback Kiondre Thomas was another, but he signed elsewhere.
I realize you can’t read minds (yet) but have you reason to suspect the tall OTs will be returning to the Browns? It seems there was deliberate action taken to preserve as many OLs as they could, losing only Colby Gossett. I like that kind of thinking.
A: The three-week window is basically accurate. The time depends on the specific settlement reached — it’s payment for the weeks expected to be missed while recovering from the injury — and a player can’t return to the team of the settlement for an additional three weeks after the period negotiated in the settlement. The team could always keep a player on injured reserve for the entire season if it didn’t want to lose him, so there is certainly risk involved in a settlement.
As for your tackle interest, I think the Browns liked the potential of both and do believe in loading up on linemen, which is sound thinking. But I didn’t get the sense the Browns felt they couldn’t live without either. So bringing them back could depend on the line’s injury situation the rest of the year.