The NFL’s grand finale, played out spectacularly in the annual American pastime that is the Super Bowl, will be decided this Sunday in Dallas. After that… your guess is as good as mine for when we’ll see another NFL game.
With the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) set to expire in March, NFL players will likely find themselves locked out until a new agreement is reached. Rookie wage scales, revenue sharing, and an expanded regular season are all issues that need to be tackled. Both parties, the owners and the Players Association, seem unwilling to budge.
While a draft would still go off in April, those selected players would remain unsigned until after a new CBA is reached. And the longer a lockout runs, the greater risk of losing organized team activities (OTA’s), training camp, preseason games and finally regular season games.
The hope is that cooler heads will prevail. There’s an unfathomable amount of money at stake and the loss of an entire regular season would only serve to crush both sides. A likely outcome is a last-minute deal that saves the season in some form.
And that’s fine for teams with an offensive and defensive system already in place. But what about the franchises that just hired a new head coach…like the Cleveland Browns?
Seven teams hired new coaches this season, with an eighth on the way in Tennessee. Two were interim coaches promoted to full-time status (Dallas, Minnesota). Oakland also hired from within and looks to expand upon the team’s moderate success in 2010. So that leaves Cleveland, Carolina, Denver, San Francisco, and Tennessee all starting from scratch under the dark cloud that is the NFL lockout.
But it could be argued that for the Browns, theirs is the most difficult reboot.
Head coach Pat Shurmur’s primary focus will be the offense, implementing a style that mirrors Team President Mike Holmgren’s philosophy of the West Coast Offense. Is Colt McCoy the quarterback to run that type of offense? It sure would be nice to have OTA’s, training camp and preseason games to make that determination. Can the team acquire a wide receiver via free agency or the draft that fits the West Coast mold? It’s kind of tough to say if there is no free agency period.
On defense, the outlook is even more troubling. With Shurmur’s eye fixed primarily on the offense, Holmgren tapped former head coach Dick Jauron to run the defense. He’s a good hire, a coordinator with a track record that will have his attention focused on the Browns, not greater ambitions of being a head coach.
But the challenges he’ll face are immense, especially in switching from a 3-4 defense to his preferred 4-3 format.
For the last six seasons the Browns have run a 3-4: three lineman and four linebackers. They are painfully thin on the defensive line and its unclear who the four linemen would be in Jauron’s 4-3 defense. Ahtyba Rubin figures into the equation but does an injury-prone Shaun Rogers or an aging Kenyon Coleman? There’s talk that Matt Roth and/or Marcus Benard could make the switch to from linebacker to defensive end. But that’s the kind of change that would require time and practice, two things the Browns won’t have if a lockout continues into the summer.
Plus, the 4-3 defense puts added pressure on the one middle linebacker and it’s unclear if the Browns even have a player that fits the mold of a 4-3 MLB. The only player on the current roster fitting this role is D’Qwell Jackson, who didn’t see a single snap in 2010.
We could be getting ahead of ourselves here…this is all a moot point if the players and owners reach an agreement during the spring. That would give the Browns plenty of time to iron out all of these issues. But the longer an NFL lockout continues (and it hasn’t officially even started yet), the greater effect it has on the Browns.
And should Cleveland Browns fans really expect anything less? Of course the team decides to change coaches at potentially the most inopportune moment.
Fans should certainly keep an eye on any developments to this story. If the lockout runs into the summer, the Browns will be fielding a team with all the direction of me under the hood of a car.
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