What Impact will Josh Freeman have on the Minnesota Vikings?

josh-freeman-minnesota-vikingsEver since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers released him last week, Josh Freeman had been a hot commodity among teams seeking a reliable quarterback. Maybe “reliable” isn’t the word here, given how tumultuous Freeman’s last days in Tampa Bay ended. But several desperate NFL clubs were willing to take a chance on him if it means salvaging their season.

The Minnesota Vikings proved to be the most attractive destination since Freeman signed with them today. The deal is a one-year, $3 million contract, with the 25-year-old reportedly wanting to only sign for one season instead of two. He picked Minnesota over the Buffalo Bills, Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers.

The obvious thought that comes to mind here is how the Vikings quarterback situation will play out. Coming off of a rib injury, Christian Ponder is the incumbent starter and the supposed QB of the future. But since being taken with the 12th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, the Florida State product has never been truly impressive. 2013 has been especially bad since he’s thrown for 691 yards, 2 TD’s, 5 INT”s, and fumbled twice in three starts.

Matt Cassel is the other option, and he led the Vikings to their first win of the year just before Minnesota’s bye week. He racked up 248 yards and 2 touchdowns after completing 16-of-25 passes. Most importantly, he didn’t have any turnovers, which is something that’s plagued Ponder.

josh-freeman-tampa-bayEnter Freeman, who compiled very good numbers with the Buccaneers in the first four years of his career. He had 12,090 yards, 76 TD’s, 54 INT’s and a 59.1 completion percentage. But as mentioned before, things fell apart since he missed important team functions and didn’t get along with second-year head coach Greg Schiano. One week after losing his starting job to rookie Mike Glennon, Freeman was cut loose by the Bucs.

Now in Minnesota, Freeman doesn’t figure to start right away. Head coach Leslie Frazier has already said that either Ponder or Cassel will start against the Carolina Panthers. But the Vikings certainly aren’t paying Freeman $3 million for three-quarters of a season to be a bench warmer. He’s been brought in to compete for the starting job and take over if Ponder continues to falter.

Frazier even hinted at this by saying, “That’s part of the equation. That’s definitely on the table. We’ll see how well he progresses and how well he picks up our offense.”

However, he also alluded to the fact that Ponder still has an opportunity to retain the job. “I think Christian still has a bright future here with our football team,” he said. “It may not look like that on the surface, but Christian is a professional. He’s going to work as hard as he can every day to prepare and get back on the field and help our team win.”

As mentioned before, Ponder is/was supposed to be the future of this franchise. But with a talent like Adrian Peterson, Minnesota isn’t content to wait another year or two for him to catch on. The team is in a win-now mode since they arguably have the league’s most talented running back.

josh-freeman-minnesota-vikings-1Seeing as how Peterson is 28 years old, he doesn’t have a lot of prime years left. So this essentially becomes a question of whether or not the Vikings are willing to risk Peterson’s golden years on a chance that Ponder might turn things around. With Freeman now in town, odds are that Minnesota is, instead, betting on the guy who rushed for over 2,000 yards last season.

So now we come to the question of what Freeman can do for the Vikings. With a 1-3 record, this team is already in the hole. And things won’t get any easier since they’re in an extremely tough division which includes Detroit, Green Bay and Chicago.

But Freeman at least provides a slightly better opportunity to win now than Ponder does. Sure the Vikings aren’t getting Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees here; but they are getting a five-year veteran who has good arm strength and can put up decent numbers.

Now the big question will be if he can take advantage of having a threat like Peterson in the offense. Opponents constantly have to be aware of number 28 at all times. So this will take some of the pressure off Freeman, perhaps even more so than what Doug Martin did in Tampa Bay.

It’s still early enough in the year for Minnesota to make a turnaround. They are 1.5 games out of the NFC North lead and still have plenty of contests left against their division foes. But Freeman is going to have to play better than ever before to help the Vikings make a playoff run.

Brian Hoyer to start Third Straight Game for Cleveland Browns

brian-hoyer-clevelandTheir opening day quarterback Brandon Weeden goes down with an injury. They trade away franchise running back Trent Richardson after a dismal 0-2 start. And yet, the Cleveland Browns are now tied for the AFC North division lead with the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals.

And a large part of Cleveland’s success is due to the emergence of backup QB Brian Hoyer. In all actuality though, Hoyer may have earned himself the permanent starting role. He’s been named the starter for a third straight week, while the status of Weeden and his injured thumb are unknown.

Regardless of whether or not Weeden is healthy enough to play, it doesn’t appear that Cleveland is overly concerned about him. Instead, they’re embracing Hoyer and looking to forward to seeing if he can lead them to the playoffs.

brian-hoyer-cleveland-1Now this may all sound quite unrealistic, given that many people thought the Browns were mailing it in following the Richardson trade. But as previously stated, Cleveland is tied atop a mediocre division and faces Buffalo this week. The Bills are also 2-2, but the Browns will be at home and should be favored in this contest.

Basically, Hoyer has provided new life to a team that was previously looking to fight with the Jacksonville Jaguars for the league’s top pick next season. Through two games, he’s racked up 590 passing yards, 5 TD’s, 3 INT’s and a 59.8% completion rate.

Of course, it’s important not to look too far ahead because all of this hype has been created in two games. And the NFL season is a long grind with 12 games left to go. But if Cleveland can beat Buffalo on Thursday and remain on top of the AFC North, it will bring Brian Hoyer hysteria to an all-time high.

Why did the Cleveland Browns trade Trent Richardson?

trent-richardsonYesterday the Cleveland Browns pulled off the biggest trade of the 2013 NFL season when they sent Trent Richardson to Indianapolis for a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. Following this transaction, Ahmad Bradshaw fantasy owners cringed, casual league fans were puzzled, and Browns fans were like “What the f**k!?”

After all, Richardson was the third overall pick of the 2012 Draft, an every-down back, and somebody who was generally expected to be a franchise player. So why did the Cleveland Browns trade their most precious commodity? Especially when the Colts’ top pick only projects to be a middle-first rounder?

Well the simple answer is that they’re trying to tank the season following an 0-2 start. So why not get rid of their injury-plagued running back while they still can and stockpile another first-round pick in the process.

Basically, the Browns found the perfect taker for Richardson because Indianapolis is desperate to solve their running back situation and make the playoffs for a second consecutive year. They thought that Bradshaw could be this guy when they signed him to a one-year deal in the offseason, or at least a combination of him and Vick Ballard.

trent-richardsonBut Ballard exited in the first week with a season-ending knee injury while Bradshaw has been nothing more than steady with 91 rushing yards, 26 receiving yards and a touchdown (in 2 games). Plus, given his constant foot injuries, the Colts felt that adding a potential star player like Richardson could boost their postseason chances in a crowded AFC East division.

And make no mistake about it, Richardson is a top-notch talent who’s capable of great things. In his rookie season with Cleveland, the Alabama product rushed for 950 yards, added 367 receiving yards, and scored 12 TD’s, despite playing through injuries. So just imagine what he could do on a team where opposing defenses need to worry about the pass.

Unfortunately, this team wasn’t the Browns and opponents were stacking the box with seven and eight defenders on every play, just daring Brandon Weeden to throw. The way Cleveland sees it, why keep running Richardson into a brick wall this season while losing games when he’s got major trade value.

Let’s face it…the Weeden experiment has failed after 18 games, the offensive line is still bad, and there are no huge play-making threats on this club. These are all things that management feared going into the 2013 season, but there was also a glimmer of hope if Weeden could’ve developed.

teddy-bridgewater-draftThat hope is gone, and now, like 50% of the league, Cleveland is trying to find a reliable quarterback. With an extra first-rounder, they now have the chance to trade up for Teddy Bridgewater, if the Jacksonville Jaguars (who are definitely going to finish dead last) feel like making a deal. If this doesn’t work out, Cleveland is likely to finish with the league’s second worst record, which would probably land them UCLA QB Brett Hundley.

Some say South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Jadeveon Clowney in the most talented player in the draft. However, it’s unlikely that the Browns would pass up the chance at getting a signal caller in a class that’s loaded with QB talent.

But for now, Cleveland will pretend to focus on this season by bringing veteran Willis McGahee into the fold and trying to win a game or two. But as the Richardson trade indicates, they are really only thinking about 2014 and beyond.

Why the 2013 Cleveland Browns won’t be as Bad as you think

brandon-weeden-cleveland-brownsFew NFL teams have even come close to the vomit-inducing results that the Cleveland Browns have produced in recent years. Since finishing with a 10-6 record in 2007, the Browns have gone just 23-57 over the past five years. So what reason do we have to believe that Cleveland will transcend their 5-11 record from last season? Especially when they play in the more-than-challenging AFC North!?

First off, this Browns team is under totally new leadership after cleaning house last year. Pat Shurmur and his staff were dumped thanks to questionable play calling and dismal results. Enter Rob Chudzinski, who should bring a strong level of preparedness and execution to the floundering Browns offense. As offensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers, Chudzinski helped his team average a respectable 22 PPG – much better than Cleveland’s 18 PPG last season. Plus he served as the Browns’ coordinator during their 10-win season in ’07.

rod-chudzinskiThis team’s leadership should get a further boost from new OC Norv Turner and D coordinator Ray Horton. There’s always been questions about Turner’s ability to put everything together as a head coach; but his offensive brilliance should shine in a coordinator’s role. As for Horton, he’ll bring a new mentality to the Browns that involves attacking offenses and forcing mistakes. With Cleveland’s talented front seven, Horton is the perfect man for the job.

Moving to the players, much of the season hinges on Brandon Weeden’s development. With Turner as the OC, Weeden should get a lot more opportunities to throw downfield and rack up some big passing games. Through two preseason contests, he’s been lighting it up after throwing for a combined 229 yards and three touchdowns. Sure this is just the preseason, but it’s reason to believe that the 29-year-old could surpass 4,000 yards and 20 TD’s this year.

trent-richardsonOf course, Trent Richardson will play a huge role in the Browns’ fortunes. He had a standout rookie season after rushing for 950 yards, tallying 367 receiving yards, and scoring 12 total touchdowns. If Weeden can improve, the box should be more open and allow Richardson to have an even stronger second-year campaign. And don’t forget that his first year was hampered by preseason knee surgery and broken ribs during the regular season.

Both WR Josh Gordon and TE Jordan Cameron should have strong years. Many believe the latter could be Cleveland’s most improved player since fellow tight end Ben Watson left via free agency. Now Cameron figures to shine after showing plenty of athleticism during his limited time on the field.

Gordon saw the field plenty last year, and took advantage of his opportunities. He’ll be the Browns top receiving option and should improve on last year’s 800 receiving yards and 5 TD’s. Free agent acquisition Davone Bess will also prove valuable in the passing game. The slot receiver caught 61 passes for 778 yards and one TD in 2012.

joe-hadenAs mentioned before, the defensive front seven will be one of Cleveland’s biggest strengths. Cornerback Joe Haden anchors this defense and has proved invaluable to stopping opposing top wideouts. He missed four games last year after a suspension, but hopefully he avoids any PED troubles in 2013.

The Browns snagged Super Bowl champion linebacker Paul Kruger through free agency this offseason. The 6’4″, 270-pound linebacker racked up 42 tackles and 9 sacks last year, and added another 4.5 sacks during Baltimore’s championship run.

Rookie LB Barkevious Mingo is another defender whom the Browns are expecting big things from. The sixth overall pick runs a 4.53 forty and should thrive in Horton’s aggressive defensive scheme. Jabaal Sheard will once again be a critical part of the Cleveland defense. The linebacker has notched 15.5 sacks in his first two seasons, and there’s little reason to doubt that he could have his best year yet this time around.

With some outstanding new coaches and plenty of talented players, 2013 will see a far more competitive Cleveland Browns team. It’ll be difficult for them to make the playoffs in a tough AFC North division, but we wouldn’t be entirely surprised if it happens. However, we’ll stick with more mild expectations and offer the following projection:

2013 Cleveland Browns Predicted Record: 8-8

Is Alabama’s Nick Saban going to the NFL?

Alabama coach Nick Saban is undoubtedly one of the greatest college football coaches in history. He led LSU to the BCS National Championship in 2003, and guided Alabama to the BCS and AP National Championship in both 2009 and 2011 – making him the only coach to lead two different schools to a college football national title.

Based on his impressive accomplishments, Saban has always been an attractive prospect to NFL teams. In fact, the Miami Dolphins took a chance on him in 2005 and 2006, which provided mediocre results. The Dolphins went 9-7 in Saban’s first season after winning their final six games. 2006 opened with a lot of promise, but unfortunately saw Miami go 6-10 following a number of key injuries and a quarterback controversy.

Despite leaving the NFL on a sour note in 2007 – when he became the Alabama Crimson Tide coach – Saban is reportedly thinking about entering the pro ranks once again. This being said, let’s discuss whether or not it’s likely that the three-time national champion coach is going to the NFL.

Welcome to the Dawg Pound

Most rumors are pointed straight towards the Cleveland Browns with Saban reportedly already doing interviews for potential assistants. This story has been compounded by the notion that Browns head coach Pat Schurmur could be fired at the end of the season.

Another thing worth mentioning is that Saban is already very familiar with Cleveland. He served as Bill Belichick’s defensive coordinator throughout the early 90’s. So if there’s an NFL team that he’d feel comfortable with, it would definitely be the Browns.

Saban’s Thoughts

While rumors are still swirling about Nick Saban leaving, the man himself certainly isn’t playing into the stories. Saban bluntly told reporters, “That’s not happening.” He went on to make the following statement:

I’m getting old now. I don’t think we’ve got too many moves left in us. You develop a lot of relationships and loyalties to the players you recruit and the players you have on the team and the people you have in the organization. I don’t think it’s really fair to leave. I regretted when I left LSU, because I left a lot of relationships there. Hopefully I’ll be able to stay here for a long, long time.

What does Trent Richardson think?

If anybody might have a solid thought on Saban returning to the NFL, it’s former Alabama star and current Cleveland Browns’ running back Trent Richardson. The 2011 Doak Walker winner, who rushed for 3,130 yards in three seasons under Saban, said, “I can’t see him coming to the NFL. I would be very shocked.”

Richardson has run for 897 yards in 14 games as a Browns rookie this year. And he could be in line for even more success next season with Saban as his coach. However, the star rookie dismissed this idea by saying, “He’s got so much going there. He has no reason to leave. He gets what he needs and he treats his program like the NFL. He makes sure his players are prepared for the game and prepared for the next level when the time comes.”

A Look back through History

Neither Richardson nor Saban himself believe a move to the NFL is coming. However, a look back through history may tell another side to the story. His six-year tenure at Alabama is the longest that he’s ever stayed with one team.

As for Saban’s words, there have already been times where he denied any desire to leave a job. The future college football legend told his Michigan State players that he was staying put….then bolted for greener pastures at LSU. In the middle of the Dolphins’ 2006 season, Saban repeatedly denied rumors that he was in contention for the Alabama coaching position vacated by Mike Shula. Then just weeks later he was meeting with Alabama school officials to discuss contract details.

So when looking at Saban’s past, it’s hard to take what he says about coaching jobs at face value. Even though he himself may not believe a move to the Browns is coming, we can’t rule anything out based on history.