2014 NFL Season Preview, Fantasy Sleepers, and Predictions: How Big of a Hit Will the Cleveland Browns Take Without Josh Gordon?
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With the NFL season fast approaching, Latino Post looks at the offseason moves that will make or break each team.
Last Season: 4-12 (last in AFC North)
Key Additions: ILB Karlos Dansby, WR Miles Austin, RB Ben Tate, WR Nate Burleson, WR Andrew Hawkins, S Donte Whitner, CB Isaiah Trufant, CB Justin Gilbert (1st round), QB Johnny Manziel (1st round), OT Joel Bitonio (2nd round), OLB Christian Kirskey (3rd round), RB Terrance West (3rd round)
Key Losses: WR Davone Bess, QB Brandon Weeden, RB Willis McGahee, QB Jason Campbell, G Shawn Lauvao, G Oniel Cousins, ILB D'Qwell Jackson, CB Chris Owens, S T.J. Ward
Games to Watch: Sept. 21 vs. Baltimore, Nov. 6 at Cincinnati, Dec. 21 at Carolina, Dec. 28 at Baltimore
Three Questions Heading into the 2014-15 Season:
•1. Who replaces Josh Gordon at split end?
One can only wonder how Josh Gordon would fare with a dependable quarterback. A two-game suspension couldn't stop him from being named First Team All-Pro while leading the league in receiving yards (1,646).
With Johnny Manziel, Gordon's seen five different quarterbacks target him since 2012. He's the only constant in a receiving corps that saw Greg Little leave to Oakland and the legally-troubled Davone Bess released. Unlike Bess, the Browns aren't willing to let Gordon's imminent suspension cloud their judgment.
Gordon is appealing a year-long suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy after being nailed for failed drug tests at least five times since 2010, including college. Few, if any, players careening down similar paths found long-standing success. Even Hall of Fame receiver Cris Carter- whose drug addiction is well chronicled-is calling on Cleveland to cut Gordon.
The Browns are in a Catch-22. They know Gordon is an incessant problem, but don't have another top tier wideout. Injury-plagued veterans Miles Austin and Nate Burleson signed in the offseason after being limited to a combined 20 games with nagging hamstring injuries.
Burleson is questionable for the season opener, if he even makes the cut. He's missed more games than he's played the last two years and may lose out to undrafted free agent rookies Anthony Armstrong and Chandler Jones.
Head coach Mike Pettine is using Austin with caution. The 30-year old receiver has skipped some practices in preparation of opening day. He looked shaky in last Saturday's game against St. Louis, gaining 23 yards on two receptions. At this point, he'll be Cleveland's No. 1 option.
If worst comes to worst, former Bengal Anthony Hawkins will take over at split end. He's speedy, but too small to be a perennial deep threat. Cincinnati's Andy Dalton has been atop league quarterback rankings for the better part of two years but only found Hawkins in the end zone four times in that span. Hawkins' didn't start a game last year and only recorded 50-plus catches once since 2011.
•2. When will Johnny Manziel start?
Nothing says franchise quarterback like heading to a bar after practice session. Or flipping the bird at the opposing sideline. Or rolling a $20 bill inside a Las Vegas bathroom.
Browns GM Ray Farmer what he was getting into when drafting the haughty quarterback. He's charismatic, but unpredictable. A gun-slinger who can't keep calm under pressure. Manziel is Joe Namath off the field without having proven anything on it. Still, he's the Browns' future behind center.
Pettine said Brian Hoyer will be the team's starting quarterback, not necessarily because of his skillset but because of Manziel's offseason escapades. Flipping off the Washington Redskins was just the final straw.
Hoyer is coming off a torn ACL and did not participate in June's final minicamp. After playing behind Tom Brady in New England for three years, and a one-and-done season in Arizona, Hoyer found a glimmer of success last season. He was impressive in two starts be his season-ending injury against Buffalo. His fragile stature all but guarantees Manziel will start.
The problem is neither Hoyer nor Manziel have reliable targets, aside from tight end Jordan Cameron. When Manziel starts he won't have much to work with.
•3. Will Karlos Dansby be an impact player?
Last spring, Arizona defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said Karlos Dansby "chased the money" when signing with Cleveland. There really isn't any other way of looking at it.
Dansby leaves a playoff contender for a team that rarely transitions out of a rebuilding mode. The Browns will pay Dansby $10 million in 2014, which includes $12 guaranteed, as part of his four-year, $24 million deal. The Cardinals reportedly offered half the amount.
They took a similar gamble with OLB Paul Kruger in March 2013 to banal results. Coming off a stellar season with Baltimore, Kruger record five sacks, all but two coming before Week 9. He signed a five-year, $40.5 million contract but menially played up to it.
Cleveland can't let Dansby follow suit. Dansby notched 122 tackles, four interceptions and 6 ½ sacks last season. Similar results coupled with a solid Browns defense, and the addition of Pro Bowl safety Donte Whitner, give Pettine a top ten-caliber defense.
Terrance West- RB
Cleveland's passing game and Ben Tate's health are cause for concern. Rookie Terrance West's ability isn't.
West is a power runner who doubles as sure-handed receiver. He set collegiate records at FCS Towson with 2,509 rushing yards and 41 touchdowns. More importantly, West can stay health. Tate has yet to stay healthy through a 16-game season. He's missed 24 games in that span.
It's only a matter of time before West gets his shot.
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