There are a bunch of different ways to skin a cat, and all of them leave you with a skinned cat.
Fan enthusiasts will point out that the Cleveland Browns are 2-2 for the first time since their last playoff season of 2002. Browns antagonists will point out Colt McCoy has played three bad games in four this year. Apologists will point out the Browns and their young quarterback are learning a new offense with no offseason.
Back and forth we go. We have no receivers, the Browns are third in the league in sacks, they defeated two winless teams.
But, the most hilarious argument I’ve heard thus far (or excuse or apology) has got to be one about the Browns offense struggling because Lawrence Vickers is gone.
Vickers was a sixth-round pick by Phil Savage back in 2006. He plays fullback, which after quarterback, defensive line, offensive line, cornerback, receiver, running back, linebacker, safety, kick returner, and tight end, is the most important position on the football field. Once he became a free agent the Browns just inexplicably let him walk away.
Vickers never made the Pro Bowl mind you, but that’s because the Browns aren’t a high profile team with a marquee running back. Vonta Leach of the Houston Texans, now with the Baltimore Ravens, was the AFC Pro Bowl representative at fullback last year, and his marquee back Arian Foster won the rushing title. Lorenzo Neal had LaDainian Tomlinson, Le’Ron McClain had Ray Rice, and so on. If Vickers played with those guys they would have rushed for 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns.
Never mind that the Browns record was 28-52 in his five years here, everyone could see he was a difference maker. Seriously, when was the last time you were watching a game and made a comment to your friends about how awesome a fullback was playing? The answer is never. I can only remember one block he made last year, and that’s because the TV commentators mentioned it with the aid of slow motion replay.
The truth is Vickers was sold to us as a good player on bad teams and we couldn’t tell the difference. We just loved hearing we had a good player.
Thus, we have fans actually suggesting the Browns’ problem is a guy everyone told us was good, who plays a position where good players are identified by the play of a different position, isn’t on our team anymore. That’s the answer to the riddle.
Football is hard to understand, so we add up what we can and look for what’s missing. If the Browns rush 30 times and lose, well, then they need to pass more to win. If Peyton Hillis is struggling then it must be because Vickers is missing.
But the worry here runs a little deeper doesn’t it. This is about more that just a fullback. What we’re really worried about is more waiting.
Lawrence Vickers has become our Sum of All Fears as Browns fans.
For starters, here’s how the average fan builds a football team in their head.
- This year, the Browns drafted Phil Taylor and Jabaal Sheard to play on the defensive line. Along with Ahtyba Rubin, that D-line is looking pretty good, so we can draft guys who play other positions for a while.
- Two years ago, the Browns drafted Joe Haden and T.J. Ward. They play cornerback and safety respectively, so the Browns secondary is looking pretty good, so we can draft guys who play other positions for a while.
- Three years ago, the Browns drafted Alex Mack and stuck him next to Joe Thomas. Now our offensive line is looking pretty good, so we can draft guys who play other positions for a while.
See? I go down my list of first and second-round draft picks, and check off positions the Browns have addressed. Then I look for positions of need.
We all know the Browns could use another wide receiver. They’ve drafted four of them over the past three years, but haven’t spent a nice, fat, first-round pick on one in a while. Nobody can tell me after watching Scott Fujita lumber after Jared Cook last week they didn’t immediately add linebacker to their wish list as well.
This is what we do. We count down the positions of need as our team constantly rebuilds and brings in new players. That’s what disturbs us about Lawrence Vickers’ departure – we had fullback taken care of already.
We had a good player and we just let him go. Now we have to go get a new fullback. To get him we have to use a draft pick we should be spending on another position of need. That means it will take longer for the Browns to get good again. More waiting.
Now let’s go deeper. We all want to be excited about what general manager Tom Heckert is doing. The key to building a great team is having great drafts, and so far we think he’s off to a smashing start. We’re thrilled with our prospects. Vickers’ departure contradicts this rosy picture.
Heckert spent a controversial fourth-round pick to draft Vickers’ replacement, Owen Marecic. To say Marecic has struggled so far would be putting it kindly. Heckert let a good fullback go and replaced him with this guy?
The last thing we want to do is envision a world where our team’s general manager makes mistakes – Kamerion Wimbley for Haloti Ngata, anyone? This is Heckert’s first splinter. With every third-and-one the Browns don’t convert and with every pass Marecic drops, our concern grows.
What if Heckert doesn’t know what he doing after all? We thought Phil Savage did and look how that turned out. What if trading Julio Jones on draft day wasn’t the right move? What if they really don’t know how to develop McCoy? What if this new regime doesn’t fix the Browns and we have to start all over again, again?
We’re horrified of waiting.
And it’s too bad we’re like this, because it’s not our fault. Listening to that screaming Baltimore home crowd during the Sunday night game against the Ravens and Jets made me sick. It’s not fair, but there isn’t anything we can do about it now.
What we can do is stop calling into radio stations and pretending Lawrence Vickers is the key to the Browns’ problems. He’s not. If he made that much of a difference his breed would be among the highest paid in the NFL. They are not.
The Houston Texans agree. They let Vonta Leach walk in much the same way. He, the fullback who’d actually been to the Pro Bowl, signed a three-year, $11-million free agent contract with the Baltimore Ravens. Vickers signed for $3 million to replace him, and isn’t a starter for Houston through four games either. He’s healthy, and still the Texans are 3-1.
My guess is, if the Brown had resigned Vickers they’d still be 2-2.
The guy is a fullback.
Fun Note 1– Speaking of the Ravens, the terrorists in the 2002 movie The Sum of all Fears attempted to blow up the President while he was in Baltimore at a fake pro football game.
Fun Note 2 – The Browns play the Texans in Houston on November 6. With our luck Vickers will see this as his “personal war,” and will send both Scott Fujita and Chris Gocong to IR after crushing blocks.