Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
Hot takes as the NFL business year draws closer …
1. Will he or won’t he?: Insiders are divided on whether Patriots coach Bill Belichick will trade quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Truth is, everybody is guessing and there’s a 50-50 chance of being right. Sources I’ve talked to say the first indication of Belichick’s intentions will be revealed at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis the first week of March. That’s where Belichick will let it be known to interested teams if Garoppolo is available. Belichick then will get a feel for the market for Garoppolo. The trading period begins at the onset of the new league year on March 9. If Belichick strings it out, discussions would continue through league meetings in Phoenix, AZ, March 26-29. I’m in the camp that Garoppolo will be available. A source who agrees with me posed this scenario: Tom Brady, 39, wants to play three to four more years. Belichick, 64, wants to coach three to four more years. Owner Robert Kraft, 75, wants to see how many more Lombardi Trophies his coach and quarterback can collect in three to four more years before he transitions the team to son Jonathan and siblings. The theory is they all bow out together and then Jonathan Kraft and Josh McDaniels pick up the pieces and start a new era. Under this scenario, Garoppolo would be used to acquire the assets to set up the team for one last glorious run under Belichick and Brady that would distance them from any coach-quarterback tandem in NFL history.
2. What will Shanahan do?: Newly named San Francisco 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan is an avowed fan of Garoppolo. As Browns offensive coordinator in 2014, Shanahan had Derek Carr ranked first and Garoppolo second among that group of quarterback prospects. So it’s logical that Shanahan would make a play for Garoppolo when Belichick makes him available. Not so fast, says a source. The quarterback Shanahan will wait on is Kirk Cousins, per this source. Shanahan was the driving force behind the Washington Redskins’ draft of Cousins in the fourth round in 2011 after owner Dan Snyder demanded the trade up in the first round for Robert Griffin. Cousins was given the franchise tag by the Redskins last year and is likely to receive the tag again by the March 1 deadline. If so, Cousins will be totally free to switch teams after the coming season. Per this source, look for Shanahan to lure Falcons backup Matt Schaub to San Francisco to serve one year as his bridge quarterback. The 49ers will use the 2017 draft to fill some holes and will not use the No. 2 overall pick on a quarterback. Then they will empty the vault for Cousins in 2018, according to this source. And there’s really nothing the Redskins can do to avert it.
3. T.P. will be paid: Shortly after the Browns concluded their epic 1-15 season with a 27-24 loss in Pittsburgh, owner Jimmy Haslam said, “There’s really three keys going forward. One, we’ve got to re-sign our key players. Two, we’ve got to be appropriately aggressive in free agency. Three, we’ve got to have a great draft.” So far, the Browns have re-signed linebacker Jamie Collins (four years/$50 million) and long snapper Charley Hughlette (six years). Next up is receiver Terrelle Pryor. Based on Haslam’s directive and the fact the Browns still have more than $100 million in salary cap room, it is not going out on a limb to predict that Pryor will be re-signed before the franchise tag deadline of March 1. I sense a four-year deal in the vicinity of $42 million.
4. Who’s No. 1?: Much can happen and be disclosed prior to the first round of the draft on April 27, but there is no reason to believe anyone will surpass Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett as the No. 1 pick. The bigger question is whether the Browns will succumb to temptation and trade the pick. I doubt that they will.
5. Say it ain’t so, Joe: When a roster clause recently triggered a $4 million guarantee of Joe Haden’s team-high $11.1 million salary for 2017, it virtually assured the cornerback’s place on the Browns’ roster for another year. But a source said this will be a prove-it season for Haden and that the organization will seek Haden’s successor high in the draft. If the Browns retain their No. 12 overall pick and use it on a cornerback, it will set up 2017 as Haden’s lame duck year in a Browns uniform. Haden is due another $11.1 million in 2018 and $10.4 million in 2019, per terms of his five-year extension in 2014.