I guess most of us saw this coming. This week's release of veterans Shaun Rogers, Eric Barton, Kenyon Coleman, David Bowens and Robert Royal wasn't the most shocking of news, considering all the changes that have occurred in Cleveland over the past year. The recent dismissal of Eric Mangini certainly laid the foundation for the release of at least four of these players – namely the "Mangini guys" who arrived in 2009. The coupling of this past familiarity and the expected return to a 4-3 defense signaled that a youth movement along the defensive side of the ball is well underway – something that is desperately needed at the moment.
However, if the release of any of the above names could be characterized as a "surprise", it would have to be Shaun Rogers – at least if we're putting emphasis on exclusively on his "name." While Rogers' production dipped in 2010, he still retains the allure of possessing extraordinary skills wrapped in a behemoth body. However, as the 2010 season wore on, it became clear that Rogers' role on the Browns lessened by the week. A combination of lingering injuries, a lack of practice time and what appeared to be a general sense of apathy directly coincided with Rogers' worst season as a professional.
Yet on a defense lacking in high-profile names, Rogers remains at the forefront of Browns' talk. This topic was debated in the OBR Forums over the past days, resulting in some decidedly mixed reactions.
From a thread started by OBR Forum member Jake Taylor – just called up from the Mexican league – here are a couple examples.
Why get rid of the one few pieces that could benefit from this regime change?
Granted, I cannot speak of Big Baby's attitude behind the scenes; but 5.5 million is not too much to sacrifice if he can thrive in this system (and he could have).
It's just creating another hole on top of the issues already on this team.
Rogers and Five other old guys with injury concerns were reported as released. It could just be a matter of a team moving forward with players that can be counted on two and three years down the line. No sense in banking on Rogers who has been in the league for ten years, has injury issues and has never displayed the attitude you would want passed on to your younger players.
You have to have loved what Rogers could do and what he did three games a year. Have to love those times in a game when he was fired up and playing with heart and passion. Have to wonder what he would be game to game. Year to year questions on an ageing player of diminishing ability with injury concerns and a high price or at least likely to demand a high price equals likely cut. He probably had little if any trade value this year.
As Sobo correctly points out, the current depth among the defensive front seven is razor-thin. Naturally, a shift towards a new defense dictates that the likes of Coleman, Barton and Bowens would not have contributed major roles in 2011. Also, considering the age of all three defenders, these moves could have been made under the continued direction of Mangini. However, Rogers' departure does leave a canyon-sized hole along the defensive line – at least in theory.
Redright's take on Rogers reflects how this move could have easily been made a year ago. In many ways, the 2010 season was played without Rogers. Ahtyba Rubin effectively replaced Rogers at nose tackle and in many ways could be considered the closest thing to a defensive line cornerstone. Rogers never adjusted to playing defensive end in Mangini's three-man line and ended the season merely spelling unproven talents such as Derrick Robinson and Brian Schaefering.
But again – any discussion regarding Rogers has to come back to his potential – even if such a term sounds odd when placed on a 32-year old defensive lineman. However, as Sobo points out, the Browns' brain trust has just added another bullet point to an ever-growing list of team needs.
Certainly, the Browns have to be leaning toward drafting some defensive line help in the upcoming draft. The current collection of talent beyond Rubin is basically roster filler for a past defensive scheme. However, it appears that the higher priority in April would be the selection of some traditional, pass-rushing types of defensive ends – rather than a defensive tackle.
Also, it's worth noting that retaining Rogers – or re-signing him, which was another topic discussed in this thread – is nothing short of a gamble. Considering Rogers' price tag, the prospect of the veteran lineman hobbling through another long season could be an exercise in wasting money. Add in the factor of a new head coach in Pat Shurmur trying to establish his presence, and Rogers' inability or unwillingness to practice could prove detrimental to the team's new direction.
Reading through the rest of the OBR Forum threads, I caught the sense that most fans who were against the move were still channeling some past visions of Rogers. Call this the intersection where Image meets Reality, but Rogers has been a non-factor for at least half of his Cleveland tenure. This idea was brought home late last season. In the press box during the Baltimore game, it became something of a running joke every time Rogers took the field. Of course, this was a joke only heard about seven times. As soon as Rogers finished the play, he begged off, then lumbered back to the sideline. The entire scene was pretty sad, as Rogers' play was almost framed within a defense that was completely wore down.
In terms of his overall value to the Browns, Rogers is essentially a wildly overpaid backup – one who could only be counted on to sporadically provide relief to the starting linemen and perhaps block an occasional field goal. As his release relates to the future of the Browns, it is becoming apparent that the defense is about to undergo a severe makeover.
While the arrival of an offensive-minded head coach signals that the Browns are serious about joining the rest of the league in playing a post-modern style of football, there remains an extraordinary amount of work to be done among the defense. The release of Coleman, Bowens, Barton and Rogers points to a front office directive that stresses the need to find players who can survive an entire NFL season. Although Coleman, Barton and Bowens fought through injuries all season and turned in gutty performances, these players cannot be relied upon by this newest version of the Browns.
And truly, these moves are probably just the beginning. Or perhaps the end, if you consider the blank slate the Browns currently have on defense. There isn't much remaining from the 2010 defensive front seven. As it stands now, there is a great likelihood that only Rubin, Scott Fujita, Chris Gocong and Marcus Benard survive the transition to a new defense.
Considering all this impending change and factoring in Rogers' decline over the past two season, perhaps none of us should be too surprised.