Cleveland Browns

John Mara’s grandson still isn’t speaking to him after Giants traded Odell Beckham Jr.

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Questions for Giants co-owner John Mara, and answers, on the trade of franchise receiver Odell Beckham Jr. 13 days ago:

FMIA: How hard was it for you to do this?

Mara: “I had very mixed feelings about it because I happen to like the kid. I really do. I have two grandsons who sobbed uncontrollably when I called to tell them that we had traded him … one of whom is still not talking to me. They both said they’re going to be Browns fans this year. So that’s the effect he has. They’re 7 years old and they think he’s a god. I liked him a lot personally. He’s different. He’s not a bad kid.

“Dave [Gettleman, the Giants’ GM] and I had a long talk about it. When the Browns made their final offer, I wanted to know—You and Pat [Shurmur] both want to do this? You’re sure? You’re absolutely sure? I still said I had to think about it. Then I called him back a little bit later.”

FMIA: I thought you had to be thinking of Lawrence Taylor, and if your organization could put up with Taylor, surely you could put up with Beckham.

Mara: “There’s an old Bill Parcells quote: ‘Lawrence Taylor is the pilot of a burning plane. ‘ Somehow he managed to keep the plane from crashing. But we got … we had a lot of holes to fill. Getting the first-round pick, getting the third-round pick, getting our fourth back from the [Kevin Zeitler] trade. You can argue whether it’s comparable value. I felt better about that than about previous offers that had come down the pike. And he was going out of the conference! Out of the division, so it was a reluctant OK.

“Of course we want to keep our best players. Listen, I had many conversations with him. He had the stupid penalty in Philadelphia where he lifted his leg in the end zone [in a faux dog-urination scene] and I brought him into my office and I showed him the front page of the New York Post and said, ‘Is this what you want? Is this what you want your legacy to be?’ He looked at me and he said, ‘Well you know, I just don’t understand the celebration rules.’ I said, ‘Well you know you can’t do that!’ “

FMIA: Sounds like you’re pretty motivated as a team to build your lines back up in the draft.

Mara: “I don’t know what we’re going to do—whether we’ll take a quarterback or not. My response is show me what the grades are. But don’t force a pick. The worst thing we can do is force it. If we have to wait another year, I don’t want to have to do that, but if we have to, I’d rather do that than force it. This thing now about everyone asking, ‘What’s the plan? What’s the plan?’ We’re trying to build the roster! What do you want me to tell you? ‘Yeah, we’re gonna take a quarterback at six? The plan is to build the roster!’ It’s exasperating. But I learned a long time ago that you’re defenseless when you lose. There’s nothing you can say. We’ve got to build our team, and we’ve got to win.”

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Baker Mayfield has secret weapon during Browns’ offensive surge

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There is a reason, if you live in Ohio, to thank the heavens that Cleveland GM John Dorsey fell in love with Baker Mayfield last fall. There is also a reason to be thankful that Freddie Kitchens was handed the reins of the Browns offense seven weeks ago today.

On Oct. 29, Gregg Williams took over as coach for the fired Hue Jackson, and Kitchens took over as offensive coordinator for the fired Todd Haley. The Browns are 4-2 since. Four wins. Four Mayfield fist-pumping, howling-at-the-moon wins. Last six weeks for Cleveland: four wins. Previous 164 weeks on the calendar for Cleveland: four wins.

Mayfield/Kitchens. Rarely does an NFL shotgun marriage work, never mind flourish. “Why has it worked so well?” I asked Kitchens on Friday.

“Because Baker is starved for knowledge,” Kitchens said in his Alabama twang, the accent Mayfield imitates almost daily. “He loves learning. I’ve told him, ‘Your work in progress is never gonna be complete, ever. There’s always gonna be things you can work on, new things.’ Why limit what he can become? He loves that. You see that every week, how much he loves it.”

We saw it in real time Saturday night in Denver, with the game clock and play clock running, 12 minutes left in the game, Cleveland down 13-10, first-and-goal at the Denver 2-yard line.

The Browns didn’t huddle at first, preferring to keep the Broncos in their sub defense with two defensive linemen and five defensive backs; Cleveland had run the ball well against that Denver defense, so Mayfield didn’t want them to be able to substitute. This was going to be a run by Duke Johnson, with a tight end next to the right tackle. But with 26 seconds left on the play clock, Kitchens called for him to huddle to call the play, to ensure everyone was on the same page. Quick; don’t let Denver have time to substitute, he told Mayfield. The QB hustled his 10 mates in and out of a quick huddle, looking at the Denver defense while he called the play. The Broncos had a sub—from TV, it looked like corner Bradley Roby—ready to come in, but … “Get to the line!” Kitchens yelled into Mayfield’s helmet before the sideline-to-quarterback communication shut off at 15 seconds. No defensive changes.

At the line, Mayfield got a hint the Broncos could be playing man coverage with four safeties and one corner (due to injury and an ejection). With 10, nine, eight seconds left on the play clock, Mayfield changed the play to a pass, turned around, and moved Johnson from his right to his left—physically moved him, with his hand on Johnson’s shoulder. Denver linebacker Todd Davis inched across the formation, trying not to give away what Mayfield saw: man coverage. To Mayfield’s left was a pure safety, Justin Simmons, with two games of some experience playing slot corner in his three-year career. Not outside corner, where the fleet fly. Simmons has average speed, and his man, Antonio Callaway, is a 4.4 wideout. Big edge, Browns. Mayfield knew.

Play clock at :02. Snap. Calloway got inside Simmons, easily, and broke inside on a quick slant to the middle of the field. No safety help. Easy. Pitch-and-catch, Mayfield and Callaway. Winning touchdown. Cleveland 17, Denver 16.

“What happened on that play was far beyond elementary thinking,” backup Browns quarterback Drew Stanton told me.

This single play represented huge next-level growth for Mayfield, and seven weeks of chemistry between Kitchens and Mayfield. Now, at the line, Mayfield has been given the freedom to change plays even very late on the play clock. That’s because he’s a sponge, and has worked to learn all pre-snap contingencies, and Kitchens trusts his judgment.

In about 28 seconds, Mayfield went from run to huddle to run to moving the back physically to spying indicators of man coverage to changing the play to a pass to the winning touchdown pass to celebrating like a uniformed Tarzan, pounding his chest.

You know what I saw in that moment of intense celebration, almost over-the-top celebration, by Mayfield? Not I just put a dagger in the Broncos on the road with a huge play. To me, it was more Mayfield thinking, I am learning some serious s— right now, and I am executing it at the highest level of my profession. And I just got here.

The Browns are factors in December. Baker is starved for knowledge.

Those two things are related.

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NFL Draft Betting Value Rests Beyond Browns’ No. 1 Overall Pick

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The only certainty on the morning of the 2018 NFL draft is that the Cleveland Browns, with the No. 1 and 4 overall picks, will take a quarterback – which has created a ripple effect on other betting props.

Southern California quarterback Sam Darnold is the -180 favorite to be the No. 1 overall choice in the 2018 NFL draft that takes begins in Arlington, Texas on Thursday, according to sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

The other players in the No. 1 pick prop include three other quarterbacks, Wyoming’s Josh Allen (+175), Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield (+450) and UCLA’s Josh Rosen (+1800), plus Penn State running back Saquon Barkley (+600) and North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb (+4500).

Quarterbacks have been taken No. 1 in 12 of the last 17 drafts and no running back has been the top pick since 1995. Darnold’s price might reflect an expectation that his skillset is most in tune with conventional NFL thinking. If a bettor believes the Browns will buck convention, well, Allen is believed to have better physical tools and there is the Hail Mary option of Mayfield, whose competitiveness and athleticism is offset by being short for a NFL quarterback.

The quarterback-at-No. 1 argument adds values to other props. Barkley (+175) has the lowest price but is still plus money as the No. 2 overall selection on the 2018 NFL draft betting props board. The New York Giants have that pick and general manager Dave Gettleman does not have a history of trading down at the draft. The Giants haven’t indicated a focus on a QB, which seemingly rules out Darnold (+275), Allen (+350) and Rosen (+400).

The New York Jets are a lock to take a quarterback, creating a very tight No. 3 overall prop between Rosen (+140) and Mayfield (+160). The play there depends on what type of risk bettors believe the Jets want to take on: with Mayfield, the only knock is his height (a smidge about 6-foot), while Rosen battled concussions in college.

Between the Browns also holding the No. 4 choice and the Denver Broncos possibly trading down from No. 5, the +225 price on whether one of the first five picks will be traded is a very enticing proposition. The Buffalo Bills are one of the quarterback-hungry teams with two first-round picks they could ante to move up in the draft order, while speculation also has the New England Patriots looking to move up, since Tom Brady presumably will not play forever.

Position props can also be great fun. The over/under on quarterbacks selected in the first round is 5.5. Only once – the famed John Elway-Jim Kelly-Dan Marino draft in 1983 – have six QBs gone in the first round. Tying that record would require both Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and Oklahoma State’s Mason Rudolph to go in the first round. The over/under on Jackson’s draft slot is 17.5

It is considered a thin year for elite wide receivers, so the -150 under on the 2.5 total seems like the percentage play. Teams have been wary of using first-rounders on running backs in recent years, but the total is only 1.5, making the -220 over a realistic hit since, after Barkley goes, only one team would have to take a chance on a back such as Louisiana State’s Derrius Guice or Georgia’s Sony Michel.

For more odds information, betting picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes or listen to it at OddsShark.libsyn.com.