Brian Flores, one of four candidates to replace Joe Woods as Browns defensive coordinator, was 24-25 as head coach of the Dolphins. Would he be seen as a possible successor if Kevin Stefanski doesn't make it through his fourth season? (Miami Dolphins)
#HeyTony: Should Kevin Stefanski worry about hiring his possible successor?
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Editor's note: Tony Grossi is a Cleveland Browns analyst for TheLandOnDemand.com and 850 ESPN Cleveland. He has covered the Browns since 1984.
Hey Tony: Does Kevin Stefanski have to worry if he names a prominent defensive coordinator like Brian Flores? Flores could be the interim head coach next year when they stumble out to a typical Stefanski 3-5 start?
-- Sherry, Cleveland, OH
Hey Sherry: First off, Stefanski’s teams have been 5-3, 4-4 and 3-5 through eight games. So “typical Stefanski 3-5 start” isn’t exactly accurate. Your point, though, seems on the minds of a lot of people. I’m sure Stefanski isn’t worried about hiring his potential successor. And Flores, or whomever is named DC, should heed the example of Todd Haley. Haley was hired by Hue Jackson as Browns offensive coordinator in 2018. Some thought Haley was hired by GM John Dorsey, but Dorsey merely convinced Haley to take the job. When things went sour for Jackson at mid-season, Haley felt he’d be named interim coach. Instead, everything blew up and he was fired, as well. Paul DePodesta, chief strategy officer, convinced Jimmy Haslam to name defensive coordinator Gregg Williams interim coach. Not a bad call: The Browns went 5-3 under Williams' direction.
Hey Tony: If Kevin Stefanski was to be fired today, would he be a hot coaching candidate elsewhere?
-- David, Parma, OH
Hey David: I suspect that Stefanski’s career path is eerily mirroring that of Matt Nagy. In four years as coach of the Bears, Nagy was 34-33 with two playoff losses in two appearances. He was 28-22 through three years. Stefanski is 27-25 with one playoff win in two appearances in three years. After the Bears fired Nagy, he received no head coach interviews and rejoined Andy Reid as Chiefs quarterbacks coach.
Hey Tony: If you owned the Browns, would you have fired more coaches or front office personnel than just Joe Woods?
-- AJ, Avon, OH
Hey AJ: I would seriously reassess the role of DePodesta and reduce his pervasive influence on all facets of the football operation. I would let the coaches coach and the personnel people pursue personnel without being at the mercy of a former MLB executive trying to reinvent the game of football with "outside-the-box" directives forced on the football side.
Hey Tony: Now that Joe Woods is gone, does this open the door for Jadeveon Clowney to return in 2023?
-- Josh, Galena, OH
Hey Josh: Gawd, I hope not. How could they trust him after his selfish comments?
Hey Tony: Is there a ‘big name’ free agent you expect the Browns to pursue?
-- Evan, Cleveland, OH
Hey Evan: Yes. Da’Ron Payne, defensive tackle, Washington Commanders. They let him play through his fifth-year option without offering a second contract, so he’ll be a free agent. I was told in October the Browns sought to trade for him at the November trade deadline, but the Commanders’ price tag was too high.
Hey Tony: With reports that DeAndre Hopkins could be traded, do you see that as a move Andrew Berry would pursue? His connection with Deshaun is obvious. Or would the OBJ trade have soured them to such a move?
-- Jonathan, Lakeland, FL
Hey Jonathan: The problem is Berry’s trade for Watson left the draft capital cupboard bare. As a result of the Watson trade, the Browns are without their first- and third-round picks in 2023. It reduces the possibility of using what’s left in a trade for Hopkins, who is very good but is not the speedster the Browns need to round out their receiving corps.
Hey Tony: Is there a clause in Watson’s contract that voids it if he’s ever arrested/indicted on another charge?
-- Ken, Crystal Lake, IL
Hey Ken: At Watson’s introductory press conference in March Berry said, “We do have our language within the contract that does offer I would say typical club protections.” Those protections usually give the club the right to recoup the pro-rated salary bonus and other guarantees in the year of the contract that an infraction may result in a league suspension. The language generally does not necessarily invalidate the remainder of the contract.
Hey Tony: With Clowney gone, how is our edge rush/pass rush looking for 2023? Is it a draft question?
-- Mike, Medina, OH
Hey Mike: I would expect the Browns to attach higher priority to the defensive tackle position in free agency, and that would reduce a defensive end acquisition to lower-tier to rotate with 2022 draft pick Anthony Wright.
Hey Tony: Hard to disagree that outside of foot work and mobility, not a big difference between Jacoby Brissett and Deshaun Watson. I have a feeling four years from now, if you’re still working, this will be the biggest bust for Browns, what say you?
-- Ray, Medina, OH
Hey Ray: I think there’s a big difference in Watson’s arm strength and accuracy and running ability. His six-game trial was not a true sampling of his overall abilities. But next year there will be no excuses, and if Watson does not elevate the Browns into the playoffs in 2023 I would agree that the acquisition is trending as one of the worst in franchise history.
Hey Tony: What are the chances of Willie Anderson and/or Ken Riley getting into the Hall of Fame this year? Ken Riley is long overdue.
-- James, Garfield Heights, OH
Hey James: Anderson, a four-time All-Pro right tackle, is among the 15 modern-era finalists on the 2023 ballot competing for a maximum of five spots. I think he is worthy but may have to wait another year or two for other deserving candidates who have been on the ballot longer to get in. Riley, a three-time All-Pro cornerback, was one of three players nominated by the senior committee for induction this year. I think he has a good chance.
Hey Tony: If the front office was put under the lasso of truth, would they be comfortable with Jedrick Wills starting the season at left tackle next year?
-- Leonard, Troy, OH
Hey Leonard: This week, Berry said of Wills: “I think like many young players, there are still areas where he can be more consistent, but we definitely thought he took a step forward this season.” I expect the Browns to pick up Wills’ guaranteed fifth-year option in May, but they will hold off on discussing a second contract until 2024.
Hey Tony: With Jacoby Brissett leaving in free agency, who are the best options available to back up Watson next season?
-- Mike, Amherst, OH
Hey Mike: The Browns will give Kellen Mond a chance to ascend to No. 2 in training camp. Myself, I would bring back Josh Dobbs, who started the final two games for the Tennessee Titans and did OK.
Hey Tony: If Kevin Stefanski finishes next year with a winning record but misses the playoffs, is he done?
-- Fred, Corinth, MS
Hey Fred: Let’s at least have the transaction season play out before declaring ultimatums, OK?