Wednesday Night Rumble: The Truck Stop Mogul

Written April 24th, 2013 by Jason

Tomorrow is the NFL Draft and the Browns are set to be on the clock. Their owner, however, may be in some serious hot water. When will this year’s crop of Buckeyes come off the board? It’s Wednesday, let’s rumble!

Nightmare on Lou Groza Blvd.

Compliments of an outstanding 2012, the Browns find themselves once again not only picking in the top half of the draft but in the top 10 at number 6. Obviously the team has plenty of needs to fill and they did a solid job this offseason in the free agent market to help sure up some of the more glaring weaknesses.

New Brown Paul Kruger sacking QB Brandon Weeden in 2012

New Brown Paul Kruger sacking QB Brandon Weeden in 2012

According to experts, the addition of former Baltimore Raven Paul Kruger was one the off-season’s biggest moves not just in Cleveland but the NFL in general. Putting him at rush end in the 3-4 (as he played with the Ravens) opposite Jabaal Sheard is supposed to give the Browns (Along with Phil Taylor inside) a formidable front 3. I’m not sold.

I love Phil Taylor and the possibilities of him sliding out into the gaps off the nose and being paired with Aytahba Rubin at the same time. I like the thought of Sheard as a hybrid DE/OLB with his wheels giving him an ability to play standing up or in a 3-point stance. Now, from what I am led to believe, Paul Kruger is the “missing link” to bring the defensive line from good to great. I just can’t help thinking: This is a guy who in his entire career has been strictly a third down pass rusher, literally, almost exclusively. Don’t believe me? I’ll bet you didn’t know that in 2011 he played 373 total plays. That number nearly tripled in 2012 when with Terrell Suggs nursing an Achilles tear.

My concern is that he is a “one year wonder” that had a huge playoff run and is now cashing in. And to be fair it was a huge playoff run. He had 4.5 sacks in the playoffs alone, 9 during the regular season.

Maybe Kruger is just hitting stride and ready to make his mark as a defensive force in the National Football League. Or, maybe Kruger is that guy every offseason that you’ve never heard of prior to the just finished season’s playoffs, who makes a great run and signs a big contract then never lives up to the value of it. Browns fans, me included, cross their fingers for the best.

So who’s the pick at 6?

I can’t remember a less remarkable draft as it pertains to big time talent and big names as the 2013 draft is rolling out. Where are the Andrew Luck and the Cam Newton’s? The Vonn Bell and Joe Haden’s? They aren’t in this draft because those are one-in-a-million type talents and 2013 just doesn’t have those.

Who in this year’s draft makes you say “Yes! I want that guy!”? Luke Joeckel? Lane Johnson? Deon Jordan? Shariff Floyd? Barkavious Mingo? Geno Smith? No thanks, at number 6 I’d quickly pass on all those guys.

Dee Milliner against TTUN in 2012

Dee Milliner against TTUN in 2012

Here’s what the Browns must do: Trade! Get out of that number 6 hole and try and get a second round pick or load up on a few more 3’s. If they were to slide back to number 12 or 15, anywhere around there, there is a host of players more than worthy of being selected. A few of them are named in the paragraph above. The problem with such a weak draft is that you’re reaching by taking those guys amongst the top 6-8 picks, let alone number 1 or 2 where Floyd or Joeckel may go.

I don’t mean to totally crush this year’s draft class. If you’re picking after slot number 9 you’re likely getting the same value and caliber player you would have any other year. It’s those top nine spots that are the problem. Which means what? At 6, you better find the safest guy you can and pray someone else doesn’t like him too.

If they pick at 6, who do they go with? For my money it has to be Dee Milliner, cornerback out of Alabama. It’s not that I’m totally enamored with him, honestly I don’t even see him in Joe Haden’s league as far as potential when they came out of the draft. But, he would make Haden better, is a solid tackler, has nice speed and played at a football factory in Tuscaloosa. He is the closest thing to passing the eye test as “that’s a top 10 pick” I’ve seen. Wait, scratch that, Chance Warmack (guard out of Alabama) is a sure thing. It stinks that conventional thinking in the NFL is that a Guard isn’t worth a top 5 pick. Luckily the Browns pick at 6, so maybe there’s a chance?

Ideally what I’d like to see them do, as I said before, is trade out of that number 6 spot. I’d like to see them move back to 12 or 13, maybe even as low as 16-17 and take Notre Dame TE Tyler Eifert. This kid has “special” written all over him and Browns head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner are well known for making tight end’s into superstars, just look at Antonio Gates and the two years Chud spent in Cleveland with Kellen Winslow Jr. to name a few.

Notre Lame's Tyler Eifert

Notre Lame’s Tyler Eifert

All in all, the city is going to be watching this draft ready to explode in anger over its feelings towards General Manager Mike “Bernie Kosar has diminishing skills” Lombardi. Yep, Michael Lombardi: He of such massive success in his time with the Oakland Raiders, so much success that it took him five years to get another NFL front office job after Al Davis canned him.

Here’s the rub. Lombardi has a shot to win over some fans and do the right thing for the organization: Take Milliner or find some way to move back. If Roger Goodell walks up to the podium and says “With the 6th pick in the 2013 NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select Ezekial Ansah, DE from BYU” there may be a riot in Berea, Ohio.

The Truck Stop Mogul

Since bursting onto the scene last August as the owner-in-waiting, I have dubbed Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, whose family founded Pilot/Flying J truck stops, as “The Truck Stop Mogul”. He looks the part of a polished and sharp businessman, but his family made its fortune on clean community showers off of turnpikes and video poker machines next to the Slurpee station. I am in no way demeaning trucking, my grandfather was a Teamster and for a very short time my father worked in the trucking industry. All I’m saying is it isn’t performing open heart surgery. Now I’m sure there’s a lot of business savvy and certainly leadership involved in making a company that big become that big and for that I take nothing away from the Haslam family.

It also isn’t predicting stocks with other people’s money or working for a bank on Wall Street. That’s been the one part of Haslam that I liked the most: He made an honest living providing a service to hard working people around the country. Its real people that you can actually see doing real work on a daily basis, both in his stores and patronizing them. To then hear that Haslam’s Pilot/Flying J headquarters was raided by the FBI and IRS was more than a little disheartening.

The Truck Stop Mogul

The Truck Stop Mogul

If you haven’t heard, and with how crazy last week was with everything happening in Boston rightfully taking our attention, it may have missed some of you not living (or like me, working) in Cleveland. The Pilot/Flying J headquarters in Knoxville, TN was hit on Monday, April 14th in what employees described as an “Enron-like” raid in that everyone was told to turn everything off, step away from their desks, leave all electronic devices on the desk and they were then escorted out of the building.

Why?

For most of last week nobody really knew for sure why. Of course, with the IRS involved speculation was off the charts as to what it could be about and what affect it may have on Haslam and his ownership of the Browns.

Documents were then unsealed in court on Thursday revealing the raid was done to obtain information about sales employees allegedly withholding fuel price rebates and discounts from certain companies to boost the profitability of the Pilot/Flying J and increase sales commissions. The affidavit says FBI and IRS agents were investigating charges of “conspiracy, mail fraud and wire fraud.”

Some of the customers alleged to be ripped off are small-time trucking agencies and were (allegedly) hit for thousands of dollars, some as big as hundreds of thousands. The documents also allege that Haslam knew about the fraud which “targeted unsophisticated trucking companies”. They also say he was present for discussions and meetings about the ongoing caper.

Haslam has been in complete damage control ever since, claiming to have no knowledge of any misdoing and promising if he had it would have stopped immediately. He has personally called some of the companies defrauded and paid them back the money they were owed.

To me, Haslam’s efforts are too little and far too late. And if the section in the affidavit claiming they have audio surveillance from a whistleblower with Haslam speaking at these meetings turns out to be accurate, he is a goner. Gone as in heading to the pokey. And I for one won’t be sad to see him go.

TTSM and his wife, Mrs. Pilot, saying hello to Brandon Weeden

TTSM and his wife, Mrs. Pilot, saying hello to Brandon Weeden

A lot of major corporations and “businessmen” like to play the straight talking guy and take on the “I’ll out-work ya” and “we’ll burn the midnight oil” persona. All too often but certainly not enough these suited “heroes” end up being outed for the snakes they are. I thought Haslam was different. Sure, he will have his day in court and may very well be exonerated of any and all charges. But in the court of public opinion and more importantly to me, he’s dirty and now forever will be tainted.

A great lawyer can find a way to get someone off these types of charges and even keep them out of jail. True, everything is currently prefaced with the word allegedly. However Haslam IS calling customers to apologize and try to “make things right”, so how much longer do we have to say it if he has admitted to it just not his role in it? Anyways, back to the lawyer…  A great lawyer can keep him out of jail, but isn’t the fact that this happened enough to make you look at Jimmy and just not trust what comes out of his mouth? It sure does to me.

Only in Cleveland.

Buckeyes moving on

There will be Buckeyes in this year’s draft! In previous weeks we’ve discussed the combine and Pro-days and how good or bad our boys looked in front of NFL coaches and scouts. This weekend, the dream of being in the NFL becomes a reality.

Jonathan Hankins – Big Hank is still expected to be the first Buckeye taken, likely in the tail end of the first round or early on Friday during the second round.

John Simon – The great mystery of this draft is who will take Simon and how early and then exactly what position do they expect him to play when he gets into camp, DE or OLB? I’ve seen as high as a third round nod for John and low as a fifth in mock drafts.

Etienne Sabino – Has looked good and done everything asked of him by pro scouts and coaches. He should get grabbed up as early as round 4 and no later than round 6.

Reid Fragel – After surging up draft boards, Fragel has leveled off and now looks to likely be a third of fourth round pick.

Jake Stoneburner – Remember when I was talking about the Browns trading back and getting Tyler Eiffert? If that doesn’t work out, they should look long at hard at Stoneburner and definitely pull the trigger if he is there in the fourth round.

Zack Boren – Spending the winter working out at fullback has hurt his draft stock and he may be lucky to find himself picked in the 6th or 7th round. It’s just not a position NFL teams draft any longer.

Nathan Williams – His injury history is hurting him and he may wind up as a free agent when the draft concludes on Sunday.

Travis Howard – Despite being snubbed for the NFL Combine in Indianapolis, word around the blogosphere is that NFL scouts like Howard’s 6-1 frame and he may end up going as high as a fifth round pick.

Ohrian Johnson – Is going to be an NFL free agent.

Garrett Goebel – Is in the same boat with Johnson.

Quick Hitters

The powers that be have decided for advertising and hype purposes to title the college football playoffs the College Football Playoffs. Well done.

The Big Ten announced that this is the last year for “Leaders” and “Legends” and that when Rutgers and Maryland join the league in 2014 the divisions will be renamed “East” and “West”. They really tapped the think tank for that one. That said: Well done and THANK YOU.

The Cleveland Cavaliers are bringing back Mr. Potato Head aka Mike Brown to be its head coach. While a lot of people are up in arms and mad about it, I have to say that honestly I am not. Frankly, I’m glad that’s who they hired. Brown knows Cleveland, he’s been a winner (Yes, I know that you-know-who played then) and was good enough to be hired by Jerry Buss and the Lakers whether it failed or not. Mike is a defensive expert who has experience maintaining some of the biggest egos in the history of the sport in Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and of course LeBron James. And don’t give me this “Now LeBron is never coming back for sure” because you���re only kidding yourself if you actually thought he ever was in the first place.

Wrap it up

We’ll look back the draft next week and talk about where some of our men of scarlet and grey wound up. Until next week, stay Boston Strong! Boston-Strong

Metallica track of the week

I was going through my list of tracks that have been immortalized by having their presence in this blog (lol ooook) and was stunned to see I hadn’t shared Fuel yet! Since the 2013 fest is rapidly approaching, how about we go back o Orion 2012 and let it rip!!! FYI Yours truly is in the Snake Pit up front. Let me know if you can see me… lol

2 Comments

  1. KenNo Gravatar
    April 24th, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Once again, good stuff Jason.

    I’m not as reticent about the Browns signing Kruger. As you point out, he hasn’t been an ‘every-down’ player, consequently he doesn’t have much mileage on him I guess we’ll see what happens this season.

    I think you’re right about the Browns’ draft strategy; they may need to go with quantity this year.

    Regarding Pilot/Flying J; I’m a bit more negative then you. I’m in the transportation business, and work with smaller carriers that may be classified as ‘unsophisticated trucking companies’. From a TN social/political blogger, http://southernbeale.wordpress.com/2013/04/20/horrible-people-pilot-flying-j-edition/

    Jim Haslam’s brother, Jim, is Governor of TN.

    [Reply]

  2. RyanNo Gravatar
    April 26th, 2013 at 12:37 am

    Wow, big ten saved by embarassment by the Cowboys. Who knew? What a shocker though, 6 of the first 11 were offensive lineman. You’re right though, after the first 10 or so, they was still pretty good talent available, just no real elite guys this year.

    1 QB, 3 WR, 1 TE, 0 RB. A lot different than normal. Eddie Lacy will be a steal in the second round.

    [Reply]

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