Grading The Browns Free Agency


Now that things have calmed down a bit in the Cleveland Browns free agency period, lets take a look back at what they’ve done so far and give out some grades on the signings.

The New Additions

1. Donte Whitner, Safety

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The Deal: 4 years, $28 million

The Grade: A-

I like Donte Whitner a lot. I think the Browns did well to upgrade on TJ Ward’s suspect pass defense, and Whitner should be an immediate boost there. They did so intelligently however, by replacing the hard hitting Ward with the harder hitting Whitner. Well done.

2. Karlos Dansby, Inside LInebacker

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The Deal: 4 years, $24 million. Heavily front-loaded.

The Grade: B+

I think Dansby is a definite upgrade over D’Qwell Jackson. He’s as good a tackler, better pass rusher, better pass defender, and as good of a leader. I like the way the deal the Browns gave Dansby is structured, but I do have to question both the length and the massive dollar value. Dansby is 32, and his deal last year was 1 year, 2.25 million from the Cardinals. He was certainly worth more than that, but I think the Browns overpaid a bit. Still, solid addition, solid grade.

3. Isaiah Trufant, Cornerback

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The Deal: 2 years, $1.54 million.

The Grade: D+

The deal is small, but Trufant isn’t very good. He’s 31, so really past the point of redemption, and hasn’t played much anytime recently. He did play under Browns Head Coach Mike Pettine in New York, but the idea of bringing in players you’re familiar with is vastly overrated in cases like this. The Browns needed a good CB2, and the only guy they’ve signed is Trufant.

4. Ben Tate, Running Back

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The Deal: 2 years, $7 million. Incentive based around game activity.

The Grade: A

I love this signing. I love the contract the Browns worked out. Tate has had some injury issues, but when healthy he’s been an incredibly versatile runner who could easily shoulder the bulk of carries in an offense. The deal the Browns gave Tate will motivate him to stay healthy, as he gets paid a bonus of $46,875 per game he plays. I think Tate will be a great upgrade and play well for the Browns.

5. Andrew Hawkins, Wide Receiver

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The Deal: 4 years, $13.6 million.

The Grade: B-

My lower grade on the Hawkins signing is primarly because I think the Browns overpaid on a receiver who has yet to be proven, is a little jittery and badly undersized. That said, I love Hawkins speed and explosive ability to turn plays into monster gains. I like the idea of signing Hawkins very much, just worry about the amount of guaranteed money and length of deal we gave him. I do think if properly used in the Browns offense, he’ll be a contributor and playmaker.

6. Jim Dray, Tight End

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The Deal: 3 years, $5.625 million.

The Grade: C-

I don’t dislike this signing, that’s not the reason for my weak grade. Dray is a good blocking tight end. He’s big and strong and can even catch. I just don’t get signing another Tight End. We have more tight ends than any other position on our current roster. We have so many more urgent needs, I just caught fall in love with depth signings.

Players the Browns Released Or Did Not Re-Sign

1. TJ Ward

Mode of Departure: Allowed to Leave in Free Agency

The Grade: C

I don’t love the idea that we let a young talented player walk away in free agency. Good teams don’t let players they drafted walk away after their rookie deals. That said, the reason I don’t entirely hate the move is because we signed a suitable replacement (Donte Whitner) and because of the flaws in Ward’s game (weakness in pass coverage), I’m willing to give it an average grade.

2. D’Qwell Jackson

Mode of Departure: Released

The Grade: B

It was hard to watch the Browns cut ties with a player that so many of us have come to respect and like. That said, it made a lot of sense from a financial perspective (cap number) and on the field perspective (weakness in coverage, slow speed, inability to rush the passer). DQ gave the Browns and Browns fans his prime years, and now wasn’t a bad time to part ways.

3. Brandon Weeden

Mode of Departure: Released

The Grade: A+++

I don’t care if it caused a small cap hit. I don’t care. Brandon Weeden was a tragic draft day mistake, and a tragic failure every single time he was on the field for the Browns. Sometimes, you have to pay up for mistakes.

4. Jason Campbell

Mode of Departure: Released

The Grade A-

I don’t have anything against Jason Campbell. I thought he looked really good at times, but age and injuries led to some wildly inconsistent play down the stretch last year. I thank Jason for his efforts and am fine with moving on.

5. Oniel Cousins

Mode of Departure: Allowed to Leave in Free Agency

Grade: A+

Oniel Cousins was dreadfully bad when he played last year. His performance against Miami last year was bad enough to warrant an immediate removal from the roster. In any case, the Browns pulled an addition by subtraction move by getting better simply by getting rid of Cousins.

6. Shawn Lauvao

Mode of Departure: Allowed to Leave in Free Agency

Grade: A

Lauvao is another player the Browns did well in not bringing back. He struggled over his entire tenure with the Browns, and has reached a point in his career where a major improvement is unlikely.

7. Davone Bess

Mode of Departure: Released

Grade: A+

Davone Bess needed to go, and the Browns had the foresight to put in language in his contract making it possible for them to void it if he screwed up, which he did. Good riddance.

Overall Grade

Pro’s

The Browns replaced the players on defense that they chose not to return or were released, and in both cases upgraded. They retained Alex Mack via the Transition Tag, which should help give their line some continuity moving forward. They added a replacement for Davone Bess and playmaker in Hawkins. They significantly upgraded at Running Back, and cut a significant portion of the dead weight on the team overall.

Con’s

The Browns did not upgrade at areas of concern, especially at the Guard positions an Cornerback position. The need in these areas is so important that they would have been wise to sign at least one free agent as well as drafting a player for those areas.

Final Grade: B

The Browns have had a solid free agency period at this point, but have missed out on reasonably price talent at areas of major need for them. Overall, they have done a good, not great, job.

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Random NFL Offseason Musings


There are a lot of interesting things that have happened so far in the month and a half or so since the NFL season came to an end, and there will likely be quite a bit more craziness leading up to, during, and even following the NFL Draft in May.

Here are some random tidbits and thoughts on what’s happened so far and some of the things that could happen going forward.  Some are Browns-related, some not so much.

MAURICE JONES DREW IS REPORTEDLY SEEKING $3.5 MILLION PER SEASON.  Prior to the Ben Tate signing I was an advocate of considering Jones Drew on a cheap 2-year deal to provide a veteran presence, solid pass-protection and pass-catching on third downs, and a possible fountain-of-youth season similar to the one Jamal Lewis had after signing with the Browns in 2007.  Apparently MJD, though, still sees himself as a starting running back, although the rest of the NFL doesn’t appear to agree.  In a world where Tate, a 25-year old back without much wear on his tires, just signed a deal to be the clear-cut starter for the Browns that will only pay him $3.5 million per season if he reaches incentives, MJD will probably need to adjust his expectations if he wants to find a new home.  That said, I still think he could offer a valuable contribution for someone next year.

MJD's words to the NFL

MJD’s words to the NFL

I LIKE THE BROWNS EXPLORING THE POSSIBILITY OF SIGNING ALEX CARRINGTON.  Carrington is a solid player.  He’s built well to play the defensive end in a 3-4 and looked poised to really tap into his potential as a starter with Mike Pettine’s defense in Buffalo last year before an injury derailed his season.  Injuries, unfortunately, have been a common theme for Carrington.  If he can stay healthy, though, he could be a nice addition to the defensive line rotation.  I don’t think the Browns would look to trade or cut Ahtyba Rubin immediately if Carrington signs, but 2014 would probably give him an opportunity to become a lower-priced alternative to re-signing Rubin when his contract expires at the end of the season.

ABOUT THAT INTEREST IN PAUL MCQUISTAN, THOUGH.  The Browns had the 6’6″, 315-pound McQuistan in for a visit on the same day as Carrington.  McQuistan played in all 16 games for Seattle last season, and he graded out as one of the weaker offensive linemen in the NFL (Pro Football Focus (PFF) rated him 71st overall among 76 offensive tackles a year ago, with a really awful average rating per game of -2.58 for his 9 games at tackle).  This is typical for McQuistan.  Theoretically, he is a versatile lineman who can play tackle or guard.  The reality, though, is that McQuistan provides mediocre depth at guard and is going to be a liability if a team is in a position where they have to play him at tackle.  The Browns have better linemen on their roster, and there are much better linemen available in free agency and the draft.  Perhaps they feel that having a player available who can fail miserably at both guard and tackle is a necessity and are trying to replace Oneil Cousins?  I don’t really get the interest here.

Paul McQuistan...why?

Paul McQuistan…why?

JARED ALLEN TO THE SEAHAWKS WOULD BE SIMPLY UNFAIR.  Anyone who watched the Seahawks play, even if the only game they saw was the Super Bowl, knows that their defense is tremendous.  Yes, they lost Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond III to free agency.  But as long as Pete Carroll is there coaching up a secondary that includes Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas, it will be a strength.  They’ve resigned Michael Bennett, and now it looks like they might land Jared Allen.  Those few of you that follow me on Twitter have already seen all of these figures, but for anyone else, this helps put into perspective how great Allen is (not to mention how pathetic the Browns have been at finding an elite pass rusher).  Over the past 12 seasons, the highest sack total any individual defensive player on the Browns has produced is 11.0 (rookie OLB Kamerion Wimbley in 2006).  Last year, Jared Allen had what is universally being called a down year.  In fact, PFF stated that he had a “an extremely rapid decline” in 2013.  And in that down year, he had 11.5 sacks – which would have led the Browns in any of the last 12 years.  Further, Allen’s lowest total of the last 7 seasons was 11.0 sacks – still enough to tie the Browns highest total since 2001.  I guess this leads to two conclusions:  1. the Browns haven’t had a really good pass rusher in a really long time and 2. Jared Allen has been a terrific player for a long time, and he’s still capable of being a force.  Oh, and in case you were wondering, the last player to post more than 11 sacks for the Browns was Jamir Miller, with 13 in 2001.  As Browns fans know all too well, he would never appear in another regular season game after tearing his Achilles tendon in the 2002 preseason.  Reviewing the breaks that the Browns have gotten since 1999 is like repeatedly being poked in the eye, isn’t it?  Anyhow, while we’re on the subject of Jared Allen, watch this awesome play:

CHAMP BAILEY IS THE BEST CORNERBACK STILL AVAILABLE.  I don’t have any idea how much money former Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey wants in order to continue his NFL career in a new city.  I also don’t know for sure how much he has left in his tank.  But it wouldn’t surprise me if Bailey has another above-average season in him.  Granted, he’s no longer playing at the level he played in his prime, a level which makes him a surefire Hall-of-Famer.  However, look at the overall ratings he’s received among all NFL CBs from PFF:

2009: 7th    2010: 3rd    2011: 18th    2012: 10th

All of those ratings came after his 31st birthday.  To put them in perspective, the highest rating Joe Haden has had in his career was 6th (oddly enough, that was in his rookie season of 2010), and Haden rated 18th last year.  Now, last season was a tough one for Bailey.  He dealt with injuries that kept him out of all but 5 regular season games, and looked like he was still dealing with the injuries when he did play.  Despite that, his average game rating from PFF was still higher than Buster Skrine’s.  Skrine rated 106th among all 110 qualifying NFL CBs last year, and right now stands as the number 2 CB for the Browns again this year.  So, if Champ Bailey was willing to consider coming to town on an incentive-laden 1 or 2-year deal, I think it would be intriguing.  If he could offer one year of just solid play, an improvement over Skrine’s performance, it would greatly benefit the Browns defense.  Not only would it upgrade that number 2 CB spot, but it would allow Skrine to move inside and focus on being the slot corner, which is a better fit for him anyhow.  Thus, the defense is strengthened in two spots.  And perhaps the Browns could take a cornerback a little later in the draft – rather than trying to use one of their top 3 picks to land one of the few who should be able to start immediately – and allow him a year of development before stepping into a starting role.  Having Bailey here would also give him the opportunity to learn from one of the best cornerbacks who has ever played the game.

YOU DO KNOW THAT CHAMP BAILEY SIGNING WILL NEVER HAPPEN, RIGHT, ROB?  Yes, I do.  I’m just saying that after looking a little closer at Bailey’s performance over the past few seasons, I think it could be a sensible signing.  And the Browns still have a boatload of cap room.  So why not?  Maybe they will…and maybe he will…no, no.  They won’t.

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SHAWN LAUVAO GOT MORE MONEY IN FREE AGENCY THAN GEOFF SCHWARTZ.  No, really.  Shawn Lauvao, a human turnstile whom PFF rated 70th out of 81 guards last year, was paid $17 million over 4 years by the Washington Redskins, with $5 million guaranteed.  Geoff Schwartz, whom PFF rated 8th out of 81 guards last year and was pretty much unanimously considered the best guard available in free agency, received $16.8 million over 4 years from the New York Giants, with $4.7 million guaranteed.  I don’t know what else to say.  Those Redskins just keep cranking out the hits.

Shawn Lauvao got more money than Geoff Schwartz. Your thoughts?

Shawn Lauvao got more money than Geoff Schwartz. Your thoughts?

I THINK DRAFT DAY IS REALLY GOING TO BE A FUN MOVIE TO WATCH.  I mean, come on, tell me you aren’t excited to see Kevin Costner as the general manager of the Browns!  In a movie that was shot in Browns headquarters and at the actual NFL draft!  It’s going to be cool!  And the first two voices in the trailer are Tony Rizzo’s and Aaron Goldhammer’s!  Whoops…I know, nothing’s perfect.  But the rest of the trailer makes the movie seem like a lot of fun for Browns fans.  I can’t wait.

SO T.J. WARD DECIDED TO SOUND OFF ON TWITTER.  The former Browns strong safety and new Broncos acquisition decided he’d go on Twitter and inform the world that the Browns offered him “nothing.”  I’m not sure what T.J. was trying to accomplish with that tweet.  Are fans supposed to feel sorry for him?  Angry at the Browns?  Disappointed with their lives in general because he is no longer with the Browns?  I really don’t know.  What I believe I do know is that it might not be the best reflection on Ward that the team which knows him best, the team with which he’s been a starter for the past 4 seasons, apparently decided that he was so imminently replaceable that it wasn’t worth spending time negotiating with him.  Ward’s tweet does explain a couple of things, though.  For one, it shows why his agent put that comment out in the press that they were negotiating with the Browns: in order to get ahead of the revelation that the Browns were happy to let him walk and try to keep his price up by making it seem that the team had interest.  It also helps to explain why Ward got what seems like such a cheap contract: because front office people in the NFL didn’t think he was worth more.  And one other thought: if Ward is trying to make the Browns look bad with that tweet, someone should remind him that the Browns signed Donte Whitner, who is a better player than him.  Advantage: Cleveland.

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Hey T.J.: we’ve moved on and you should too.

A NEW MOCK DRAFT FROM NFL.COM HAS THE BROWNS TAKING TEDDY BRIDGEWATER AT 26.  I used to think that pro day performances from quarterbacks were really a waste of time.  But if all it takes is a couple of little hiccups during Bridgewater’s pro day to make NFL teams pass on him so that he falls into the Browns’ lap at 26, then maybe they are worthwhile.  I’ve gone on record that even though Teddy is my top choice for the Browns with the 4th pick, I won’t be angry if they pass on him there.  There are other players at the top of the draft who are very talented and would look really good in a Browns jersey.  I don’t believe that he will really fall to 26, but if he does and the Browns don’t take him there (assuming they don’t draft another QB at 4), I will be upset.  Not that the Browns, or anyone else for that matter, will care that I’m upset.  I’m just letting you – the kind, beautiful, brilliant, discerning readers of DPN – know that this is the case.  And that is despite the fact that after watching this video you will be convinced that Teddy Bridgewater could not possibly have a future in the NFL.  Warning: you should not watch this horrific disaster if there are children in the room.  That’s right, ladies and gentlemen.  It’s Teddy Bridgewater’s calamitous pro day:

I’M NOT BRAGGING, BUT… I really did suggest that the Browns should draft Vontaze Burfict when he was still available in the 6th round of the 2012 NFL draft.  He’s gone on to become a superstud linebacker for the Bengals, and man would he be nice to have on this Browns defense.

AND THE REASON I DON’T BRAG ABOUT THAT IS… because I actually believed for a while that Brandon Weeden was going to put it together and be a legitimate top-15 starting quarterback in the NFL.  Now Brandon Weeden is going to serve as the waterboy for the Cowboys or something, less than 2 years removed from being the 22nd pick in the NFL draft despite being a 4th-round talent.  But I got hooked by him.  I admit it.  For what it’s worth, I realized after the Miami game to open this past season that it was hopeless, but up until then I still had hope.

And so, the whole Burfict thing really just goes to prove the old adage about the blind squirrel and the nut.

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Rob Magee is a lifelong Browns fan who suffered his most devastating punch to the gut when a friend recorded The Langoliers over his VHS copy of the 1993 Browns vs. Steelers game that featured two Eric Metcalf punt returns for touchdowns.  For more tidbits,stats, and discussions on the latest happenings with the Browns and around the NFL, you can follow him on Twitter @robisindy.  You can send your thoughts to him at DPNRob@gmail.com.

Should The Browns Rescind Their Transition Tag On Alex Mack?


I feel like it was just yesterday that Alex Mack’s Agent, Marvin Demoff, said that “I’m confident we can come up with a structure that would have a reasonable likelihood to not be matched by the Browns — and would be in full compliance with the collective bargaining agreement”. What Demoff likely meant was a sneaky deal that had an absurd roster bonus next year, say $40 million dollars, that even if the Browns matched, would essentially force them to cut Mack before the start of the next league year or be destroyed from a cap perspective.

Thankfully, Mack has not visited with any other teams and has generated little interest. The teams like the Colts and Buccaneers that were deemed likely landing places have signed or re-signed other centers.

With Mack’s market drying up, it begs the question of whether or not the Browns should rescind their transition tag on Mack. $10 million dollars is an absurd salary for a center, and Mack isn’t even the best center in the NFL.  Until he signs the tag offer, the Browns are allowed to pull the offer back. They would risk losing Mack, but with a shrinking market elsewhere, it would likely force Mack back to the table, as the Browns are still likely to be his best bet for a long term deal near the money he likely wants. Additionally, it would send a strong message that the Browns are not going to be held hostage by their free agents. Last, with Mack clearly not commanding the interest that his agent bragged that he would, it would give the Browns a much stronger position at the bargaining table.

In my opinion, Mack was mislead by his agent, and really deserves a slice of humble pie. Contract numbers in the NFL are based on market value, and since Mack has virtually no market outside of Cleveland. It’s time to play rough, and for Ray Farmer to take control of this Alex Mack situation, which had gotten a little unwieldy.

Shawn is the Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer for Dawg Pound Nation.  He’s also an Army Sergeant, married to the beautiful and brilliant @MrsStarr, dad to three and aspiring Browns Writer.  You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnMStarr or @DawgPoundNews, as well as on the Dawg Pound Nation Facebook Page.

Rumors: Browns May Have Interest In Trading For Desean Jackson


There is a rumor being reported that the Browns may be among the teams interested in trading for Eagles WR Desean Jackson.  Jackson has been highly productive with the Eagles, but his high cap number ($10.5 million dollars in 2014) has the Eagles open to trade offers. They are rumored to one at least a 3rd round draft pick in exchange for Jackson.

Shawn is the Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer for Dawg Pound Nation.  He’s also an Army Sergeant, married to the beautiful and brilliant @MrsStarr, dad to three and aspiring Browns Writer.  You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnMStarr or @DawgPoundNews, as well as on the Dawg Pound Nation Facebook Page.

A Deeper Look At New Browns WR Andrew Hawkins


I’ve said in a few places that I love the Andrew Hawkins signing. This is a big part of the reason why. Both his story, and his incredible speed and play-making abilities. Watch what happens in this video ever time Hawkins gets into space. He reminds me of Darren Sproles if he lined up at slot.

Shawn is the Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer for Dawg Pound Nation.  He’s also an Army Sergeant, married to the beautiful and brilliant @MrsStarr, dad to three and aspiring Browns Writer.  You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnMStarr or @DawgPoundNews, as well as on the Dawg Pound Nation Facebook Page.

Taking A Look Back And Ahead In Browns Free Agency


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In a statement released today, Browns General Manager Ray Farmer said the team has added players “that will continue to push in the direction we want this team to go.”

“Free agency is well under way. We’ve added several players to the roster that will continue to push in the direction we want this team to go. A couple key things to keep in mind: What we’re doing is finding talented players that can be good starters in this league, and guys that can compete to push those guys that end up being the starters.  Since we last talked about the state of our roster, we’ve added Jim Dray, Ben Tate and now Andrew Hawkins – all offensive guys who we think can help advance our mission. These acquisitions are about steadying our ship and moving Cleveland closer to competing in our division and competing for championships.”

The team seemed focused on filling roster holes early in free agency. After cutting ILB D’Qwell Jackson and letting SS TJ Ward walk in free agency veterans LB Karlos Dansby and SS Donte Whitner.  The team also got ERFA WR Andrew Hawkins to sign offer sheet, which the Bengals today decided not to match, to fill the slot position created by cutting troubled WR Davone Bess. The team also signed CB/ST Isaiah Trufant.

The big splash however, came when the Browns spent three days negotiating with RB Ben Tate. Tate has been tied to the Browns going back as early as last pre-season. The Browns went about the Tate deal the right way; they kept him in town throughout the process, and worked out an incredibly good contract.

“Like Coach [Mike Pettine] has articulated, we want guys that play like Browns, and we feel like every player we’ve added in free agency embodies the characteristics we want: Passion, toughness, relentlessness, competitiveness, accountability and productivity.” Farmer said.

So where do the Browns go from here? I’ve got some targets I think the Browns will show some interest in.

CB Aaron Berry

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The Browns have already met with Aaron Berry once, and I’ve heard there is still interest there. Berry came in to the league as an undrafted free agent, but earned decent playing time in New York under then DC Mike Pettine. Berry has had some injury issues (he tore his ACL last year), but if healthy he does have starting potential.

DE/DL Alex Carrington

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Carrington got to Cleveland last night, and is expected to meet with the team this morning. He played last year on the Bills under Coach Pettine. The thing I like about Carrington is his versatility. He can play any spot on the line, and potentially OLB if needed.

QB Rex Grossman

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The Browns have been rumored for weeks to be in talks with the Texans to acquire Matt Schaub. At the end of the day, I think the Browns will balk at Schaub’s massive base salary of 14.5 million dollars. That we’ve been in a position to get Rex Grossman for a fairly cheap price. While I highly doubt that Grossman will be viewed as a legitimate competitor for the starting job against Brian Hoyer, He will give you a veteran mentor to help teach Shanahan’s offensive scheme.

LB Arthur Moats

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Moats has been a rumored Browns target since the day Mike Pettine was hired. He was at the core of Pettine’s defense in Buffalo, and is a solid inside linebacker who can disrupt an offense. I’ve heard some reports go as far as to say a deal has already been mapped out between the Browns and Moats, but I find that unlikely, as it likely would have been signed already this late in free agency. That said, I feel like Moats is a probable signing at some point this off-season.

Shawn is the Editor-In-Chief and Lead Writer for Dawg Pound Nation.  He’s also an Army Sergeant, married to the beautiful and brilliant @MrsStarr, dad to three and aspiring Browns Writer.  You can follow him on Twitter @ShawnMStarr or @DawgPoundNews, as well as on the Dawg Pound Nation Facebook Page.