By Michael Bohm
When Browns owner Jimmy Haslam elected to bring in the current Cleveland Browns regime, including head coach Hue Jackson and Vice President Sashi Brown, the roster as we knew it was blown to smithereens. Veterans, key contributors and playmakers – all jettisoned from the roll call. The Browns were starting over.
Here we are, not even two years later, and Browns are staring into the boundless black hole that is yet another 0-9 start. In that time, we’ve seen former Browns players leave their marks on playoff and even Super Bowl squads. Meanwhile, here sits a Cleveland franchise that continues to hold the title of the NFL’s worst team firmly in its grasp.
The future, from the fans’ perspectives, is utterly bleak.
Yet, from the beginning, the Browns front office has said that this would be a three-year process.
That means this team is currently in year two of a three-year plan; an operation that Haslam and company committed to from the get. The direction, seemingly, remains downward.
So, when starting over – and doing so from such a lowly point – how is it possible that the franchise’s standing will experience any better improvement between this season and next?
Sure, hiring the absolute best front office candidates and potential coaching staff feels like the answer.
But why – in a gloomy Cleveland, Ohio football town – would any of these candidates even want to consider taking on such an impossible, intolerable challenge? At this point, the entire NFL world knows of the oblivion that is First Energy Stadium. Thus, the first, second, and maybe even third options for replacements will certainly have zero interest in this career-ending task.
There’s two routes the team can take: blow up an already detonated regime and roster, or stick to the plan; the one that the Haslams were willing to follow through with from the beginning.
Sashi, Hue, Jimmy – they all knew it was going to happen. Of course, it’s always easier said than done. Saying you’re willing to tolerate the Factory of Sadness in full force, and actually going through with it are two entirely different difficulties. Everything feels worse when it truly takes place. Fan uprising has reached an all-time high, and the morale sits at a record low.
While the reasons for discontent are justified, so too are the positives overshadowed.
Let’s start with the defense. Under new defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, we are witnessing a rejuvenated unit. Yes, falling apart in fourth quarters, defensive miscues; they’ve all taken place throughout this season.
At the same time, injuries, inexperience, and the opposing offenses’ time of possessions have also taken their respective tolls. Look no further than last Sunday’s matchup with Detroit. Jamie Collins intercepts a pass and subsequently tears his MCL. The effect was beyond clear. Cody Kessler enters the game and lays an egg, the defense barely gains a moment of rest. The Lions proceeded to march right down the field.
In the offseason, the front office bolstered the defensive line. As a result, they have made a greater impact, when healthy. The secondary now features veteran Jason McCourty, his impression has been significant. This is still a position that must be addressed. There’s no doubt that Brown and his front office staff recognize this, and plan to handle it in the offseason.
Now, on to the offense. Offensive line? Sign J.C. Tretter and Kevin Zeitler. Check.
Running back? Duke Johnson, Isaiah Crowell, the draft pick of Matthew Dayes. Check.
That leaves tight end, wide receiver, and most importantly, the quarterback.
The Browns picked up David Njoku in the first round of the draft. His inconsistency is present, but Njoku also faces one of the tougher position transitions among college players entering the league.
At the wideout positions, the front office expected Corey Coleman to be healthy and equally as impactful. During the offseason, he certainly looked the part.
In that same group, sophomores Ricardo Louis and Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins came to camp now bigger, faster, and better. Plus, Kenny Britt was thrown into the mix coming off a 1,000-yard season with the Rams. Of all the positions in need of the most upgrade, receiver was definitely not at the top of the list.
Rather, it was the quarterback position. DeShone Kizer’s resume is full of inconsistency, and yet, dripping with potential. The skillset of the NFL’s youngest starting quarterback is unquestionable, but the errors have led to alarm. His performance in Detroit featured moments of maturity and improvement, as well as more infrequent rookie mistakes. Remember, the rookie mistakes will forever be exponentially uglier than those of a veteran. Hence, the blunder at the end of the first half.
But the offense orchestrated by Kizer, all in all, was phenomenal. There is no denying so.
Obviously, there’s still seven games remaining this season. But that has not halted any hype coming from Browns fans towards quarterback draft prospects. All of which are projects, arguably more inconsistent than Kizer, unless their name is Baker Mayfield.
Mayfield, the shorter senior from Oklahoma, is the current favorite to win the Heisman award for College Football’s best player, while also on pace to lead his team to the promised land that is the playoffs.
Yes, the potential is there. But, here’s the thing: you take Mayfield, you are – yet again – starting over. All the promise, the growth and the chemistry developed by Kizer, it’s all thrown out the window to restart the offensive rebuild once more.
Meanwhile, the promising skill players drafted after that pick, they’ll soon be taken off the board, and the Orange and Brown will once again miss out on the weapons that they need so desperately.
In the end, everything comes back to the head coach. Jackson has absolutely had struggles of his own. But, he has not lost this team. In fact, players still rally around Hue. The fact that a team could suffer so significantly, and still believe in their coach – that says something about his capabilities. Not to mention, the amount of respect he received from players and coaches around the league. Williams accredited his accepting of the defensive coordinator job to Jackson. Adam “Pacman” Jones came out after a game and praised the Browns’ Head Coach after beating Cleveland down. This is not all one gigantic gag, it has purpose, meaning. The case being that all of the blame cannot fall on Jackson.
Look, it’s completely true that the front office has not addressed every gaping hole. But, when you have these holes at every position, how could anyone?
This team – being the youngest team in professional football by a large margin – is not poised to win. Not yet.
But they are on the right path, regardless of what the record states.