Cleveland, Ohio. Nestled on the shores of Lake Erie, it is home to harsh winters, the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, the reigning NBA Champion Cavaliers, the reigning American League Champions, Cleveland Indians and the currently 0-12 Cleveland Browns. That’s right, you read that correctly, 0-12. It’s early December and the Browns’ win column still shows a glaring 0. A big part of me feels sorry for the franchise, and has so for years. They have endured years of misery and are no strangers to perpetual disappointment year in and year out. For the last five seasons, the Browns have finished the season in the basement of their division, and are on pace to make that six consecutive seasons.
In 2014, the Browns finished with a 7-9 record and were starting to show some potential on the field. They had signed some key free agents and drafted young talented players, two of which were DB Justin Gilbert and infamous QB, Johnny Manziel. At one point during that season, the Browns were 7-4 and had earned impressive wins over the Saints, Steelers, Bengals and Falcons. However, in week 12, everything changed. The Browns were handed a 28-10 loss to the Bills and then went on to lose the remainder of their games. It may be a little bit cynical for me to say that the Browns franchise took a turn for the worse after the off-field issues they had to endure with QB Johnny Manziel. Manziel, a promising young talent, had his chances to make it in the NFL, however, as we all know, he was his own worst enemy. He wasn’t fortunate enough to land on a team with several skilled players, but he had the chance to put in the work and prepare himself for the future. A little bit more on Manziel, in 2014, he appeared in five games and accounted for 175 yards, no touchdown and two interceptions. In 2015, Manziel saw his chances on the field double. He made an appearance in 10 games and accounted for 1,500 passing yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions and rushed for 230 yards. He saw his QB rating increase dramatically and we were all getting a glimpse of what the future could be with the talented Manziel behind centre.
Things were starting to look good for Johnny Football & Co. On Nov. 17, 2015, he was named the starter for the remainder of the season. But it was all for none as shortly after the big news, even bigger news appeared. Videos had surfaced of Manziel partying in Texas while on a bye week. He was quickly demoted to third-string QB. Manziel again had his chance when the first and second string QBs were injured and benched respectively. He managed to earn an impressive win over the 49ers, ending the Browns then seven-game losing streak. Unfortunately, Manziel could not start the last game of the season due to a concussion. Instead of sticking around with the team on the last game of the season, Manziel decided to take a trip to Las Vegas. Clearly, his lack of respect for any team rules and poor work ethic did not bode well for him. Johnny Manziel was released by the Browns in March of 2016 and has yet to step foot on the field for an NFL team. The Manziel fiasco is an unfortunate reflection of the Browns franchise. Just when they appeared to be doing the right things, drafting the right players, signing the right coaches and players, things somehow started to fall apart.
I often wonder, is it strictly a lack of talented players, leaving voids in skill specific positions? Could their on-field woes stem strictly from the ranks of the coaching staff that have graced the sidelines? – Maybe. The Browns have had anything but consistency in the head coach position. Since 2002, the last time the Browns made the playoffs, they have had eight different head coaches at the helm. Those eight head coaches have combined for a 75 – 140 record, well below .500. A lack of coaching consistency and steady leadership is never a good thing in any sport. This lack of consistency and leadership means that the Browns have never been able to develop a positive identity as a football team. Unfortunately, the only identity they currently hold is not a positive one at all. Most fans, pundits and critics still view the Browns as an organization in shambles.
In my eyes, the Browns are an organization that practice impatience. They seem to want to rid the team of players and personnel very often in an effort to quickly rebuild and hope for the best. Sometimes cleaning house isn’t the best option and if the Browns start doing that now, I don’t think it would be a wise decision. When I look at their full line up, I see a very young and raw team with a load of potential. So far this season, the Browns have had five different quarterbacks under centre, with the most promising ones being veteran Josh McCown and rookie Cody Kessler. If I were the Browns, I would look to build the team around QB Cody Kessler under the mentorship or Josh McCown and have fellow rookie QB Kevin Hogan waiting in the wings as a third string QB. Both Hogan and Kessler came out of great offensive schemes in college and should be capable of working with an NFL playbook. Doing away with QBs RGIII and Charlie Whitehurst will be good for the Browns as it will give them a chance focus on the development of their younger players…. similar to what the Oakland Raiders have done.
With regards to their wide receivers, they have very talented young players that have big play ability. Corey Coleman, Ricardo Louis and Terrelle Pryor have a bright future; however, they are without the presence of an experienced and credible receiver that can serve as a leader to them. Statistically, their defense ranks near the bottom of the league, especially their run defense. Nevertheless, they have a very young and talented front seven that, with time, can be a stout unit. If they manage to keep this core together in the off-season and bring in a key marques linebacker, it will truly benefit them. The same thing goes for the Browns’ secondary, they have the potential; however, they are just missing a veteran presence back there. The most prominent void in the Browns’ line-up is at the running back position. Currently, Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson occupy the Browns’ backfield and have combined for a grand total of 876 yards, on 201 carries, and six touchdowns. That’s an average of less than 5 YPR. There’s no doubt that the Browns need to address this issue in the off-season. Whether they do so in the draft or look to attain an already active NFL player, something must be done.
If you look back at all their games this year, the Browns have been in nearly every one of them. They have had their chance to close out games and earn the win, but they haven’t done it once and now, they’re the laughing stock of the league. Call me naive, call me an idiot, but I think this team has potential. If they turn their back on Hue Jackson and send him packing, the Browns are just going to take another step backwards and find themselves even further away from becoming a competitive team. What I would like to see them do is support their head coach for another season, maybe two, depending on next season’s results, so that they can start to develop a positive identity as a football team. Give Hue Jackson some time to figure out which guys he wants around the club. Give him a chance to put his fingerprint on the club by adding the few plug and play players the Browns need. Let’s not forget how valuable he was to the Cincinnati Bengals before he left. It’s clear to see that, offensively; the Bengals are not where they were last year with Jackson on the sidelines calling the plays. Former start WR, Josh Gordon is still affiliated with the team. He has decided to take the remainder of the season off in order to correct his off-field issues. If he decided to come back to the team, it would be spectacular for the Browns.
Consistency, it all comes down to consistency and preparation. If the Browns can keep Hue Jackson and allow him to forge the team and equip it with the appropriate players, they will start to develop some consistency again. We saw a glimmer of hope for the Browns during the Mike Pettine/Johnny Manziel Era, why not try and build off that using the talented youthful players they have. I’m not saying that the Browns are a couple players away from taking the division, but they have a solid foundation that can help elevate them from basement dwellers to competitors. Perhaps they can fuel off the success of the other sports team in Cleveland and find some success of their own, if they can develop some consistency in their camp.