The predictions are coming faster and louder that the NFL lockout will be ending in the next couple of weeks. That will mean that training camps will happen. The pre-season will happen. Free agency will happen. Then the regular NFL season will happen. What does it really mean for the Browns though with their development timeline? The horror stories have already been written about how much further behind the Browns are from everyone else because they are a team in transition both on the roster and with the brand new coaching staff with new offensive and defensive schemes. None of this guarantees that the Browns will have an awful year this year, but it probably means another year of patience.
I know patience is a tough thing to preach since there hasn’t been any real good fortune since 1999. Logically though, it is only fair to restart the clock every time a giant change comes to pass in the Browns organization. Obviously it would be nice to reduce the number of giant changes, but forcing Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur to pay for the sins of the past is part of a counter-productive, destructive attitude whirlpool that has dominated Cleveland for far too long. As I said. Patience.
The Browns are seemingly intent on not being overly active in free agency. Who are we to argue that this is the wrong thing? We cheered loudly and mightily when the Browns brought in LeCharles Bentley, Joe Jurevicius, Dave Zastudil, Gary Baxter and more. While there is some bad luck involved with injuries, especially to LeCharles Bentley, there is also a philosophical argument to be made that these are the risks associated with paying big bucks for players with mileage. It not only increases the team’s risk factors for injury, but it raises the stakes from a salary-cap and flexibility standpoint if and when those injuries take place.
That is why I think Browns fans should hope for activity in the undrafted free agency market. Hopefully the Browns can find some diamonds in the rough who escaped the watchful eyes of scouts and coaches at the combines. It doesn’t happen a ton, but sometimes very good football players don’t test overly well in drills. Sometimes a guy like Danny Woodhead lacks the kinds of measurables that get him drafted. Someone like Noel Devine comes to mind even though the Browns seem optimistic that Montario Hardesty will be ready to go along with Peyton Hillis and Owen Marecic.
While the doom and gloom surrounding the Browns’ prospects this season are probably pretty well founded, this should be a year of improvement if the Browns hired the right people. Plus, we are still talking about a five win team even if all the progress from a year ago felt like they were slightly better than their record. Considering that the Browns are supposed to have an easier schedule this year, their younger players like Colt McCoy, Joe Haden, Mohamed Massoquai and Brian Robiskie are all a year more mature, and hopefully the team will at least find a way to win as many games as they did a year ago if not showing improvement over last year.
Even still, that probably puts the absolute highest water mark of expectations around eight wins. That would mean that almost everything goes right for this team in terms of adapting to new schemes and developing as players. As I said. Patience.