July 30, 2014

Expectations remain the same as Browns changes continue

Banner and HaslamI’m feeling surprisingly good about the Cleveland Browns right now. I know that sounds funny to say at this point in the year. I’ve been kind of down on them with all the unknown variables hanging in the air, but a week out of the loop1 gave me a bit of perspective on the team and just what they’ve done so far this off-season. Let’s just say the word “rebuild” hasn’t come up much in my mind.

The Chip Kelly thing did a lot to skew perception of the Browns pretty negatively over the last few months. Because the Browns shot for the hot candidate and ended up losing out on him in the end, it distracted a lot of us (myself included) from the fact that the Cleveland Browns just upgraded their coaching staff pretty massively.

Rob Chudzinski is an unknown, but he’s already gone out and done what I begged the Browns to do with Pat Shurmur. He’s hired experienced coordinators, and wouldn’t you know it, he’s even decided to let Norv Turner call the plays. Imagine that? No, I don’t know much about Ray Horton, but I don’t know anyone who thinks he’s unqualified as a candidate. So, on paper at least, the Browns have upgraded the operation.

The roster of any team looks like it’s filled with holes right about now, so it’s tough to get overly excited at this point. The Browns recently cut Frostee Rucker, signaling the change from the 4-3 to the 3-4. An extra lineman or two on last year’s team will presumably be replaced by an extra linebacker or two this upcoming season. Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker will both be gone, but the Browns are still in great shape on the defensive line with Rubin, Taylor, Hughes, Winn, and pass rusher Jabaal Sheard who might now technically be a linebacker.

Additionally, corner looks a bit scary, but every team feels like this right now. You know who else thinks they could use a corner or two? The San Francisco 49ers for one. It’s just the time of year in the NFL. The Browns have some key departures like Sheldon Brown, but most Browns fans I know were looking for ways to replace him for quite some time.

So, I get that there’s no way to really look at the roster and think that the Browns have done anything to upgrade it. That’s just the nature of the NFL every year as player movement occurs. It’s hardly specific to the Cleveland Browns. I could easily make the argument that this season in particular, there is less need for moving parts than most years in the past.

I also get the consternation over the Browns’ most recent high profile hire when they named Mike Lombardi VP of player personnel. If there’s one spot in the organization that Browns fans didn’t think they needed upgrade (other than kicker) it was probably at the GM spot in the organization. So, as the Browns head toward free agency and the draft, that’s an obvious, legitimate question, if not concern.

For me, the expectations of this team remain unchanged. They are on an upward trajectory based on the roster, and I expect it to continue. This is a culmination type of year for the Browns. I know they’ve switched front offices and coaches, but this roster should be in its competitive window starting this year. Three years of drafting by Tom Heckert were designed for this maturation point. It was dictated because of the trade for Julio Jones that with all the hits and misses in personnel, the Browns should be competing at least at the parity level this upcoming season.

Today, I think it’s possible for 2013 and that’s the standard I’m going to hold Joe Banner and his Browns to this season. Who is going to play QB? Will the Browns go at it with Weeden again or keep looking? I have no idea and I don’t have a recommendation other than to say that there needs to be a plan, even if they’ve decided to go to the drawing board again and waste Heckert’s draft pick from a year ago. If they keep him, they better coach him up and put him in a position to succeed. If they replace him, it better be an upgrade.

I am aiming squarely at eight wins as the goal, and if the Browns get a few fortunate bounces and a little bit of luck, they should be in the conversation for the playoffs and the division, legitimately. This team has been built through the draft and should still be on the upswing and improving year over year.

This team has potential to be San Francisco-esque in the way they went from a talented underperformer to legitimate NFL franchise. There’s a lot of work to do to develop the roster and coach them up, but that’s the case for every non-playoff team every single off-season. Frankly, it’s also the case for some of the playoff teams coming off a season-ending loss.

This is a bit of a departure for me by the way. I’m not acting like a prognosticator. I’m not looking at the schedule and counting up Ws either. I’m merely pointing out what this team should be accomplishing at minimum. Now it’s up to Banner, Chudzinski, Lombardi and the rest to make it so. It should be within their grasp this year.

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Footnotes:

  1. I was on vacation last week and only wrote one post in case you hadn’t noticed. []
  • Hopwin

    Did you miss the headline about Haslam going back to running Pilot Flying J and leaving his new “executive team” behind to run the Browns?

  • Harv 21

    “This is a culmination type of year for the Browns.”

    Respectfully disagree. The Browns are simultaneously installing new offensive and defensive systems, with new terminology and coaches, and will be teaching them to a very young team. Hard as it may be to stomach, this is going to be yet another learning year, not a culmination year. Teams can compete when the players are comfortable in a system. Slim chance that will happen in year 1. In summer camp 2014 you’ll be reading lots of stories with player quotes like “last season I had to think about everything, now I can just play.” Nope, there may be nice developments but this is a re-set year.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    The dangers of writing the night before…

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com Craig Lyndall

    Respectfully disagree. They’re a young team, but they’re not rookies anymore. It’s up to this coaching staff to put them in the best position to succeed right away. If that means a dose of the 4-3 look to start the year, then I expect to see it. If that means putting Weeden in the shotgun a lot, then I expect to see it.

    No more excuses. This roster doesn’t need a makeover the way it did when Mangini showed up. That’s how I feel about it and I expect them to be competing for 500 this season. It’s up to them to make the acquisitions and draft picks to help enable that.

  • BenRM

    I agree with you. There is talent on this roster. The decision to shift to the 3-4 is not an excuse for any sort of shortcoming this season. It was a voluntary decision made by the front office, not something that *had* to happen like the roster overhaul of three years ago.

    As for the offense, even if it is an entirely new system, there is no way that I can imagine it being worse than last year. New and confusing still has to be better than whatever Shurmur installed.

    tl;dr the team has talent now. The switch to the 3-4 is all on the front office.

  • Harv 21

    oh, you meant “competing” for a .500 record this year, like being a mediocre team rather than a bad one. I misinterpreted the “San Francisco trajectory” part.

    So with that clarified, yeah, I’m with you. I really think what Norv does with Trent, Gordon, Benjamin, Little and any QB will be good for a close to mediocre record.

  • Garry_Owen

    I respectfully disagree with all of this respectful disagreeing. What have we become?

  • maxfnmloans

    you’re wrong. and I mean that as disrespectfully as possible. Yo Mamma.

    better?

  • AMC

    I agree that this SHOULD be the year that the Browns actually start to compete rather than being stuck in rebuilding mode. My concern is that if you listed to Chud talk about the “process” and hear the things that both Banner and Haslam have said publicly that don’t exactly sound like ringing endorsements of what Heckert accomplished, then I think you have an organization that still views itself in rebuilding mode.

  • Garry_Owen

    That’s better.
    (Typical Michigan fan.)

  • SDA

    And with that said I respectfully remove my name from consideration for The VP of player personnel position

  • maxfnmloans

    #HALOL

  • Garry_Owen

    You do know that this is now going to be my response to every comment you make. I’ve got one well, and I like to go to it again and again.

  • Hopwin

    I know right? If you had asked me last month if Haslam was going to be another absentee owner who tossed the keys of the franchise to Banner I would have laughed. Now I am concerned but not panicked.

  • mgbode

    I try to be optimistic. I like to be optimistic. Heck, I expect to be optimistic.

    But, until the FO/team gives a better indication of what they are going to do at QB, TE, OG, CB2-4, FS, and OLB, I just cannot be optimistic yet.

    (FA + draft can answer most or all of those questions)

  • dan

    I feel like you are missing a perfect opportunity to panic.

    For myself, I’m not sure I’ve ever been less optimistic about the Browns. Yes, I like the coordinators. Other than that, blech.

  • REEPJP

    I largely agree with you Craig. Can you imagine what would happen if Chud, Banner and JHIII came in for the first press conference and declared that we were going to win the division in ’13 kickin’ arse and takin’ names only to repeat (gulp) 5-11? It makes sense that the new guys are preaching a wait and see, patience approach to the media, where in all likely hood they’re being optimistic behind closed doors.

    I’m not sure Norv and especially Horton would have made the decision to come to Cleveland if Chud was telling them it’d probably take a few years to implement everything and be competitive? Horton must have seen enough with this roster and the staff in place to think he has a decent shot at being successful and finally spring-boarding him to a HC position.

    Lastly, I understand the common excuse for these guys that a system and the terminology are new, but they are PROFESSIONAL football players and coaches. Their job is to learn/teach the plays and keep their bodies in good shape. That’s it. With no lockout restrictions, every player on the team conceivable has a playbook in his hand right now and should be learning the new schemes. It’s not like they’re being introduced to a new way to play the game where the quarterback only uses their feet to deliver the ball to the receivers down the field. It’s still football and any player/regime that uses the new system/terminology excuse past the first two pre-season games is taking the easy way out.

  • Wow

    I’m cautiously optimistic.