April 24, 2014

Cleveland Browns don’t get a second chance at a first impression

FirstEnergy Stadium Steelers

I really wonder how much of Joe Banner’s legendary arrogance is dripping over in Berea right now. We’ve all heard the stories from Philly about power struggles and ego that I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to assume the Browns are operating with a fair amount of arrogance, do you? How else can you explain the fact that the Browns – despite losing one of their QBs to an ACL injury in early October – are headed into a week of regular season NFL action with their third ((used to be first, but currently is undoubtedly third)) QB slated to start with no actual backup on the roster? (Caleb Hanie might be signed by the time you’re reading this, but the point stands.) How else do you explain some trading maneuvers, that even if smart in the long run, have left their team woefully thin at the end of their very first NFL campaign at the helm? Regardless of how you feel about the future and how the Browns have set themselves up, there’s no denying that this year’s team has under-performed in a down year in the division with a somewhat easy schedule.

This isn’t to question all the Browns’ moves or their future. The Browns don’t need Shamarko Thomas (the guy who was taken with the draft pick they traded to Pittsburgh) and hindsight proves pretty well that they didn’t need Trent Richardson. That doesn’t mean that the Browns don’t need a running back at all, however. Further, their game on Sunday against a largely disappointing Steelers team indicates they’re in need of plenty more.

How would you characterize the way the Browns have attacked their needs this season? Does anyone think they’ve made even a modest attempt to win as much as possible right now within reason? I’d say the feeling I get from Berea is that they’ve been largely content to let this bad hand ride. In their first season with a chance to make a good first impression, I find that a little presumptuous at minimum. I might actually be giving the Browns the benefit of the doubt by saying they’re being run arrogantly right now. The alternatives are that they’re either inept or they don’t care.

Is it just a matter of me having unrealistic expectations? Some will undoubtedly say that, but I don’t think so. I’ve run through this before. This Browns team wasn’t the same one that Mangini took over from Romeo Crennel. This team was young and seemed to have been built pretty well through the line of scrimmage. It was bolstered in the off-season through free agency… on the defensive side of the ball. The Browns made one move on offense that I liked, bringing in Davone Bess, even if it hasn’t turned out well. They also did a nice job upgrading the backup quarterbacks when they brought in Jason Campbell and Brian Hoyer. If quarterback was the only issue this Browns season, I wouldn’t have (m)any complaints. In many ways the Browns prepared adequately enough and if it hadn’t been for injuries to both Hoyer and Campbell, I’m guessing this season would shine much brighter, but it’s more than that.

Even though they’ve struggled with the kind of QB health that can doom any franchise in any given year, I still have the feeling they’ve let opportunities slip by. As I said prior, they didn’t sign another QB once Hoyer went down. It’s not the fact that they traded Trent Richardson – although I was admittedly livid at that maneuver – it was the fact that they rolled through Bobby Rainey and Willis McGahee as options and seemingly sat back satisfied with the horrendous output. It wasn’t wrong that they wanted to see what Greg Little, Davone Bess and Josh Gordon could do and then Bess and Little under-performed. That happens to even the best front offices. It’s the fact that their best options thereafter were Josh Cooper1 and Brian Tyms.2

Maybe the next best replacements for those guys wouldn’t have made a difference, but the entirety of those moves feels like a betrayal to this season. Even if the moves don’t work, the appearance of trying would be a vast improvement. We hear about player workouts happening around the league all the time. Other than some punter workouts, when the season was still interesting before the Cincinnati loss, how many workouts did the Browns conduct with players who might be able to help them? Maybe admitting that Willis McGahee can’t play anymore would be a start. My point is that perception matters and my perception of their efforts this season are not good.

As it stands today, I’ll always think of this season as one where they didn’t try hard enough. No, they weren’t ever likely to make the playoffs this year, but to see them seemingly so satisfied watching any slim chance of playoffs flush down the drain prior to and including a gut-wrenching, boring loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at home on Sunday is downright infuriating.

To add insult to injury, Joe Banner has been trotting around Cleveland this week talking to city council about what a good partner the Browns are. There might be truth to that, but I’m left wondering what that actually means right now for someone like Joe Banner who almost literally just got here. You don’t just get to walk around saying you’re a good partner as you’re making your first deal on the biggest stadium expenditure the city’s had to choke down since agreeing to build the bland box in the first place. I don’t want to rehash the entire stadium ordeal all over again, but even if the Browns made a good deal with Cleveland compared to other NFL teams in their respective cities, that doesn’t mean it’s a “good deal” for Cleveland at all. And the burden of proof to consider yourself a good partner to the city is bigger than just saying it before you’ve had a chance to prove it.

Equally, on the football side of things, you don’t get to talk about how impatient you are as a team CEO and then trot practice squad players in and out of the city while simultaneously having your best player constantly rumored on the trading block when the team on the field is in dire need of help. Doing those kinds of things is taking Cleveland’s fans for granted. Maybe it shows a good level of knowledge of how to boldly build a franchise for the long run, but I just can’t stomach the idea that in today’s NFL with a decent baseline of talent on the lines of scrimmage that years need to be wasted. This isn’t the NBA where getting into the Wild Card is a death sentence of constant mediocrity. This is Cleveland where mediocrity from the football team is considered an unreasonable expectation.

Am I being unfair? I don’t know. Asking for more than the current 4-7 record doesn’t seem too crazy, but anything’s possible, I guess. Well seemingly anything except the Browns being one of those teams that turns it around quickly and without another agonizing “process” that further demoralizes fans.

Image via Scott Sargent/WFNY

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Footnotes:

  1. Has he touched the field yet this season? []
  2. Who? []

  • bupalos

    Running backs, outside of a few real talents that change the meaning of holes, just don’t impact a game that much. You might be right that there is one out there that is marginally better than Oby or McGahee, but it’s HIGHLY unlikely that they would have more than a +15 yard impact. If I’m in the mediocre market, I’d much rather have a guy that gets his assignments like Obi than someone with a tick more speed or whatever.

  • bupalos

    No, yes, he SUCKED.

    Like worst back in the AFC sucked. The regime forced their enire (bad) redzone offense through him last year to get those touchdowns, on a bad YPC. Trent Richardson has had less than 10 good runs in his entire career to this point, and by good I mean added more than 5 yards over what you’d expect of an average back. Meanwhile he has bypassed countless 4 yard holes in favor of impressive -1 yard wrestling matches.

    As for the QB thing, name me the SPECIFIC practice squad player that you think it’s insane not to have on this team. And then say it outloud. Like IT’S INSANE NOT TO HAVE CALEB HANEY ON THIS ROSTER!!!!! Just see how that rolls off the toungue.

  • bupalos

    Not wanting to pull the trigger on some unknown quantities on offense (i.e. they clearly believed Weeden stunk on ice) they turned attention to the defense and made us NFL top 5 there. They’ve loaded up on picks to blow out the offense this year.

    This is not a bad job. Dad is not doing a bad job driving just because it’s been 6 hours and we aren’t to Kansas City yet. This team is clearly better than last year.

  • bupalos

    Swap QB’s and we are better than the Chiefs.

    Hell, take away QB injuries and we might be better than the Chiefs.

  • nj0

    That’s not much of a defense of our front office though. Cause Smith was out there for the taking and, from what I remember, we didn’t try to get him. So instead of being a playoff bound team, Banner decided he’d rather be 4-7.

  • nj0

    Just saying that it’s worth trying to find that diamond in the rough. Especially at this point. One of the luxuries of being terrible is that you see what sticks.

  • bupalos

    I think without QB injuries the Browns would be a playoff bound team too. I’m surprised that I think this, but I do.

    People undervalue this defense. Its championship level. And it’s undeniably where they set their sights, given the QB unknowns.

    What I will fault them on is acting like Weeden was a possibility. The tape last year was atrocious, with 5 or 6 plays where you can just say no, never, this guy will never be an NFL quarterback.

  • bupalos

    Agreed there. We may as well look for that slot, I just don’t want Oby discarded– in watching coaches film he’s impressed me with his feel for getting the block and/or getting out in the flat.

    I want to see Mingo get reps in coverages too. With no QB on the horizon, it’s time to do some development.

  • http://www.waitingfornextyear.com/ Scott @ WFNY

    Horton can say whatever he wants. Gipson has not even approached mediocre. And no, Owens is the starter. Skrine covers the slot. Your points of its been worse are straw man at best.

  • Sam Gold

    Just to say it because it keeps coming up, cap space is not an owners personal slush fund. Nor is $26mm an appreciable amount to a BILLIONAIRE.

  • whosevelt

    The team has clearly been better for seven consecutive years now. Still the same record.

  • Petefranklin

    When you take 14 million of dead salary cap space to the bank,4th string QB’s are to be expected. I’m still upset that they didn’t sign a FA Olineman to shore up what has turned out to be a disasterous part of the team. I realize that FA’s aren’t the answer, but a new solid veteran on the Oline may have done wonders. Rot in hell with your 14 mill Frack Boy.

  • mgbode

    we came so close to not having a thread like this one until december. came thisclose to Thanksgiving. ah well, maybe next year :)

  • Slyly

    Or you can write an intelligent article on what improvements are needed, instead of pouting like a spoiled brat who didn’t get their way. The Richardson trade happened, and it was a good one. He’ll probably get cut next year by the Colts. Stop with the tinfoil hats about the front office, stop whining. Your writing has become non-stop whining, where you used to offer critical analysis. Bernie’s not walking through the door next year, it’s time to accept it and realize the game has changed, the NFL has changed. St. Heckert and the Walrus stole from the team, this current front office is trying to fix the problem. It’s going to take a year or two. It sucks, but they get the time because of how much Lerner was an absentee landlord. We have to fix the mistakes before we’ll move forward.

  • Hopwin

    Without injuries Brandon Weeden would have remained our starter for the year. So I guess we should thank our line for being so terrible that it forced us to check out our backups.

  • BenRM

    The one reason the Browns suck that has remained the same is the inability to find a QB. Ultimately, the FO will live and die by their (in)ability to correct this problem.

  • BenRM

    no way weeden plays the way he’s played and remains the starter through the bye week.

  • DJ

    Skrine is the starter. Look at the depth chart. He covers the slot receiver in the nickel.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    having tried the ‘write an intelligent article on what improvements are needed‘ tack repeatedly, i’ll tell you how that works out: you get a couple dozen readers who get it and a couple dozen fan boys (like you) asking questions like why aren’t i a GM in the nfl if i’m so smart. kid you not, here’s what i got today for making an intelligent comment:
    “I hope someday Berea will take notice of your gospel, and then after heading your pearls of infinite wisdom, we will find the promised land.”

    derrrp.

    i’m down with craig for writing an observational article and if you have a different idea on appropriate blog content perhaps you should start and write your own?

  • Slyly

    I think Craig can fight his own battles. He doesn’t need daddy getting involved. Plus, I wouldn’t put intelligent and you in the same sentence. No need to pimp your blog here, if it was any good, people would take notice. It’s one thing to provide analysis, it’s another to be produce content that is basically an old man shouting at the wind. I don’t care to blog, I don’t have the time for it. What I want is for Craig, and a lot of this site, to snap out of the woe is me attitude. The old days are gone. I know they are great, but we need to stop living in them.

  • Hopwin

    They should’ve made a play for Alex Smith in the off-season. Giving Brandon Weeden an extra year was an inexcusable offense. Not only did he not show progression throughout last season, he actually regressed as the season wore on.

  • bupalos

    I don’t disagree hanging with weeden was a mistake, but you have to see it in context. They hadn’t worked with Weeden to know he’s a lazy bum, and they probably figured they could straighten him out. There were plenty plenty plenty fans saying Shurmur was the problem with Weeden, and I don’t blame them all that much for having some arrogance here.

    I do mildly disagree on Alex Smith. I don’t think he’s significantly better than Jason Campell (or Hoyer as it turns out) and you had to make a significant commitment to him.

    Not that I don’t wish he was on the team now that we’re down to Weeden as the only option.

  • Hopwin

    Except they were on the record as thinking Weeden was garbage before coming in:

    http://www.cleveland.com/browns/index.ssf/2013/01/mike_lombardis_criticism_of_br.html

    They may wish they can rewrite history but they can’t.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    ah right that must be it, i want to pimp my non-monetized blog on which i’ve posted new content twice in the last two months because i’m so looking for page hits and to build readership.

    without getting into what you dont know about me, my age, my site, or my readers let’s just get back to what you want:
    “What I want is for Craig, and a lot of this site, to snap out of the woe is me attitude.”

    in addition to scolding craig and insulting me, perhaps your approach should include getting after mike polk for his downer youtubes and while you’re at it shouldn’t you be busy writing strongly worded emails to the people who aren’t in the picture at the top of this post?

    another possibility is that there is a valid basis for frustration and anger and impatience because (i know i’m old but trust me on this) patience hasn’t worked out so great in the past. ever. in any sport.

    people are pissed and to scott/craig’s point they’re soon to be apathetic. you don’t come back from apathetic.

    but go ahead and fix the woe is me mindset here and throughout browns fandom. get back to us with an update on how it’s going in february after mack and ward leave as UFAs.

    talk about shouting in the wind.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    “Who exactly were the Browns supposed to sign during the off-season?”

    1. Keenan Lewis
    2. Andy Levitre
    3. Dannell Ellerbe
    4. Dustin Keller

    pick two. you’re improved.

  • Slyly

    Thank you for the lecture, and proving my point. Quoting Mike Polk, who is a hack, just illustrates my points. I understand you’re frustrated, who isn’t, but whining constantly about it is not going to solve anything. I won’t discuss my opinion of you, because internet fighting is lame, but I value your thoughts about as much as I value those of a Squeelers fan…not very much. Have at it posting lame pictures and videos, enjoy your blog (and yes you’re pimping it because you constantly mention it, content or not). I used to visit this site constantly to see news and thoughts of my fellow Cleveland fans, but the slow change in attitude has turned my stomach to the site. I’m sure I’ll get the “don’t let the door hit you on the way out”, but know I’m not the only one feeling this way. So go ahead and downvote, shout into the wind old man. Enjoy your negativity, because I’ll get my content somewhere else.
    Peace out.

  • Harv 21

    I don’t understand your objection to the tone of the article. Craig says that the Browns should be doing everything they can to win right now, it’s questionable whether the team is doing so, and the result is a Steeler game day stadium half-empty in the 3rd quarter. The customers who think trading picks or positioning for the next draft or hoarding cap room for the next off-season is not the way to go have every right to complain loudly. So do those who worry Kruger is a bust for the money and Mingo’s sudden lack of any production is startling.

    Let’s not mix up cause and effect. If fans have a “woe is us” thing it was created, drip by drip over many years, by the Browns. It’s not up to us to write positive-spin articles, or make productive suggestions, or roar approval for Weeden to buck him up (as counterproductive as booing might be). We are not all in this together. This is entertainment, and when it sucks – or as Craig implies, intentionally sucks – the team best be happy that customers are still “whining.” As opposed to having left for better entertainment.

    After 14 seasons of the most hapless football in the NFL any local customer is well within their rights to decry the team for not immediately doing everything possible to upgrade the athletic talent rather than deferring for the future. A “hey, let’s not panic yet and look at the big pic” tone is fine. But so is this, especially after Sunday’s home blowout at the hands of an aging division opponent.

  • TFH6

    You’re making the assumption that any of these players would even want to sign with Cleveland, when the off-season we just had, proves that we have to over-pay key free agents to come here. And as we have learned this season, Buster Skrine isn’t as bad as we thought, he has real talent and with a little more growth, can be a solid number two. TE wasn’t a position of need, the Front Office obviously believed in Cameron as a top-tier talent, and of course they were correct. And maybe Keller doesn’t destroy every ligament in his knee if he signs with us, but as it stands, he’s looking at a long road back to the NFL. Levitre and Ellerbe are fine players, but how do you know the Browns didn’t try to sign one of those guys? Kruger was signed for $40M over 5 years, and they added quality front 7 guys, so they obviously tried to improve defensively. And to think they would have signed Kruger without putting any feelers out towards Ellerbe is plausible, but very unlikely. As for Levitre, he had just undergone arthoscopic knee surgery prior to free agency, so there was a large risk and red flag on him. I’d rather the Browns play it smart with free agency and attempt to build through the draft, signing key guys when they fit and can be relied upon, I still remember the “highly-rated” free agent class of 2006, and all of the failures of that group.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    yes i’ve made assumptions. i’m also assuming the browns didn’t try to sign any of these guys which i cant confirm. but the question was ‘who should the browns have signed.’ if it was a rhetorical, i apologize.

    the point is that there were plenty of players who could have been signed and at positions of weakness too. ie, while bryant is a good player, he plays a position that was held down by taylor, rubin, hughes.. hardly a weakness.

    if you don’t like levitre (and i’m not sure why you wouldn’t since he started every game in his career and HOF o-lineman mike munchak broke the bank to get him) then vasquez from SD was available too. the point which you’re desperately avoiding is that the browns passed OG signings in FA, didn’t draft an o-lineman till 7th round, and went into the season with greco and lauvao. a clear and inexpensive need to fix, and they didn’t do anything.

    kruger was an overpayment with the browns bidding against themselves and with quentin groves probably as good a player at a fraction of the cost.

    the ILB need was created by the needless defense change. but once they changed to a 3-4 and created a need at ILB they filled it with no FAs and no draft picks.

    i don’t know how you know the front office’s opinion of jordan cameron but he was a pleasant surprise and w.r.t. to keller’s knee injury i’m not sure you’re point unless you think the dolphins should have foreseen it.

    this is a bit of mindless exercise. you said who should the browns have signed, i answered you. you got 14 likes for your pompom waving. i got a downtick for providing sensible answers to needs which -by the way- i did during free agency, not an in-season hindsight opinion.

    in short, most browns fans are fairly predictable and very much closed off to questioning of their management in spite of unprecedented failure. so i shall leave you to your ‘QB-is-important’ and ‘its-a-process’ discussions. and after jax beats the browns in front of 20,000 sunday you can do it all over again.

  • TFH6

    Just because you believe them to be sensible, doesn’t actually make them sensible. But you seem to believe you’re the smartest man in any room McNulty, so any reasonable discourse is obviously lost on you.

  • https://twitter.com/jimkanicki jimkanicki

    lololol… ok, there was no need at CB, ILB, TE, or OG and to suggest as much isn’t sensible.

    “Let’s draft a QB in the first round! That’s sure to work!” –Browns fans.