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.