That’s the Browns win totals in each of the last five seasons from 2012 going back to 2008.1 Yes, they are preceded by a 10-win season from 2007, but that is over half a decade ago at this point. 5-4-5-5-4 is the most important thing to fans of the Cleveland Browns and they’re mighty sick of the cycle not being broken in five whole years across two head coaches and two leadership groups.2 5-4-5-5-4 is what Joe Banner and his entire cast of chosen staff members are forced to contend with even though they didn’t create any of it. They must remember this at all times. It explains why they’ve largely had a good start to free agency, and yet for many Browns fans the pressure has barely lifted.
There’s little doubt that with Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant the Browns got a couple of prized free agents. They weren’t necessarily the splashiest or sexiest (insert Bryant mugshot joke here,) but they were definitely big, necessary and made the Browns better in most everyone’s minds. Like any team contending to fill holes, though, the Browns couldn’t do it all at once via high-priced free agents. This is a world where needs reveal themselves all to easily while solutions seem to hide from anything bearing the orange and brown color-scheme. And so 5-4-5-5-4 again infiltrates the brains of Browns fans once the last member of the press has left Berea after seeing Paul Kruger hold up his new jersey.
Cornerback, safety, linebacker, offensive guard, kicker, punter, receiver, maybe quarterback and more! These are all positions that Browns fans see coming off the board of the “best available free agents” lists going around the Internet.3 Free agents presumably filling holes as Browns fans, scream, “Hey! We’ve got holes still.”
The good news for Joe Banner and Browns fans alike is that there’s still time. The Browns’ strategy of making a splash and then waiting for some prices to fall in the marketplace isn’t a stupid one. It’s a measured response to a fan-base demanding better, but honestly not expecting all that much. It also allows for the Browns to head into the NFL owners’ meetings with some available cap space left to explore the trade market, which usually involves re-signing acquired players to new, rich deals.
I’m not saying this is what the Browns are going to do and I’m certainly not perpetuating the New England backup quarterback rumors. I’m just saying generically it is a plan that could end up being successful. Yes, I wanted Keenan Lewis on this team to play corner opposite Joe Haden, but I admittedly am not in on the Browns’ larger strategy. Maybe the Cleveland Browns have determined that the predictability of free agent defensive linemen is a safer bet. Maybe the Cleveland Browns have determined that spending on the pass-rush will enable them to not have to spend $10.5 million guaranteed ($26.3 potentially) over five years to corners like Keenan Lewis. Maybe. I’m hoping there’s at least as much logic in the Browns’ plans right now.
And for once in a very long while I believe such a plan could be possible with this group of people running the Browns. I just get the feeling that Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi, Rob Chudzinski, Ray Farmer and all the rest of them could and probably would have a larger plan in place for the direction of the team. And honestly they better.
The Browns don’t get a free pass from 5-4-5-5-4 even though they didn’t create it. They bought into this team’s history and look forward to having the support of this fan-base. It’s their job to stare at that sequence of numbers long and hard to break their negative, hypnotic cycle.
This is all a very long way of saying the following things. The Browns haven’t failed in this off-season so far by any stretch of the imagination. Free agency isn’t over though, and this team has a long way to go before training camp. Browns fans are an understandably impatient bunch, but they’re not unreasonable. It’s also not unreasonable for fans to expect this team to finally break the 5-win ceiling that has been the bane of the last five years.