What happens when you take a three-win team, remove almost all of the useful veterans, purge two thirds of the roster, have the league’s most cap space, and replace a majority of the exiting players with rookies and other signees off other teams practice squads? Ladies and Gentlemen: Your 2016, 0-10 Cleveland Browns. Anyone expecting the Browns to have even a false-hope playoff contention run would have been fooling themselves. The annual WFNY game of record prediction1 demonstrates only a scant few were.2
Therefore, it is time for everybody to take a big breath and realize that the Browns ownership, front office, coaching staff, and players are not complete morons as they also realized they were throwing away this season for competitive purposes. Executive VP of Football Operations Sashi Brown even stated “coming out of 2015, whenever you are coming off 3-13, without an established quarterback, defense not playing particularly well, it is hard going into the next year feeling overly optimistic about where we are.”
Of course, most fans understand the simple situation the Browns have put themselves in though frustrations of a lost season certainly are evident among the fan base as the Browns march towards a possible zero-win season.
JLC at it again
At the ready to make the most of those negative feelings is CBS’s Jason La Canfora. JLC has an axe to grind and he enthusiastically wields it any time that he is given the chance. Predicting a negative future about the Browns is about as sure a bet as a writer can get. He can do so without fear of repercussion.
Here’s one of the sections where he throws just enough items that seem probable to be able to spin his narrative.
The dynamic between the personnel department and coaching staff — regularly fissured throughout Haslam’s various management regimes — again is a concern to many in the organization, with Kessler’s benching raising eyebrows. Given Haslam’s propensity for wholesale changes, the increasingly lopsided recent defeats and the fact Cleveland has won three games since Thanksgiving of 2014, trepidation is mounting that another shakeup awaits as the winless franchise must start preparing season-ticket invoices for 2017.
Morale is low, even by Browns standards, and with 10 or so departments reporting directly to ownership and without the presence of a strong team president providing leadership, the hands-on approach of the Haslams is causing concern throughout the organization.
Now, let’s blow up his narrative.
I have long been a proponent of the structure that Jimmy Haslam enacted this past offseason. In it, the organization is divided into a few component structures with each of those heads reporting directly to the team owner. Each unit can operate within themselves. There is no reason for the front office to be speculating on coaching hires, for instance. Brown agreed when questioned about the coaching staff’s future ““Listen, the staff is really Hue’s to evaluate. As far as I am concerned, that is a question for him to answer.”
The team owner does not need to have an in depth knowledge in any of these areas because that is why he hired those people. The owner, however, has an essential job of keeping everyone moving in the same direction while also resolving conflicts that are purposefully part of the construction (Yes, on purpose. Conflict is healthy as long as everyone keeps things civil.).
Here are the basics as I proposed them:
Team President: Responsible for everything on the business side of the organization. Ticket sales, marketing, public relations, and everything else that is not directly related to the football realm. It is quite possible that many organizations would want to break this role down even further depending on the management leadership they have in place.
Front Office: Responsible for everything with the player acquisition of the organization. Analytical studies, scouts, contract negotiators, and more. The focus of this group is specifically on the long-term construction of the team though they do need to take inputs from the coaching staff.
Head Coach: Responsible for everything on the field on Sundays including the coaching staff and preparing those players for those contests. The focus of this group is specifically on the short-term results though they do need to work with the front office to create a long-term vision of the types of players they need for an ideal team.
If the Haslams have 10 departments (that was the guesstimate offered) directly reporting to them, then so be it. Being informed is a good thing for the owner of a NFL franchise. Where it can go awry is when the owner starts demanding changes and decrees in areas they do not have expertise in based on their gut feelings. If the Haslams are in all of these rooms, listening to the experts, and making the final decision based on the evidence presented, then they are doing their damn job as owners of a billion dollar franchise.
Increasingly lopsided defeats is factually incorrect but better wording could have described that lopsided defeats have been more common in recent weeks than earlier in the season. Such wording would still ignore the fact that the New England Patriots and Dallas Cowboys have been the two best teams in the NFL, but do note that the Baltimore Ravens are not in any group of elite teams.
At the heart of these blowouts is the continued failure of any defensive standing throughout the season. The Cleveland Browns are the first team in NFL history to allow at least 25 points in every single game through 10 games. It is difficult to win games when your team is incapable of stopping the opponent from scoring. Adding fuel to the fire underneath defensive co-ordinator Ray Horton’s seat is that he also did poorly in his first one-year stint with the Browns back in 2013 under head coach Rob Chudzinski. The Tennessee Titans doing better defensively in 2016 than they had in either of the previous two seasons when Horton led them does not help him. When Haslam meets with Hue Jackson and the front office after the season, Horton’s future with the team will likely be a hot button topic. But even if he is fired, it would be with cause.
Any further speculation into a reboot would be folly. The Browns were built to contend for the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft—nothing more. The team has shown an ability to put forth continued efforts even if their talent is not enough to overcome any mistakes or deficiencies of depth that they make during a game (especially late) alongside with no chance at even competing with the elite NFL teams.
Head coach Hue Jackson’s benching Kessler for Josh McCown during the Thursday Night Football game should raise eyebrows in the front office as La Canfora noted. There is just nothing wrong with it as it points back to the organizational structure. Jackson is worried only about the short-term. He felt the offense was lagging (it was) and needed a spark (it did). He inserted Josh McCown because Cody Kessler wasn’t winning them the game. McCown proceeded to lose the game for the Browns by giving the Ravens three turnovers. Haslam and Jackson should be able to discuss the reasoning behind it and come to an agreement about to handle such situations in future games.3
Hue Jackson is safe. Paul DePodesta is safe. Sashi Brown is safe.
If Haslam cleans house after this 2016 season and reboots anew, then he will be rightfully destroyed locally, nationally, and within the walls in Berea. There are no indications, however, this will happen.
The Browns suck in 2016, they are probably going to continue to suck in 2017. Their current path might not work and they might be as bad five years from now as they are today. But the harsh negativity that JLC exhibits towards Haslam in every article he writes about the Browns is ridiculous.
If Haslam fires everyone, then he is going to be destroyed for it. JLC can report what he wants but every Browns fan should understand to take an extra grain of salt while reading.
- Thank you to Lunch for hosting. [↩]
- Even those who predicted near .500 records did so while stating for the record they just couldn’t bring themselves to predict worse. [↩]
- I do wonder if Jackson thought the best way to show Kessler that his decision-making wouldn’t cut it by benching him. Playing time can be among the most powerful motivational cards to play. [↩]