While Black Monday has already taken a toll on several teams throughout the NFL, it appears the Cleveland Football Browns are on the safe side of the ledger.
As rumors have swirled regarding potential changes throughout much of the last two months, the Browns, despite finishing the season with a 1-15 record, are—you may want to sit down for this one—staying the course into the offseason. The Browns, a name synonymous with failure and upheaval, appear to be ready to head into the 2017 season with not only the same front office as this year, but the same coaching staff as well.
Here’s Cleveland.com’s Mary Kay Cabot:
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam really won’t be blowing anything up this year.
Despite the 1-15 season, he’s keeping his analytics-based personnel department intact and said he is overjoyed with Hue Jackson.
“It’s intuitive,” he said. “I’ll just say I feel very strongly we’ve got the right group together and I think they’re working exceptionally well together.”
These quotes from Haslam come on the heals of reports surrounding the coaching staff’s desire to add a football-minded individual to the front office in hopes of providing some traditional scouting to the process already in place with Sashi Brown, Paul DePodesta, and Andrew Berry.
Echoing the team’s owner was Hue Jackson following the Browns’ Week 17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Let me say this and I don’t want to answer any more questions about it: Me and Sashi are in lockstep trying to get this football team to be the best it is,” he said. “We’re going to get there. That’s all I can tell you. We’re together. We know what we’re doing. We have work to do. We have to get better at what we’re doing and we all understand that. This is hurtful for the whole organization, not just me… Sashi and Jimmy Haslam and Dee Haslam and Paul DePodesta and Andrew Berry too, we’re all in this together. There’s no divide here. We just need to get better. We’ll do that. I’m going to speak to Mr. Haslam just because that’s what I do. We just need to continue to get better and stick to our plan of working through it and get to where we need to be.”
As we mentioned during last week’s Winners and Losers, Jackson’s tone is much more confident following the bye week where reports stated Haslam not only pledged continuity, but apologized for the state of the team as his persistent hiring and firing and poor draft day decisions had them sitting at 0-10 at the time. If Haslam needs to seek out any sort of validation for what he put in place last offseason, it should be 1) Andrew Berry continues to be held in high regard and could very well be the “football person” for whom many are clamoring, and 2) the San Francisco 49ers, who missed out on Hue Jackson last winter, have already parted ways with Chip Kelly—they‘re staring down the barrel of having four head coaches in four seasons. There are also rumors that the New Orleans Saints are considering a trade of head coach Sean Payton to the Los Angeles Rams, meaning that we’re looking at nearly one-third of the NFL having new coaching staffs next season and the Browns not being one of them.
With the way the Browns have been built—draft capital, cost-controlled players—the key players from the 2015 draft will combined with the 2016 and 2017 drafts to serve as a foundation for sustained success. While you can never have enough in the way of smart individuals in the draft room, the Browns’ 2016 season earned them the top selection (and four in the top 50) in what is the meat of this foundation-building sandwich. Haslam added that he believes the team’s path to success relies on three key levers: Re-signing key players, being “appropriately aggressive” in free agency and drafting exceptionally well.
- It could be argued that the Browns blew the “re-signing” key players area of this plan last offseason, letting Mitchell Schwartz go to Kansas City. This offseason, key players would include wide receiver Terrelle Pryor and linebacker Jamie Collins. Jordan Poyer could conceivably make this list as well.
- “Appropriate aggression” in free agency will be used to complement what the team plans to do in the NFL Draft. The Browns have a ton of cap space and could easily throw measured money at top end of the 20-something free agency list (which includes quarterback Kirk Cousins, cornerback Trumaine Johnson, free safety Eric Berry, and cornerback Prince Amukamara).
- “Drafting exceptionally well” remains the X-Factor. The Browns are in dire need of a talent upgrade at nearly every position on the starting 22. Landing the No. 1 pick should be considered a hard-earned reward for such a putrid season. Trading down from this spot would bring on an immense amount of negative PR for a team that needs all the positive PR it can get. To this point, altering the approach midway through the three-year foundation period would make little sense, and would subsequently render any sort of attempt to grade the 2015 class as useless. Conversely, missing on this draft would be detrimental to any sort of sustained success, giving Browns fans flashbacks to the Eric Mangini draft of 2011.
If there is any takeaway for the fans looking for some bloodshed, Haslam qualified his run as team owner as “totally unacceptable.”
“We really view ourselves as stewards for our great fans, and we need to be a heck of a lot better stewards than we have been,” Haslam said of a team that is just 19-54 since he took over ownership. “The fans deserve better than what we’ve given them and we’re going to get it right.”
Winning the offseason is rarely something teams look to do, but it could be argued that the Browns have little in the way of a safety net when it comes to executing upon their plan. Brown and DePodesta are slated to join Hue Jackson on the dais on Monday afternoon. They’ll be asked a lot of questions which they’ll choose to not answer, but the tea leaves should start to take shape.