I have low expectations for the Cleveland Browns in 2016, but not bad feelings. In the past few years when they’ve loaded up on free agents and seemed like they were going for it, I’ve tried to hold them to an 8-win standard. I just don’t think eight wins is unreasonable in the NFL. The Browns have found this an impossible standard to achieve. Despite the lower standard for 2016, I don’t hate this team or what I think they’re trying to do.
Is it possible to speak critically – sometimes hyper-critically – about a team and still not be a “hater?” I believe that will be my challenge in 2016.
I’m excited or intrigued by much of what the Cleveland Browns put together this off-season. I understand the headwinds that exist for Robert Griffin III to become a top-10 NFL starting quarterback, but there’s no downside to trying the experiment. The Browns’ offensive weapons have the chance to be special. The 2016 NFL Draft first-round pick Corey Coleman is performing well in camp and should have the ability to get behind defenses. Duke Johnson demonstrated speed and athleticism that could change a couple of games. Add Terrelle Pryor and a returning Josh Gordon because they’ve shown the ability to put pressure on NFL defenses at times during their NFL careers. Even a fifth-rounder like Rashard “Hollywood” Higgins provides something for Browns fans to gaze into the crystal ball of a possible Christmas future. But, even those are small parts of the game.
The Cleveland Browns are a three-to-five win team. For all the potential, they’re demonstrably worse in some key areas. It starts with the offensive line where everyone knows the Browns lost Alex Mack and Mitchell Schwartz to Atlanta and Kansas City respectively. It’s still confounding to me that the Browns didn’t get Schwartz on a 5-year deal for $33 million with just over $20 million guaranteed. In true NFL contract terms, it’s basically a three-year deal for a 27-year-old right tackle. If there’s one major issue with the RG3 reclamation experiment, it’s that the Browns took a major step backwards on the offensive line when it matters more to have a good one. No matter. That water is under the bridge.
The good news is they’re young. How young the final roster is on September 11 against the Philadelphia Eagles remains to be seen, but right now they have an average age of just under 25 years old. There are only eight players currently on the roster that are age 30 or older, with one being punter 34-year-old Andy Lee. Not to say the punter doesn’t count, but when you’re looking to assess the age of your roster, it doesn’t matter how old your punter is, or a backup quarterback like 37-year-old Josh McCown.
Young doesn’t necessarily mean good, however. I’m hoping – like the rest of Browns fans – that Hue Jackson and his coaching staff will make these young guys the best they can be, as opposed to previous coaching staffs that seemed to bring out the worst.
“Hope” likely won’t translate to wins in 2016. There’s much to be proven this season before anyone gets genuinely excited about the Cleveland Browns. That’s not hate. It is reality.
The Browns have to answer as many questions as any other time since the team returned in 1999. Can Danny Shelton and Cameron Erving become legitimate NFL players? Will the Browns be able to cobble together a legitimate starting caliber defense with a linebacking corps that’s scheduled to be headlined by Chris Kirksey? Will Nate Orchard, Paul Kruger, and Barkevious Mingo rush the passer? Will Joe Haden look like the Pro Bowler he’s been in the past? Will anyone else? The questions intensify from there.
Like the rest of you, I hope all the Browns quotes about Hue Jackson are prophetic. I hope that Josh Gordon, Terrelle Pryor, Corey Coleman, Gary Barnidge, RG3, and Duke Johnson put up video game numbers on that weird-shaped scoreboard. I hope Ray Horton and his staff find all the magic with the Cleveland Browns defense. I hope Andy Lee is so bored that we forget his name by Week 3. I hope they play so well that even Solomon Wilcots is forced to learn their names. I hope they’re so good that Solomon Wilcots isn’t on their games at all.
I want all those things to happen. I’d just be a crazy person to predict them. So maybe for fans this year instead of being “GO BROWNS!” it should be a bit more “Go Browns?”