I’m feeling surprisingly good about the Cleveland Browns right now. I know that sounds funny to say at this point in the year. I’ve been kind of down on them with all the unknown variables hanging in the air, but a week out of the loop 1 gave me a bit of perspective on the team and just what they’ve done so far this off-season. Let’s just say the word “rebuild” hasn’t come up much in my mind.
The Chip Kelly thing did a lot to skew perception of the Browns pretty negatively over the last few months. Because the Browns shot for the hot candidate and ended up losing out on him in the end, it distracted a lot of us (myself included) from the fact that the Cleveland Browns just upgraded their coaching staff pretty massively.
Rob Chudzinski is an unknown, but he’s already gone out and done what I begged the Browns to do with Pat Shurmur. He’s hired experienced coordinators, and wouldn’t you know it, he’s even decided to let Norv Turner call the plays. Imagine that? No, I don’t know much about Ray Horton, but I don’t know anyone who thinks he’s unqualified as a candidate. So, on paper at least, the Browns have upgraded the operation.
The roster of any team looks like it’s filled with holes right about now, so it’s tough to get overly excited at this point. The Browns recently cut Frostee Rucker, signaling the change from the 4-3 to the 3-4. An extra lineman or two on last year’s team will presumably be replaced by an extra linebacker or two this upcoming season. Frostee Rucker and Juqua Parker will both be gone, but the Browns are still in great shape on the defensive line with Rubin, Taylor, Hughes, Winn, and pass rusher Jabaal Sheard who might now technically be a linebacker.
Additionally, corner looks a bit scary, but every team feels like this right now. You know who else thinks they could use a corner or two? The San Francisco 49ers for one. It’s just the time of year in the NFL. The Browns have some key departures like Sheldon Brown, but most Browns fans I know were looking for ways to replace him for quite some time.
So, I get that there’s no way to really look at the roster and think that the Browns have done anything to upgrade it. That’s just the nature of the NFL every year as player movement occurs. It’s hardly specific to the Cleveland Browns. I could easily make the argument that this season in particular, there is less need for moving parts than most years in the past.
I also get the consternation over the Browns’ most recent high profile hire when they named Mike Lombardi VP of player personnel. If there’s one spot in the organization that Browns fans didn’t think they needed upgrade (other than kicker) it was probably at the GM spot in the organization. So, as the Browns head toward free agency and the draft, that’s an obvious, legitimate question, if not concern.
For me, the expectations of this team remain unchanged. They are on an upward trajectory based on the roster, and I expect it to continue. This is a culmination type of year for the Browns. I know they’ve switched front offices and coaches, but this roster should be in its competitive window starting this year. Three years of drafting by Tom Heckert were designed for this maturation point. It was dictated because of the trade for Julio Jones that with all the hits and misses in personnel, the Browns should be competing at least at the parity level this upcoming season.
Today, I think it’s possible for 2013 and that’s the standard I’m going to hold Joe Banner and his Browns to this season. Who is going to play QB? Will the Browns go at it with Weeden again or keep looking? I have no idea and I don’t have a recommendation other than to say that there needs to be a plan, even if they’ve decided to go to the drawing board again and waste Heckert’s draft pick from a year ago. If they keep him, they better coach him up and put him in a position to succeed. If they replace him, it better be an upgrade.
I am aiming squarely at eight wins as the goal, and if the Browns get a few fortunate bounces and a little bit of luck, they should be in the conversation for the playoffs and the division, legitimately. This team has been built through the draft and should still be on the upswing and improving year over year.
This team has potential to be San Francisco-esque in the way they went from a talented underperformer to legitimate NFL franchise. There’s a lot of work to do to develop the roster and coach them up, but that’s the case for every non-playoff team every single off-season. Frankly, it’s also the case for some of the playoff teams coming off a season-ending loss.
This is a bit of a departure for me by the way. I’m not acting like a prognosticator. I’m not looking at the schedule and counting up Ws either. I’m merely pointing out what this team should be accomplishing at minimum. Now it’s up to Banner, Chudzinski, Lombardi and the rest to make it so. It should be within their grasp this year.
I was on vacation last week and only wrote one post in case you hadn’t noticed.