1. The Cleveland Front office is no longer "Throwing ish at the wall and seeing what sticks"
The typical Cleveland three year cycle of front office overhaul has the same feel to it every time. New philosophies and the propensity to want to develop their "own" players feature patterns of rebuilding and incompetence. This current front office, rather than trying to find diamonds in rough at every position, has decided to keep most of the players from the previous regime and build around the talent in place. Players such as Brandon Weeden, Josh Gordon, Jabaal Sheard, and Phil Taylor will learn a new scheme and continue to develop. This change in approach may be a reflection of having greater talent in place, but it’s refreshing to see the team continue to take steps forward, instead of backward.
2. Young and experienced pieces in free agency
Free agency has not been a tool utilized correctly by the previous Browns iterations. High priced and established veteran talent has been eschewed in favor of aging veterans and untested draft picks, which leads to confusion on the field and a dearth of talent. The 2013 Browns front office clearly established a few priorities that they felt needed the most attention on the team, and vigorously attacked those positions. (The largest deficiencies being a pass rush from the front seven and reliable receiving talent.) These two critical areas are not only shored up with the offseason acquisitions, but players that have experienced success are now available to help mentor young and generally unproven talent, such as Barkevious Mingo and Josh Gordon.
3. Actual measurements of scheme change
Another common excuse that is made for a lack of consistency on the field is the constant rotation of schemes. Linemen are unsure who to block, quarterbacks never get a chance to settle into a playbook, and defensive players are unsure where the boundaries of their coverage assignments are.
Keeping the same players without integrating a completely overhauled roster every year will let the Cleveland Browns evaluate the impact the scheme had on the talent in place. Some improvement can be contributed to individual player growth and maturity, but generally speaking, this is the same crowd currently that was out there every Sunday in 2012. Playing next year will give the personnel team a clear perspective about which players can fit in the offense and defense without using imperfect data from a vanilla defensive scheme and a West Coast offense.
4. Lombardi didn't "reach" for prospects in a weak draft
This bullet point may be the most important one. If the Browns did not have a player of value at the positions they were picking, they chose instead to trade it for a pick in 2014. Not only will the higher pick be more valuable, but a year of watching the current talent in a functional scheme will better illustrate what positions need replenishment most desperately. Instead of grabbing marginal talent that needs development, the Browns are choosing to work with the players IN HOUSE and then make an informed decision with better stability next year. Having a scouting department that wasn’t on the same page as the front office meant the chance for Farmer/Lombardi to make decisions on their own was increased, and that proposition is…..horrifying. The Browns dodged a bullet, and we (as fans) should be grateful for that.
5. Chance to evaluate offensive talent on its own merits
Tired of arguing whether Greg Little and Brandon Weeden are miscast in the Cleveland Offense? Me too. Let’s agree to stop.
The Norv /Chud offense employed by the 2013 Browns will be far more innovative than the 2012 variation, and will allow receivers the opportunity to fight with defensive backs downfield and have a chance to win matchups. Brandon Weeden will operate more frequently from the shotgun, and he will have some of the chains that fettered him to constantly operating with short passes around the line removed. If the players underperform in this scheme there will be enough data to judge them fairly and accurately on their own merits instead of blaming the coach.
The 2013 off-season has seen remarkable improvement in distinct areas of need for the Cleveland Browns. Expecting every need to be fixed immediately in one year of acquisitions would be foolish, but optimism should prevail that the 2013 Cleveland product is far more competent than the previous iterations. Rather than dwelling on the missed opportunities (such as Brent Grimes and Dion Jordan) readers should see that this offseason has been a step towards growth and sustained success.