From missing out on a potential franchise QB to the sale of the team from one owner to his polar opposite, 2012 was quite possibly the most significant year in this team's history since expansion in 1999. Some of the top stories of the year are likely to impact Browns future for many years to come.
5. The 3-game win streak
Coming in at fifth on the list is the Browns three-game win streak from Week 12 to 14. It the team's longest win streak since 2009, as wretched as that may sound. Although, it actually gave many fans an honest sense of hope.
At the time, not only were the Browns finally winning games that they were expected to win, showing much needed signs of improvement, but there was also legitimate playoff talk, mathematically speaking, late into the season for the first time in a long time. The chances were slim but worth talking about nonetheless.
And of course the win that sparked the streak came against the Pittsburgh Steelers, another first since 2009, and one that was part of the bitter rival's eventual elimination from the playoffs.
4. The Holmgren-Banner transition
As you may recall, Jimmy Haslam spoke with FOX Business back in early October and told them he wouldn't make Browns personnel decisions until after the season when asked about the futures of head coach Pat Shurmur and former president president Mike Holmgren. That lasted less than a month, as it was announced near the end of October that Holmgren would leave the team and Joe Banner would become chief executive officer.
Holmgren's exit wasn't official until Nov. 25. In year three of the supposed five-year plan, it was widely believed that Holmgren was falling short of expectations. His best move, however, likely came with the hire of Tom Heckert at general manager. A lot of the bright spots over the course of the last three seasons can be traced back to the draft since Heckert took over that position.
It's Holmgren's replacement, Banner, that may spell the end of Heckert with the Browns. Heckert left the Philadelphia Eagles and came to Cleveland so he could have the final say. The two parties are likely to split again for the same reason.
3. Joe Haden's suspension
Joe Haden was among a handful to be on the wrong end of the NFL's crackdown on players' use of Adderall without a prescription. We first heard about Haden's failed drug test back in early August. A suspension was looming and losing one of the team's best defenders for a significant portion of the season wasn't something they could afford.
The appeals process allowed Haden to play in the opener against the Eagles where he showcased just how valuable he really was to the Cleveland defense. The day after that game he was handed down a four-game suspension. The following four weeks the Browns felt every bit of what was speculated with his absence.
The suspension tarnished an otherwise solid season for Haden in his third year.
2. The RG3 draft/trade drama
Robert Griffin III dominated headlines in Cleveland from the end of last season up until the St. Louis Rams traded the No. 2 overall pick to the Washington Redskins in March and even occasionally thereafter. The draft talk for those three months completely centered around RG3, how much the Browns would ultimately give up for him, and what to do with what they have left.
Speculation on what that cost would be varied wildly. It turned out to be fairly astronomical, despite the rather bizarre decision by the Rams not to have a more comprehensive bidding process. That in and of itself remained a hot topic in the immediate aftermath of the trade. Even after the dust settled, the exact details aren't truly known to anyone but the Rams and possibly the Redskins.
This was followed by Griffin's absolutely stellar rookie season in Washington, leaving Browns fans wondering what could have been. As a dual-threat quarterback, he's also seen his fair share of injuries. Griffin will remain a topic of discussion in Cleveland for years to come as his career is weighed against what would have been given up, and it may take as long to truly know whether the Browns made the right call or should have offered more, which stands at thee first-round picks, a second-round pick, and a kicker to trump Washington's offer.
1. The sale of the Cleveland Browns
This was the move that changed everything. In June there were rumors floated that then owner Randy Lerner might be looking to sell the Browns, rumors that were quickly denied by the team themselves. The next month, it was full-blown.
Lerner was in negotiations with Jimmy Haslam, who was at the time CEO of Pilot Flying J and a minority owner of the Steelers. The $1 billion purchase was unanimously approved by all 32 teams on Oct. 16 and finalized on Oct. 25. That's when No. 4 on this list started to take effect.
Of course, a transition at president and CEO isn't the only change coming for the Cleveland Browns. A lot of it will be coming from the business side of things. Early on there were talks about potential stadium upgrades, such as a possible detachable roof or dome. The perpetual Browns uniform discussion popped up again too, as people speculated on ways Haslam might look to make the team more marketable. Even things as minor as selling the stadium naming rights appear to be imminent.
The changes on the field are likely to be much more noticeable. Pat Shurmur had the season to make his best case. He was likely coaching for his job. The returns left a lot to be desired, despite noted improvements over last season. The talk about potential coaching candidates has been on going for some time now and continues to heat up. Rumors about Mike Lombardi possibly taking over at GM also reached their pinnacle this past month, which garnered well-deserved criticism, but may be a move that is connected to the upcoming head coaching vacancy.
One thing is certain, change is inevitable and as the final week of the regular season approaches, it could happen sooner rather than later.
[UPDATE] - Shurmur and Heckert are expected to be fired Monday according to a report.
Now it's your turn. What are your top Cleveland Browns stories of 2012? What makes your Top 5 list that didn't appear in mine?