Marshall Faulk (@marshallfaulk) December 24, 2014
This week, Marshall Faulk said, "This is it: it’s been quite a season here on GMC Playbook. Thanks for being creative and engaging with my questions. We’ve been talking all year about what it means to be GMC Professional Grade. Here’s my last question for you: Did your team have a Professional Grade season? If not, what will it take to get there next year?"
This is a tough question to answer because of how the season has shaped out for the Cleveland Browns. When the team started at 7-4, they were in pretty good position to win either the division or a wildcard spot in the AFC. Since then, they are 0-4 and are now on their practice squad quarterback, Connor Shaw, due to injuries suffered last week by Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer. It's as if the same "Cleveland Browns script" is being written for the 2014 season, except the inevitable decline was delayed by a month or so.
Even though the Browns exceeded the win total expectation that many people set for them, I would not label this as a "Professional Grade season." Expectations are supposed to shift throughout the season, and mid-way through the Browns' season, they were starting to be looked at as a top-10 team in the NFL. Now, they're known as a team who Rex Grossman turns a job down from because he has family in town for the holidays.
The biggest reason the season has been in a bit of turmoil involves the team's rookie class. Although Joel Bitonio and Chris Kirksey have basically been regular starters, Johnny Manziel, Justin Gilbert, and Terrance West have accomplished very little in their rookie campaign, with each of them having had their work ethic called into question.
Will the Browns have what it takes to turn things around in 2015? The team already faces a big question at the quarterback position, and we don't know how the rookie class will respond next year -- will they break out, or end up being busts? Also, even though the team has significant cap room, they face several key decisions in free agency with the likes of Buster Skrine, Jordan Cameron, Jabaal Sheard, and Ahtyba Rubin. You can probably swap out Sheard and Rubin for better players, but losing Skrine and/or Cameron would make it tough to replace them.
Let us know what you've thought of the 2014 season as a whole. There is no "middle option" -- I am forcing you to pick a definitive side.