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Trying To See A Silver Lining At The End of The Tunnel For The Cleveland Browns - Ez Likes Sunday Morning 12/31/17

There’s quite a bit to consider here

NFL: Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Generally speaking, I try to remain positive. It’s kind of integral to being a lover of this franchise, unless one is just into self-torture. Most of the rest of us cling to the notion, no matter how practically unlikely it is, that one day we will stop being the armpit of professional sports and actually be, you know, competitive.

Thus, while the rest of the league laughs in caricaturist ‘LOLBrowns’ fashion at pretty much whatever we do (for good reason), those of us left still holding out the faintest of hopes take moves like the firing of Sashi Brown and subsequent hiring of John Dorsey to replace him last month very seriously, and try to glean some sort of meaning from it all, to be able to see, however invisible, a path that can lead us from where we are (and have been for a long, long time) to somewhere better.

I don’t say this because Sashi Brown is some proven front-office mastermind or that John Dorsey is some rube. At issue here is the appearance that once again, we are abandoning a plan we had not even come close to completing. Not all plans are good, but all need time for completion before being adequately judged. In the very specific case of this effort, it was known this was going to take longer than usual, because the task was so daunting. More to the point: will we ever stick to any plan? Thus far in the era of Jimmy Haslam that hasn’t come close to fruition yet.

Some Perspective

NFL: International Series-Minnesota Vikings at Cleveland Browns
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

It is worse than it has ever been. To be able to say that without hint of sarcasm is almost unbelievable given our recent history, but it’s true. At 0-15 and facing what will likely be a collection of backups in Pittsburgh, there’s still almost no hope that this team will not finish winless, and go a staggering 1-31 to start off the tenure of Hue Jackson. Even if he were to finish out the year beating a team that at one point was considered to be out rival, he still won’t match the performance of Chris Palmer’s 5-27 effort for the first two years of the Browns’ return as an expansion franchise (1999).

However in Coach Hue’s defense, he has had a very young, talented but inexperienced, roster of players. This, after all, lead to the firing of Brown, as well as did the “botched” trade-deadline incident with the Cincinnati Bengals. In my personal estimation, wins could have been had with the roster Jackson has had to work with, he just hasn’t quite been up to the challenge thus far, though that’s really a more lengthier discussion for a different time.

The larger point is that what Brown, Jackson, Chief Strategy Officer John DePodesta and owner Jimmy Haslam embarked upon two years ago was a very deliberate effort to slowly rebuild the roster employing a patient strategy that would take several years to install. Not two full years into that, it’s (apparent) architect is relinquished, and replaced with someone that (apparently) wants to do things pretty differently. If that’s truly what’s about to go down, then we shouldn’t expect anything to improve anytime soon.

People like to point to the record and say ‘1 and twenty-(whatever) is UNACCEPTABLE!’, with which I don’t disagree, but it’s short-sighted to look at 1-30 as an isolated incident. Going back to the final five games of 2014, the team has gone 4-48, which in includes an immediate 3-18 mark directly before Sashi & Hue walked into the situation. It does speak to what they each inherited.

It’s worse than even that though. We all have seen and admire Mike Polk’s legendary rant, during which he dubbed First Energy Stadium the Factory Of Sadness:

The final fifteen seconds are just superb, and brilliantly encapsulate our existence. The recognizance that this is an actual investment, the dividends of which are consistent bad moods. Then the thoughtful contemplation during which (as we’ve all done) the question is internally asked ‘why do I keep doing this to myself? WHY, when life already has it’s challenges? I don’t need this, why continue to put up with it?’ To be followed by the righteous lashing out at the organization, and then the acceptance that against all rationality and logic, there is no departing. The love for the team is too strong, it’s why you own a Ryan Pontbriand jersey in the first place.

Still, that rant happened 103 games ago. Our record over that time is 21-81. Our record in the previous 102 games prior to that video being created was 36-66. It also wasn’t just that we had a terrible record, we also just made a series of really remarkably bad moves/decisions over that time which of course led directly to the on-field futility but more even than that spoke to the total dysfunction of the franchise.

Yet somehow, we’ve managed not only to have gotten worse, but significantly worse than the doormat status we had earned up to that point in time. That is truly remarkable, and would be almost impressive were it deliberate. It would likewise be encouraging, because it would mean we could reverse this course of our own volition at some point. Sadly, that futility was actually the result of our best efforts.

The Churn

Kansas City Chiefs v Cleveland Browns
Head coach Romeo Crennel of the Kansas City Chiefs and head coach Pat Shurmur of the Cleveland Browns talk prior to the game at FOSFES on December 9, 2012
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Starting really with the firing of Romeo Crennel at the end of the ‘08 season but turbo charged after Haslam purchased the team during the middle of the 2012 campaign, Cleveland has instituted a consistent strategy over that time even though it hasn’t been intentional. That strategy has been to hire new groups of people (Front office/GM’s and Coaching staffs) after the previous group had expended much effort tearing apart the roster. The new group discards whatever the previous group was doing (which would stand to reason given they were hired to replace those people) and embarks on their own path.

Whatever path that ends up being is itself discarded less than two years into the process, at which point said process gets reset. No process is ever completed inside this two-year window, thus we are caught in a constant loop of futility. While other teams seem able to put people in control that can maximize what they already have and tweak the pieces here and there to achieve near-instantaneous turnarounds, ours is always to look at the half-completed efforts and wipe the decks clean.

Often times this is lamented in the holistic concept of continuity, but that doesn’t really paint the entire picture. Players are brought in to fulfill a certain role - as designated by the guys that drafted them based on the wishes of the coaches in place at the time of the drafting. Those new players, like all new players, require some time before being able to fulfill those roles. It varies on the player but generally I’ve always believed three years is a good amount of time to adequately evaluate these things.

However less than two years (or just one year as in the case of 2013) the guys that made those decisions to acquire those players are ushered out of the building and new crew comes in with the wrecking ball. The same amount of patience which may have been exercised in the prosecution of player development is no longer present, and those players are often times asked to do different roles now, or are just discarded altogether.

This is an issue on both ends of the spectrum; typically when you fire a group, it’s done at the end of the season which is only a few months away from draft time. As a result, the groups will typically hold over the existing scouting divisions, because you simply don’t have the time to install your own group in such short proximity to the draft schedule. Thus, the picks are often times made using the council of the previous regimes’ scouts, which is somewhat ironic considering the players being brought in are usually there to replace guys those same scouts helped to bring in the previous year.

In the (unlikely) event we do actually draft/develop a decent player, by the time they reach their fourth year (the contract year) they are usually on their 2nd or 3rd regime change, and have definitely underwent a ton of losing during their short careers. Since none of these draft classes has ever been able to deal on renegotiation with the same people that drafted them, retention isn’t the normality. By and large, if we’ve somehow produced a good player, there’s no reason for them to want to stay in Cleveland and no interest in putting up a big effort to retain them by the current group of decision makers.

A New Day (again)

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Cleveland Browns
New GM John Dorsey takes over where Sashi Brown left off
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

I’m a fairly unapologetic supporter of the work done by Sashi Brown these last two years to rebuild the roster. I also am not an energetic (or even tepid) supporter of the job done by Head Coach Hue Jackson over that period of time. I am, however, strongly in favor of unity within our (or any functioning) organization. In other words: I really want for everyone on the Browns to agree with and be on the same page with each other than I want them to do what I want them to do.

For example; as things stand right now, I am pretty well dug-in on wanting us to draft Baker Mayfield with the 1st pick in April. He’s my guy, 100%. However, while my evaluation of him may or may not be correct, if the view of Dorsey, Jackson, and Haslam are all in the direction of Lamar Jackson or Josh Rosen or someone else, then I would rather go with the guy that everyone wants than the guy that I want. Unity, or “harmony” as Michael Irvin once described, is far more important to me than taking the guy that I (really, really) want us to take.

This is where the hope comes in, for as much as I like and appreciate the work Sashi Brown did as (de facto) GM, for some reason there lacked a requisite harmony between he and coach Jackson. Personally, I would have much, much preferred - if losing one was inevitable, that we’d bounced Jackson and kept Brown. That wasn’t to be though, as Jackson appears to have curried the unbreakable favor of Haslam, which to his credit means he finally has found a coach he’s willing to be patient with (and of course that comes after the worst stretch in NFL history).

Thus, if someone had to go in order to get everyone on the same page, regretful as it was to lose Brown, I will take it if it means that everyone in the organization can be on the same page about these decisions, especially as we are about to officially invest franchise QB prospect. I’m not exactly a fan of what Dorsey has either done or said to this point, but if he’s serious about his support for Hue, and if the two of them can agree on the type of roster they want to build together, well then maybe this could all work. Maybe.

I must say, I’d feel a lot better about things if we could somehow beat the Steelers today and avoid the parade. Doubtful, I know - but what else is there to do with this team but to set incredibly modest goals which are subsequently (and hilariously) missed? Here’s to it.

Also, a safe and happy New Years’ eve to all of you everywhere, and let’s all have a prosperous and enjoyable 2018. Maybe some of that can even extend to the (r)orange helmets.


Do You Have Any Confidence That Dorsey, Hue & Haslam Will (Finally) Get This Turned Around?

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