If you’re a Browns fan, you’re probably hearing a whole lot of talk about firing defensive coordinator Joe Woods, or benching safety Grant Delpit. You’re probably even hearing talk of head coach Kevin Stefanski being on the hot seat and rightfully so.
However, most of this talk grossly misses the point. While Joe Woods’ defense has shown a tendency to allow unacceptable plays down the field, at the most inopportune times, the issue of confusion and disarray goes way beyond him and starts at the very top of the Browns organization.
Do you want to know why Browns players look out of place, uncertain and confused on a routine basis? It’s because the organization itself is always out of place, uncertain and confused. The organization is never on the same page and decision-makers are not trusted to make their own educated decisions because owner Jimmy Haslam randomly intervenes in the process and tries to take matters into his own hands.
Haslam is not a football guy, yet he desperately wants to be. Although nobody in the building will ever admit it, the move to acquire Deshaun Watson was Haslam coming down from his throne to say, “I want this guy and we’re getting him.” It was not an educated consensus that Andrew Berry or Kevin Stefanski wanted.
Watch the press conference introducing Watson as a Brown. There is not a single smile; Stefanski and Berry are relegated to regurgitating lines like two robots. It was like they were reading from a teleprompter, while Watson uncomfortably answered questions about his 20-plus allegations of sexual assault.
We need to see Watson play games as a Brown to judge the full scope of this move. However, we can make a good guess by sensing the vibe from the building. His acquisition serves as a great example of how the Browns have operated under Haslam’s leadership.
The disarray of the Watson maneuver is just one of many instances of organizational dysfunction. Haslam makes moves on a whim. He hires and then fires coaches within a year. He changes course based on how he’s feeling at the time. There is never a coherent, consistent plan for success.
What’s great about the games is that they are the ultimate tell. They will always indicate the demeanor of an organization. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a political office, a rock band or an NFL football team. The proof is in the pudding and any chaos on the field is a clear reflection of what’s happening up in the offices of Berea and ultimately that rests at the feet of Jimmy Haslam.
It’s Haslam’s money; he’s the owner and has the right to do as he pleases with his entity. However, at some point, a man needs to admit what he doesn’t know and get out of the way. For Haslam, that probably means selling the team and moving on from ownership. After six different head coaches and six general managers, it cannot just be the incompetence of the hires. Something bigger is going on and has been since Haslam’s been in charge.
Players like Grant Delpit, John Johnson III and Denzel Ward are very talented players. They were highly sought-after free agents and draft picks for a reason. And believe it or not, Joe Woods is a good defensive coordinator. He has an impressive track record of defensive production and winning in the National Football League.
So go ahead, fire Woods. Bench Delpit and look for another expensive free agent in the offseason. Make breakdown videos about that new player and make declarations about the Browns “new and improved,” “scary defense” on paper. Fans did this in 2019 after the Browns had Odell Beckham Jr., Jarvis Landry, Austin Hooper, Kareem Hunt and Nick Chubb all on one offense and nothing changed.
None of that will change the fundamental, underlying problem with how this organization operates. This is a scenario of an owner not knowing what he is, and fostering mistrust, uncertainty and confusion throughout the entire building. If you’ve ever wondered why countless players leave the Browns and suddenly look like pro-bowlers elsewhere, this is why.
Watson will bring a physically gifted and talented offering when he returns, but what he has already brought to Berea is a constant swirl of scrutiny, internal discord, chaos, self-shame and perpetual fear.