Then in late 2012, Randy Lerner sold the Browns to Jimmy Haslam, who previously owned a minority stake in the Steelers. This was a great deal because Jimmy is a football guy and he seems to actually care about the success of this franchise. The only problem was his guys were not in place so when the season concluded, he cleaned house and started over.
Jimmy followed previous themes and hired men with ties to Cleveland. Michael Lombardi accepted the GM/VP of player personnel for the first time in his career and Rod Chudzinski took his first and only head coaching job. It was another dysfunctional year. Weeden got injured and Brian Hoyer jumped up the depth chart starting and winning three games but tore his ACL. Weeden got back his job until he lost it three weeks later to Jason Campbell. None of it mattered because Haslam cleaned house for the second time in two years and he made the same mistake in the hiring process. The Cleveland Browns were Mike Pettine’s first and only head coaching job. Same goes for Ray Farmer who accepted his first and only GM job.
As the Browns started the season, Hoyer sat at the top of the depth chart. Everything was looking great as they got off to a surprising 6-3 start. Then, the Ohio native struggled, losing three of the next four games and then falling to 7-6. As the Browns slipped down the standings, the chants for rookie sensation Johnny Manziel began. Pettine caved into the pressure and started Manziel. The Browns finished a whopping 7-9.
The following year, they let Hoyer walk in free agency and signed journeyman Josh McCown to mentor Manziel, who did show flashes of potential with a small sample size. The problem was McCown was injured the first week and Manziel was forced into action. McCown returned to action Week 3 only to be injured again. The vet proved his toughness as he fought through the injury until Week 8 when he couldn’t withstand the pain of taking hits anymore. The torch was passed back to Johnny for a couple games until his name hit the headlines for the wrong reasons. A video surfaced of him partying in Texas during the bye week and Manziel fell down the depth chart even behind Austin Davis who received a start. Manziel was back at it week 14 and lasted until he sat out the season finale with a concussion. There were reports of the quarterback partying in Vegas that weekend instead of being with the team.
The dysfunction is Cleveland was spinning out of control so what did Jimmy Haslam do?
He started over and cleaned house for the 2016 campaign. This current Browns regime is eerily similar but strangely different from those in the past. Hue Jackson was hired on as the coach, but no this wasn’t his first coaching job and this hire had a different feel to it. In years past, the Browns didn’t appear to be aggressive and let their choice guy sign elsewhere or not even end up meeting with guys like Josh McDaniels and Adam Gase. Whether those guys work out or not isn’t the point, it’s that if you want a coach, go out and get that coach. Throw money or power in his face. This time around we pursued our top choice, brought him in for an interview and even a follow-up interview. Cleveland signed a highly coveted coach in Hue Jackson without settling for the next best thing.
Another peculiar hire was Sashi Brown for the GM position. The Browns hired within the organization instead of picking an outsider to come in a run the show. This is important because Sashi has been in Cleveland since 2013 so he already had a feel for the direction of the organization and who was familiar with the team. This was a big step for Brown whose previous position was executive vp/ general counsel. He would have help though as two days after being promoted to GM the Browns hired on Paul DePodesta as chief strategy officer. The Browns couldn’t be any worse so why not try a new approach relying on analytics. It worked for baseball so why can’t it work for football?
When the season began, the Browns looked legit on paper. I’m not talking about Super Bowl contenders, but a good, competitive football team. They signed Robert Griffin III with the hope he could regain form after falling out of favor in Washington. He was low-risk, high-reward and he just didn’t pan out. He broke his shoulder in the first game and didn’t return until Week 14. Griffin did manage to earn Cleveland their lone victory on the year.
McCown is a serviceable quarterback, but no more than a backup. He is dependable in short spurts and makes too many bad decisions when the game is close. Not to mention the recent injury history, this is why rookie Cody Kessler was forced into action. Hue Jackson said to trust him when he drafted Kessler in the third round and rightfully so. Kessler proved to be the best quarterback on the roster in my opinion. In eight starts, he managed a 92.3 passer rating and a touchdown-interception ratio of six to two. Kessler proved to be a legit game manager who protects the ball and can put the team in position to win. The only downfall was his arm strength. He struggled to pass downfield and keep the chains moving. He may not have won any games, but he earned a spot on this team, even as a backup.
As the 2016 campaign came to an end, I expected another demolition project and it never happened. Haslam may have bent, but he didn’t break. He ended up trusting the process and seems committed to building slowly with young players growing into a culture. For this to happen, it was vital to keep Brown and Jackson on board. It may be too early to tell about this Browns regime, but they may be turning the ship around. I know there are other problems with Cleveland, but I believe the main one is the lack of consistency at general manager, head coach and quarterback.
It’s a good sign that Haslam didn’t blow up the staff room after a disappointing one win season. Haslam must commit to the duo of Brown and Jackson for several years because as we all know, Rome wasn’t built in a day. If nothing gets turned around after a valid timeframe, then it’s acceptable to move on. I also believe Hue and Sashi are still around because they are the right guys to get this done. In years prior, the franchise brought in guys with Cleveland ties and as much as I love seeing familiar faces, it doesn’t always work out. Either that or they weren’t given enough time. I can’t stress enough the importance of stability in the organization. You can’t build a steady foundation if that foundation is constantly changing. The first step is keeping the same positive influences in the building and that has been accomplished so far.
The next step is stability at the quarterback position. I understand that injuries happen and are unpredictable, but you can’t keep flip flopping quarterbacks at the first sign of struggle. At some point, the team has to commit to a quarterback for at least a season in order to properly evaluate the talent. Figure out what his strengths are and construct a game plan based around that. Find out where he plays better, at home or on the road? Granted that Cleveland doesn’t have any Tom Brady’s on the roster, but whoever is named the Browns starting quarterback for 2017 must remain at the top of the depth chart unless an injury occurs.
So far this regime has done it differently. They let four starters walk away in free agency during their first off-season. This made “Year One” tough to watch. The second time free agency came around, the front office wasn’t messing around. They lost Terrelle Pryor, but they gave him a legit offer, he just wanted more. However, they did spend money to upgrade the offensive line and Kenny Britt to replace Pryor. They traded nothing for Brock Osweiler too. These moves were unlike any moves the past regimes would have made. I can’t predict the future, but I’ve got a good feeling about this regime.
Max Gold is a Senior Writer for Cleveland Sports Talk
Follow the author: @CST_Max_Gold
Images: ESPN, Browns.com
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