|Posted by Sports With 3 on December 27, 2012 at 9:20 AM|
By: Seth Carson (@SethCarsonTC)
OK, I often make very bold statements, and this one is no different from the rest. The Cleveland Browns are a few off-season moves from returning to playoff contending form, an accomplishment their fans have been dying to witness. Following their return in 1999 after the late Art Modell relocated the original Browns to Baltimore, the Browns have not appeared as of yet in the post-season. They were close in 2002 finishing 9-7 and in 2007 finishing the season 10-6, both of their historic (since 1999) records were snubbed by tie breakers. Then in 2009, the Browns then fired Phil Savage and Romeo Crennel, who now coaches in Kansas City, and hired coaching legend Mike Holmgren as team president, and Tom Heckart as the new GM. It would mark the first time Holmgren sat in a front office chair, while Heckart is no stranger to the duties of being a GM, as he slowly built a solid foundation for Andy Reid in Philadelphia before exiting for Cleveland.
Following three dismal season where the team finished a combined record of 14-34, then Browns owner sold the team to renown businessman Jimmy Haslam. Haslam then quickly named Joe Banner the new CEO, to replace Holmgren following this season (2012). After another dismal season with the team currently at 5-10, many of the Browns faithful fans are calling for the removal of current head coach Pat Shurmur, whose success has mirrored than of former head coach Eric Mangini. Unlike Mangini, Shurmur had no previous experience as a head coach, but did have success in St. Louis as an offensive coordinator. Under Shurmur, the Browns now have an overall record of 9-22, which explains the Browns faithful fans calling for his termination as head coach. As of today, Haslam has yet to make any determination on Shurmur's future with the team, but was caught many times on camera expressing disappointment, including a loss where he walked out of his sky box very upset at Shurmur's play calling. After witnessing this display, many of the Browns fans anticipated Shurmur's eventual firing. However, Haslam held to his word that no coaching decisions would be considered until after this season.
The Browns failed to find success after drafting the weak-armed quarterback Colt McCoy, who was a third round draft pick many in Cleveland called "the next franchise QB," only to see the team falter badly with McCoy at the helm. The offensive line was horrible and the right side of the offensive line provided very little protection for McCoy, and the Browns receiving core didn't help; they dropped more passes than they caught. The changes made for the this season (2012) saw the Browns draft young QB Brandon Weeden out of Oklahoma state after leading the Cowboys to a 12-1 record and Big 12 title. Weeden has a stronger arm, but his accuracy continues to be questioned, The offensive line saw immediate improvements in pass protection, giving Weeden time to open up the passing game, and opened lanes for their top selection Trent Richardson. Richardson led Alabama to the national championship in 2011.
The speculation for next season is growing rampant in Cleveland, where some feel the Browns could be playoff-bound after showing much promise this season despite the current 5-11 record. A majority of the losses occurred in close finishes, and is another reason for playoff optimism for next season. Here's where the changes have to be made if the Browns are to compete at a higher level: The first change has to be the termination of head coach Pat Shurmur, who's predictable play calling is a key reason for the current 9-22 record since his induction to the team as head coach. Next, a decision needs to be made to the fate of GM Tom Heckart, who is rumored to be replaced by Haslam, but such discussions have yet to begin and wont be made until the team nears the draft. Also, while the offense improved its play this season, the defense was rather lack luster. The defensive line was hampered by a near season ending injury to 2011's 1st round pick Phil Taylor and Scott Fujita's "bounty" suspension, which led to the eventual start of Nevada rookie James Micheal Johnson, who in 10 starts only managed a combined 36 tackles, before a knee injury ended his season this past Tuesday (Merry Christmas). Finally the play of the secondary as horrible this season, and even the return of Joe Haden didn't improve their inability to defend against opposing pass games.
It is widely rumored the Browns will draft either Monte Te'o out of Notre Dame, or Jarvis James out of Georgia. While this would be an excellent addition, booth front lines need help. The offensive line while playing well lacks depth and any injuries would bring problems to the offensive flow. The defensive line failed to pressure opposing QB's off the bookends, while giving up big gains on the ground due to the overhauling play from the interior lineman, who seemed to be the only reason the Brown filled the gaps, but this occurred far and few between this season. The Browns have good depth over the heart of the defense, which makes me wonder whether or not they would draft Te'o or James to convert them to a defensive end, to better help with speed off the corner's of the defensive line. It's a risky gamble, but it also could work too.
The Browns gave up their 2nd round pick for the upcoming draft, by selecting wider receiver Josh Gordan out of Baylor in this season's supplemental draft. Gordon has slowly become the go to receiver the Browns have been sorely missing, and has been well worth the team's 2nd pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. Rounds 3-7 should see selections to improve defensive depth and the same along the offensive line. The Browns should also be very active under Haslam in adding veteran free agents to better the team's chances at success. They also need to work in the off-season with Weeden to improve his accuracy in the pocket.
If the Browns can successfully make these changes they will go from an AFC afterthought to a team opposing teams will circle on their calendars and take far more seriously next season. Also, such improvement will give the Browns a fair shot at the same success the Colts found this season. It has been a very painful 13 years for their fans, but the anticipation continues to mount for their first post season appearance (since 1999) in 2013. Haslam is not the type of owner to accept defeat, much like the heralded and loyal Browns fan base.