It’s that magical time of year when the temperature starts to drop, the raking of leaves evolves into shoveling snow and decorations are being happily hung. Yes Cleveland, Christmas is here. It is officially time for seasonal traditions like eggnog, Christmas carols and, especially for Cleveland Browns fans, mock drafts.
Inevitably the hope prevalent throughout preseason has been twisted into disappointment, and by mid-November talk of the Browns “having a shot this year” has been blown away, replaced with mock drafts and college highlight reels and dreams of franchise changing players. All in an attempt to try to believe another pick, draft, coach or GM can fix what ails the team.
What has become apparent through the seasons of the Cleveland Browns since they returned in 1999 is no amount of wishing will make them better. On the other hand, the Browns can do something infinitesimally better than wish, but shhh, don’t let this secret get out. It’s called planning. I know it’s a little crazy, but give me a moment to explain.
Last offseason, the Browns started over with a front office shake-up. They hired a new batch of coaches (except Chris Tabor), and then gutted the roster. This process was unintentionally aided by Hue Jackson being sick at the beginning of free agency last year and the front office not wanting to commit to players before talking to the coach.
So, after cutting overpriced veterans, underperforming players and letting a few walk away in free agency the Browns missed their opportunity to re-stock with top-tier free agents (perhaps out of their plan in the first place) and have been paying the price all season in losses.
Are the Browns Building the Chris Grant Way?
While reading Terry Pluto’s book, The Comeback, Pluto writes about when LeBron James left the first time and in a condensed version: we all know how The Decision worked out, but here’s the other part. When James left, GM Chris Grant knew his team had to be completely re-made, it was built to win now around James and he was gone.
Grant immediately signed point guard and restricted-free agent Kyle Lowry to an offer sheet and offered Matt Barnes the starting small forward role and $7 million dollars. Lowry’s sheet was matched by the Rockets and Barnes chose less money and a smaller role for the Los Angeles Lakers. The aftermath was the Cavs first season without James, the moves Grant attempted were thwarted, the plans he had to make, revise and re-make on the fly. Because Grant couldn’t get the elite players to come to Cleveland as free agents, he decided to collect assets and make small signings to fill out the roster, and the team would have to improve through the draft. The 2010-2011 Cleveland Cavaliers, sans James, went 19-63 and tied a single season record for most consecutive losses at 26. It wasn’t a pretty season, but the fans believed owner Dan Gilbert wanted a winner and would do everything in his power to win.
What is the point here? Sometimes the original plan isn’t to tank, sometimes it’s all that is left. Ask yourself this, has any player ever said I want to play for the Cleveland Browns since Bernie Kosar in 1985?
On June 22nd 2016, the Cavaliers had a Championship parade. The Decision, the single season record for consecutive losses, the four miserable seasons of bad play, all of the previous GMs, coaches and players were all just water under the bridge.
Now, there is no guarantee the Browns front office will get it right and lead this team to a championship. Think of it this way. If you hired a construction company that told you that what is standing is rotted and needs to be torn down and it can be rebuilt better than it has been in years, but it’ll take some time and patience, would you fire them because you don’t like the way they tore down the building or give them a chance to perform the task you hired them for with the plan they sold you on?
See, there needs to be a bridge for there to be water under it. Bridges need to be built, otherwise your wading in a chest-high river, hoping you can get across and not washed down stream and off course. You can keep firing and hiring every offseason, replacing coaches, GMs, players and even ballboys, but without that bridge you end up in over your head.