Optimism is Growing in Cleveland

For the first time in six years I’m excited. I was excited back in 2010 and 2011, when the Browns started off well. In 2010, they began the season at 5-7, while in 2011, they started at 2-1. The one flaw? They were in the middle of another regime change. Coach Eric Mangini was fired in the 2010 off-season, and offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur was hired to take the reins for the Browns. New coach, new coordinators, new system, same old Browns.

Then the Browns blew a pick on Brandon Weeden in 2012, after incumbent quarterback, Colt McCoy played relatively well in his first season as a starter. Nowhere near great, but nowhere near poor enough to be replaced by a soon-to-be twenty-nine-year-old rookie in Brandon Weeden. I’m going to give former running back, Trent Richardson a free pass here, because he had a stellar rookie season, tailing off only after the Browns traded him to Indianapolis for a first round pick in 2013, so we’ll keep our focus on the quarterbacks.

Brandon Weeden came and went, playing poorly for long stretches, with a good game here or there. It was then I told myself the Browns are bad, but they’re not bad enough. Isn’t bad, well, bad? Not really. Recent history shows the worst records in the NFL showed substantial improvement the following season, while the middle-of-the-road to bad, but not bad enough teams never seem to establish long-term improvement. Meanwhile, teams such as the Panthers, Chiefs, Titans, and Bucs are past Super Bowl or playoff contenders, threatening for the division each year. The Colts, who owned the worst record in 2011, made the AFC Championship Game in 2014 before quarterback Andrew Luck became infected with the injury bug.

I finally received my wish last season, when it took a Christmas Miracle to keep the Browns from finishing the season at 0-16, instead eking out a win in Week Sixteen. In the process, the Browns, according to NFL statistics, owned a losing All-Time Record for the first time in their history (if one includes stats from the old AAFC, the Browns still have a winning record), dropping to number fifteen in all-time winning percentage among the thirty-two teams. This means, despite the Browns recent lack of success, they’re still more successful from a winning percentage standpoint than seventeen other teams. Add in four NFL Championships, which to Steeler fans everywhere, the NFL does recognize, they’re not as sorry as initially thought to believed. But, I knew that to become the Class of the League once again, just like the Old Browns were Once Upon a Golden Age, something terrible had to happen.

This terrible price began with the exodus of several key veterans, leaving the roster a barren wasteland full of rookies and rejects. I knew last season was going to be bad, and historically bad at that. Then came the 2017 NFL Draft, where the Browns had the most picks, and several good ones. Now, the team looks poised for a breakthrough. It won’t happen in 2017, but when you play the Steelers, who make annual trips to the playoffs, that well in Week One starting a rookie quarterback with the youngest roster in the NFL, you’re onto something. By the way, prize rookie, Myles Garrett, was out with an ankle injury. Typical Cleveland luck, right? Well, the defense looked good without him, so they’re going to be epic with him.

The Browns are onto something great, and with guys such as Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, Joe Flacco, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Carson Palmer, and Alex Smith either approaching or are in their twilight years of their long careers, a new era will be brought forth. It is now, with young teams such as the Cowboys, Raiders, and Bucs already making noise. The Titans and Vikings are threatening, and the Eagles may be under the radar. But that’s only six teams, and with the Bengals appearing to be on the verge of a rebuild, and ditto for the Jets, and potentially the Redskins and Cardinals, the new era brings in new breeds of success.

No one has torn their team down and build it back up like the Browns, however. Sure, the Jets are taking a leaf out of the blueprint, but the Browns are the team to have figured out the art of tanking for future success. They tanked well last season, so well, Owner Jimmy Haslam said Coach Hue Jackson’s job was safe when the Browns fell to 0-12 and Jackson broke down at a post-game press conference.

Take a look at this: DeShone Kizer, Isaiah Crowell, Duke Johnson, Corey Coleman, and Seth DeValve are all twenty-five and younger. Right tackle Shon Coleman is in his second season, and is essentially a rookie, at age twenty-six, but he battled cancer for two years, which explains his age. On defense, Emmanuel Ogbah, Danny Shelton, Myles Garrett, Joe Schobert, Briean Boddy-Calhoun, Derrick Kindred, and Jabrill Peppers are all under twenty-five. Over half the starting line-up is under twenty-five, and if they come out and play the Ravens as well as they played the Steelers, this young team is going places! Not this year, but there is such thing as a bad 4-12 and a good 4-12, just ask the 2014 Oakland Raiders, who went 3-13 that year, but man, were they watchable! And fun to watch!

I said it last year, and I’ll say it again this year. The 2016 Cleveland Browns reminded me of a team from back in the day. They reminded me of the 1989 Dallas Cowboys, a team who went 1-15, just like the 2016 Browns. The 1989 Cowboys were the birth of a dynasty, and with the Browns being this young at this point, eerily similar to the 1989 Cowboys, it’s safe to say some 1-15 campaigns are better than others.

In future posts, I’ll talk about the (near) unwavering loyalty of Browns fans everywhere, what will Pittsburgh say when the Browns win their first Super Bowl, and why I’d rather root for a downtrodden team in favor of a front-running team, such as the Steelers. Typically, I have to explain why I root for the Ohio State Buckeyes if I hate front-runners. Well, the Buckeyes aren’t front runners, as it’ll be a while before we take the lead in the All-Time Series against our nemesis, Michigan. Then we’ll be front runners!

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