The Cleveland Browns last won their division in 1989. I was born in 1991. The Browns last won a playoff game in 1994. I was three. The Browns last made the playoffs in 2002. I was ten in January 2002. The Browns have been through twenty-eight starting quarterbacks and nine head coaches since 1999. They also had four owners since my birth year. When I was four, the Browns were hijacked by Art Modell and moved to Baltimore, becoming the Ravens. The Ravens have since won two Super Bowls and trail Cleveland’s chief rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, 26-21 in their all-time series. The Browns led the all-time series against the Steelers, 52-41 before the move. Today, the all-time series stands at 73-58, Pittsburgh’s favor. Want more fun? Pittsburgh leads the post-expansion era series 32-6. Talk about a one-sided rivalry.
Being a Browns fan is tough within itself, especially for the Clevelanders who live and die with each breath the Browns take, each play made on the field, each crunch of the pads. Fans who attended the final home game of the 1995 season can still remember the sounds of seats being torn out, unsure if they’d ever se the plain, orange helmets take the field ever again. In 1999, the fans got their wish, but at what cost? It’s like Lord Voldemort’s attempts in Harry Potter to return to his full body. He prolonged his life, but it was a cursed life; a half-life, a life he couldn’t sustain without a host. Abandoned, Lord Voldemort remained in the Albanian Forests for a decade and a half, waiting for a single loyal follower to find him. Two decades into the expansion era, the Browns, like Lord Voldemort, a shell of what they once were, are playing in front of half-empty stadiums as fans file out in the third quarter after witnessing two uninspired quarters of football.
Owner Jimmy Haslam knows boycotts are occurring outside the stadium. Fire the coach and start over? Haslam’s done that three times and it’s put the team into this mess. Why not try something else? Tear the roster to the bare bones? Why not? Haslam hired the right people in place to do that. He hired a great coach; a quarterback whisperer. Then his squad wins a single game over the next twenty-seven, and once again fans are clamoring for coach Hue Jackson’s exit.
What does Jackson have to work with? Sure, pieces are in place all over the field, but they’re rookies, second year, and third year players. He has Joe Thomas, an eleven-year vet. He has Jamie Collins, though he’s landed on injured reserve. Jason McCourty is great in the secondary, but eighty percent of the team was born during Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri’s rookie season, or a year before.
Why not see the plan through this time? Why not keep the pieces of the puzzle in place and see what might happen in Year Three and Year Four? Firing coaches every two to three seasons has never worked. The only two coaches to last until their fourth seasons were Butch Davis and Romeo Crennel, Davis’s successor. Chris Palmer, Terry Robiskie, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski, and Mike Pettine lasted two seasons or less. The Browns are 88-211 since returning to the league.
Have they blown draft picks? Of course. Was every draft a disaster? Nope. Why do many Pro-Bowl caliber draft picks set off for greener pastures? Perhaps it has something to do with lack of continuity. When a new coach comes in and a new regime comes in to change the system every two seasons and bring in “their guys,” any player would be frustrated and go to New England, Pittsburgh, or wherever he can find stability. Sure, picks were mishandled.
Today, fans are down the front office’s throat about passing on Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz. Breakdown Wentz’s college game film. There’s nothing special about Wentz when he played at a powerhouse FCS program. He forced passes, never stayed healthy, and played off raw ability. I give the Browns a free pass on this one. As for passing on Texans quarterback DeShaun Watson? I had Watson ranked number one among incoming quarterbacks, and he destroyed two NFL caliber defensive units while in college. I would’ve taken Watson over Trubisky and I would’ve taken Watson over Patrick Mahomes. But would Watson have fared any better than incumbent starter, DeShone Kizer. I know Kizer’s numbers aren’t pretty, but when Corey Coleman’s on the field, Kizer posted his two best games as a pro. This week, Josh Gordon takes the field for the first time since 2014. I know, it feels like forever, but if Gordon has anything left in him (spoiler alert, he sure looks like it), Kizer’s numbers will go through the roof. For that, I’m not giving up on Kizer.
As for the defense, when was the last time the Browns had a pass rusher as effective as defensive end, Myles Garrett? Try Jabaal Sheard. No, try back in 2006, Kamerion Wimbley’s rookie season. When was the last time the Browns had productive linebackers such as Joe Schobert, Jamie Collins, and Christian Kirksey? In the expansion era, never. 2002 is the closest season to that feat.
They’re ripping Zane Gonzalez for inconsistent kicking. Newsflash, Phil Dawson was inconsistent in 1999, going 8 for 12 on field goals that season. There’s a one-year learning curve to kick in the AFC North.
Do you know what I see when I look at the Browns? A team reminiscent of 1999 and 2000, but in all the good ways. I see a young team full of stars. Young stars who can produce, and if given a few years in the same system, maybe they’ll start winning? It isn’t guaranteed. Nothing’s guaranteed. But the Browns can and will win, if only continuity is in place. Don’t hire a new coach and bring in a new regime just to tear the roster down and rebuild from scratch. A circle sees no ending, so why are we spinning our wheels? If you want continuity and a winning team, it’s not going to happen overnight. It takes time, and it takes patience and persistence.