Why the Browns Have Improved

1-27 isn’t pretty. In fact, 1-27 will cost any NFL coach his job. But with the Browns in Year Two of a franchise overhaul, Hue Jackson may (and should) be an exception to the golden rule come Black Monday next month. The average fan would point to Jackson’s back to back 0-12 starts and state his lack of wins are the only reason they need in their debate to let him go. I’m a numbers guy when it comes to football and upon further research, my black and white discoveries met my claim: The Browns have improved.

Let’s begin with first downs, where the Browns are minus 3 behind their opponents. They finished 2016 minus 68. Through twelve games, their ability to move the ball shows an improved offense. Through twelve games, their offense outrushed their opponents by 107 yards, while they finished 2016 at minus 262. They finished 2016 at minus 735 passing yards. In 2017, they’re minus 331. The offensive line has been a focal point, allowing only 39 sacks through twelve games, compared to 66 in 2016.

On the defensive side, they’re allowing 5.2 yards per play, down from 5.9 yards per play in 2016. Last season, the Browns allowed a 4.6 yard per carry average against NFL running backs. In 2017, the number is down to 3.3. Total rushing yards allowed? 1,163 this season. The 2016 total? 2,283. Through twelve games, they’ve sacked the quarterback 24 times, compared to 26 in 2016. The Browns defense allowed an astounding 6,279 yards last season, surrendering an average of 392 yards per game. This season, the Browns allowed 3,927 yards, averaging 327 yards per game, an improvement of 65 yards.

Another argument for continuing the set foundation accounts for starters acquired via draft, free agency, and trade. Upon looking at the Browns depth chart, they’ve found starters in Corey Coleman, Spencer Drango, Joel Bitonio, Shon Coleman, Emmanual Ogbah, Danny Shelton, Myles Garrett, Christian Kirksey, Joe Schobert, Derrick Kindred, and Jabrill Peppers. Trevon Coley fought his way into the starting lineup, being a second-year undrafted free agent. In other words, eleven of their twenty-two starters were drafted between the years 2014 and 2017. If one adds DeShone Kizer and David Njoku, who receives adequate playing time at tight-end, the number jumps to thirteen. Duke Johnson finds the field often, and Josh Gordon made his season debut for the first time in three seasons, so he’s essentially a newbie. Make that number sixteen, over two-thirds of the starters are twenty-six or younger.

Bitonio, Kirksey, and Schobert continue to play at Pro-Bowl levels. Garrett, Shelton, and Ogbah have transformed a once bleak defensive line. Peppers shows flashes of his hard-hitting ability. Ditto for Kindred. Duke Johnson remains one of the better receiving running backs in the game. Even DeShone Kizer, who critics grill for his less than stellar numbers have found the end zone five times this season and isn’t out of the running to start next season. Hey, Troy Aikman went 0-11 in his first eleven starts, too and nearly lost his job to some kid named Steve Walsh.

Talk of trades, the Browns acquired Jamie Collins, the unspoken leader of the defense and Jamar Taylor in 2016. Each found a place on Cleveland’s starting eleven. Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter were prize free agent pickups, and another name to lookout for is James Burgess, who has strung together a few strong outings.

My friends tell me the way I talk, this should be a playoff team, right? Of course, not! They’re young, as I established earlier, but they’re much improved. This is a team who last season owned a defense reminiscent of the 2008 Lions and almost became them. This season, the Title of Imperfection isn’t out of reach, but the numbers look far better. As a friend of mine put it, they’re in almost every game. They are. They keep me watching, or listening, as I live in Steeler territory, until late in the fourth quarter. Minus the Texans and first game against the Bengals, they’ve been in games. Four have been decided by three points. One decision went to overtime.

I’m often asked how I can continue to root for such a futile team, who managed to pass up the 1976-77 Buccaneers in terms of worst starts by a Head Coach. I’ll be honest: my dream is playing out. Really, it is. I said it years ago. They need to tear down the roster and just post a miserable record for a few seasons. Start from scratch. Draft quantity, and through the years switch from quantity to quality. Build these guys and keep them together. Something big is happening over on the Lakefront. A complete teardown and rebuild takes years, as does anything worth having. See it through to the end.

More Than Meets the Eye

The Browns stand at 0-11. To most NFL fans, they’re floundering. When one adds in two years’ worth of wins and losses, the Browns found glory once in their past twenty-seven games, with a 1-26 record. Want more fun? Cleveland’s losing stretch rivals the 1976-77 Buccaneers, who went 2-26 in their first two seasons. The 2008-09 Lions went 2-30 in a two-season span. The Browns can soar pass the Buccaneers in all the wrong ways if they lose to the Los Angeles Chargers this Sunday. But things may not be too bad, despite the constant losing.

Like my friends, anyone reading this piece will say I’m losing my mind. “1-26 is 1-26,” they said. “Todd, a win is a win, a loss is a loss.” Easy for Steeler fans to say, many of whom have yet to experience a losing season. Ditto for Patriots fans. Hey, argue with front running fanbases all day. It’s not worth arguing with stupid. If you’re educated, or if you possess an Intelligence Quotient higher than eighty-five, read on. If you’re a knucklehead, stop reading, as the following over capacitates simple minds.

The steps in building a dynasty challenge even the brightest football minds, and the impatient or faint-hearted give in after two seasons. Ever here the adage, “a circle has no ending?” The Browns hired eight coaches the past nineteen seasons. Butch Davis and Romeo Crennel lasted more than two seasons with the club. In this span, the Browns started twenty-eight different quarterbacks. Detmer, Couch, Pederson, Wynn, Holcomb, Garcia, Luke McCown, Dilfer, Frye, Dorsey, Anderson, Quinn, Gradkowski, Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Colt McCoy, Thad Lewis, Weeden, Hoyer, Manziel, Connor Shaw, Josh McCown, Robert Griffin, Kessler, Austin Davis, DeShone Kizer, and Kevin Hogan. Not a single quarterback lasted more than five seasons with the team (Couch).

With the following being said, why not try something different? Why not give the new regime a fair chance? Eight or nine years ago, I said the Browns needed to do what they’re doing now. I said they needed to suck. They needed to lose, and lose big, as in lose a lot of games. I wanted a roster resembling an expansion team. I wanted first and second year players playing alongside cast-offs. Why? To build the ultimate dynasty, per Jimmy and Dee Haslam’s patience. Where do you start?

Step One: Tear down the existing roster. Even the contributors not named Joe Thomas. Tear it down. If they didn’t help you win, sans Joe Thomas, throw them to the curb. Bye-bye, Birdie.

Step Two: Hire your coach. Enter Hue Jackson, the perfect man for the job. Why? Hue’s handed the keys to turn a seven-two off-suit into a winner. The man perseveres through the strongest storm. No, Hue is the storm. A cyclone. The man to see the strongest storm given to a team in NFL history captains the ship.

Step Three: Draft for quantity. Holes three fathoms deep sit in the roster. Lack of depth lurks everywhere, from cornerback to offensive tackle. Draft players. Not studs, but players willing to become part of this revolution. Players who may make an impact, but provide services. Corey Coleman finds himself in a number two receiver role, but he burns defenses when healthy. Ditto for Emmanuel Ogbah and Carl Nassib.

Step Four: Attract a few free agents and start drafting quality over quantity. Myles Garrett, anyone? Again, when healthy he wreaks havoc. Jabrill Peppers played linebacker in college and safety in the NFL. The kid looks like a Troy Polamalu-T.J. Ward hybrid. Enter David Njoku and DeShone Kizer. Two potential future studs. Even Kizer, despite his struggles. Wait and see what he does with Josh Gordon slotted next to Corey Coleman.

Step Five: Attract more free agents to the cause and draft quality over quantity. Two top ten picks in 2018 brings quality to the table. Package the three second rounders and move up. How far? Wait and see who bites on the bargain. The Browns enjoy firepower in the 2018 Draft. Boom, boom, and boom. Three more studs to build around.

Check out the current starting lineup, without Joe Thomas.

QB: Kizer

RB1: Crowell

RB2: Johnson

FB: Vitale

WR1: Gordon

WR2: Coleman

WR3 Britt

WR4: Louis

TE: Njoku (Telfer is first on depth chart, but Njoku and DeValve receive more playing time).

LT: Drango

LG: Zeitler

C: Tretter

RG: Bitonio

RT: Shon Coleman

We all thought Drango collapsing the left side. So far, so good. Coleman provides the weak link, but even he shows flashes as a first-year starter. Good. I’ll take it. Gordon’s back after a two-year absence. He raises the receiving corps to another level. Mark me. Coleman dropped a surefire touchdown last week, but talk about productivity. He delivers often and gives Kizer sure hands ninety-nine percent of the time. I’m not counting the drop against him.

Shift to defense, minus Ogbah and Jamie Collins, two studs who I look forward to seeing next year.

DE: Garrett

DE: Nassib

NT: Shelton

DT: Trevon Coley

OLB: Burgess

MLB: Schobert

OLB: Kirksey

CB1: Jamar Taylor

CB2: Jason McCourty

FS: Peppers

SS: Kindred

Garrett’s producing. Last week, he finished with a sack, three tackles, and three quarterback hits. He’s a force, and he bounces runners to the outside. Nassib delivers a decent pass rush and his height works in favor. Shelton takes up two blockers and can be a force. Ditto for Coley. Burgess came out of nowhere against Jacksonville and provides depth when Collins starts ahead of him. Schobert tackles everything. Same with Kirksey. Taylor bats away everything. McCourty plays like a man five years younger than his age. Peppers hits like a linebacker. Coverage issues? Of course, but every rookie switching positions needs a learning curve. Same for Kindred. I expect a leap forward next season.

The team plays better than their record. Friend of mine told me on Monday they’re in every game. Nearly every game, to be accurate. Cincy blew them away in Week Four. Houston torched them two weeks later. Minnesota and Detroit pulled away in the fourth quarter, but the Browns led in both games in the third. Small victories and small steps preach importance with our young NFL franchise.

If there is No Struggle, there is No Progress

These words were made famous by Frederick Douglass, and his famous quote accurately describes the last season and a half for the Browns. Over the past twenty-two games, the Browns are 1-21, leaving Cleveland fans (again) clamoring for another clean out the front office. As for Coach Hue Jackson, the feelings are mixed. I feel for Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta, the ringleaders of the current front office. If Hue gets axed, I’ll feel for him, too.

If the Browns decide to hire a General Manager, and said General Manager wishes to bring in his own coach, ninety-five percent of Browns fans and NFL fans in general are going to give credit to the wrong group of people when the Browns start winning. Why? Brown and DePodesta have built a foundation for the team. When was the last time an incoming General Manager could say that? Furthermore, Brown and DePodesta tore down a roster to its bare bones when they inherited a franchise nothing short of a train wreck.

I’m astounded when fans think Hue should be winning and are already labeling guys such as DeShone Kizer and Corey Coleman busts. For one, Kizer and one of his NFL Draft brethren, Mitchell Trubisky, have an identical completion percentage. Kizer’s is actually better, at 50.9%, then Trubisky, at 49%. For another, Corey Coleman has played twelve of his first twenty-two games as a Brown, meaning he’s missed half his possible games. In these twelve games, Coleman has forty receptions. If one averages this out to a full season, they’ll get fifty-three receptions. He also has four touchdown receptions, which is on pace for five over a sixteen-game stretch. Great numbers? No. But at this point, rookie tight-end David Njoku is on pace for thirty-five receptions for eight touchdown grabs as he shares time with tight-ends Seth DeValve and Randall Telfer. Running-back Duke Johnson is on pace for seventy catches, and is averaging 5.6 yards per carry on the ground. What do these kids have in common? They’re all in their third seasons as a pro, or less.

Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta have built a foundation on offense, yet many fans fail to see it. Fans point to winning as the only statistic that matters and in the long run, it does. But when you break a roster down to men who are either rookies or rejects, sans tackle Joe Thomas, back in 2016, I’m not sure what the fans are expecting. Especially in Year Two of what’s supposed to be a five-year plan. I’ve previously written this season reminds me of that pivotal 2000 season, after which the Browns fired Chris Palmer and courted Butch Davis. At that time, the Browns were in Year Three of the Expansion Era, and Palmer was supposed to be in the driver’s seat, not Davis. Palmer built a budding foundation, and Davis reaped the benefits in Years Three and Four. When Davis changed the culture, and brought in his own guys in Years Five and Six, he fell flat on his face, ultimately resigning in November 2004 after leading the Browns to a 3-9 start.

I love history because it can teach us what works and what doesn’t work. The fanbase is impatient and frustrated, and they have every right to be, but for once the Cleveland Browns as an organization need to learn from their history and see this storm through until the end. Hiring and firing coaches and personnel every two seasons has gotten the Browns into this mess. It doesn’t work. It’s never worked. Why would they even consider?

The Browns will win under any new coach and front office, but they’ll be doing so under men acquired by the previous regime. If this happens, a tornado siren should be going off in the minds of every Browns fan. What if the next regime wishes to bring in its own people? The process will never end. I like looking to the Philadelphia 76ers of the NBA, who through three abysmal seasons record-wise, stuck with Head Coach, Brett Brown. In Year Three, the Sixers went 10-72. In Year Four, their record was 28-54. This season, many NBA analysts are projecting a lower-end playoff berth. The same could be said for the Edmonton Oilers and Toronto Maple Leafs of the NHL, or the Houston Astros of the MLB. If the Browns wish to finally get this right, they need to stick out the storm, ignore the critics, ignore the fans, and keep their eye on the final prize.

To Trade or Not to Trade Joe Thomas

The name Joe Thomas always surfaces in the name of trade talks as the NFL Trade Deadline approaches. All NFL fans know Thomas’ story. Eleven years in the NFL, ten Pro Bowls, never missed a game, never missed a single NFL snap. The latter is believed to be the longest snap streak in NFL History. Let’s face it, Joe Thomas may be the greatest offensive tackle to ever play in the NFL. There are four things Joe Thomas has yet to accomplish in the NFL: Appear in a playoff game, win a playoff game, appear in a Super Bowl, win a Super Bowl. In 2015, Thomas would have won the Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos. The Browns had a deal in place to ship him to Denver, but the deal fell through and Thomas remained in Cleveland.

Here’s another fact. The Browns have been abysmal since appearing in the playoff in 2002. Before 2002, the Browns saw one playoff appearance in the 1990’s under coach Bill Belichick. In 1995, whereas many predicted the Browns to make their first Super Bowl appearance, former owner Art Modell hijacked the team and moved them to Baltimore. Cleveland fans, you know what happened. Baltimore won the Super Bowl four seasons later with arguably the greatest defense to take the field. Want more? Had Modell kept the Browns in Cleveland, he never would’ve fired Belichick. Modell fired Belichick before moving to Baltimore, because former Baltimore Colts coach Ted Marchibroda was available. If the multi-verse theory exists, Bill Belichick coached Ray Lewis for seventeen seasons, and Tom Brady, drafted in the sixth round of the 2000 NFL Draft at Belichick’s insistence, would be in Cleveland. No one gave Brady a shot other than Belichick.

What I’m getting to, is over the past ten seasons, over six-hundred NFL players have worn a Cleveland Browns uniform. Joe Thomas is the sole survivor. There is no one else. Kicker Phil Dawson, now playing his nineteenth NFL season, is with the Arizona Cardinals. Dawson played for the Browns from 1999 to 2012, but by the time Dawson left Cleveland, Thomas was a household name. If Thomas leaves, who else is there? Joe Haden’s in Pittsburgh, T.J. Ward’s in Tampa, about one-million blown first round draft picks are either back-ups or are out of the NFL, and rookie Myles Garrett has played in one NFL game. Okay, I hear some fans shouting two names: Danny Shelton and Jamie Collins. Shelton and Collins have been with the Browns for a total of five seasons, counting this season. Shelton is in his third season with the team, Collins is in his second. Thomas is the face of the franchise, being in Cleveland longer than these two combined. The point? Outside Cleveland, no one knows who Danny Shelton is. Ditto for Jamie Collins, sans the New England fanbase, where Collins spent his first three and a half seasons.

If the Browns trade Thomas, neither Shelton nor Collins qualify as the face of the franchise. Quarterback DeShone Kizer has done nothing to prove he can be the guy coach Hue Jackson wants him to be. Tomorrow, Kizer’s riding the bench. There are two names that jump out at me, Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers. Garrett had a strong NFL debut, as expected. Peppers has shown flashes, but let’s try to forget the Browns passed on Ohio State’s Malik Hooker, who went to Indianapolis at fifteen back in April. I’m not one to give up on Peppers, as he played linebacker in college and is still learning the safety position. The kids’ a Swiss Army Knife. He’s a hard hitter, a dangerous return man, and a hybrid player. He reminds me of Troy Polamalu, who terrorized offenses after a shaky rookie year.

The good news is if the Browns trade Thomas, they’ll going to coax at least two first round picks out of someone. This would give the Browns three first round picks in 2018 and two first round picks in 2019. But we must ask ourselves the burning question: When has this strategy worked? 2012’s pair of first round picks, Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden, are long gone from the NFL or are bouncing around the league as backups. 2014’s pair of Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel are out of the league. 2015’s pair of Danny Shelton and Cam Erving are mixed, as Shelton appears to be a solid pickup while Erving is fighting for his NFL life in Kansas City. Still, the Browns are 1 for 6 when it comes to multiple first round picks. This year, the Browns had three first round picks. Garrett, Peppers, and tight-end, David Njoku. Garrett lit up the league in his NFL debut. Peppers has shown flashes. Njoku had a slow start in preseason but has since progressed. He’s on pace for ten touchdown receptions in his rookie year and appears to be a favorite target of quarterback Kevin Hogan.

Furthermore, owner Jimmy Haslam appears to be content with the state of the Browns. Sure, they’re 1-20 over the past season and a half. I get it, I’ve watched and listened to every game, from the first whistle to the last. I’d recommend researching the Philadelphia 76ers and something they’re calling, The Process. The Browns are the NFL’s version of the 76ers, and if Haslam remains patient with his current staff, better days are ahead. The 76ers more than doubled their win total in 2016-17. What is The Process? It involves tearing down the roster to the bare bones, and building it back up, piece by piece. No, not with marquee free agents, though the Browns managed to bring in guard Kevin Zeitler and center JC Tretter, but with rookies, a lot of them. The Process takes time, but it must be trusted, hence the term, Trust The Process.

The downside is if Thomas goes, the most recognizable face in the history of the post-1999 Browns goes with him. If Thomas stays, per his wishes, there will be two more first round draft picks taking the field in Cleveland come 2018, and at this point, Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is worthy of the number one pick. In addition, the Browns offensive line will have another year experience under their belt as a complete unit, either Kevin Hogan or DeShone Kizer are capable of being the starting quarterbacks, tight-ends Seth DeValve and David Njoku have made major strides, and Duke Johnson has been more than serviceable. Couple this with a defense at full-strength, and Barkley may very well be the missing piece in the offense.

In conclusion, Don’t Trade Joe Thomas!

Kevin Hogan, the next…Joe Montana?

On Wednesday, it became official. After bringing the offense to life several times over the last few weeks, Kevin Hogan will be in the driver’s seat this Sunday as the Browns take on the Texans. I know what you’re thinking: Couch-Holcomb, Quinn-Anderson, Hoyer-Weeden, McCown-Manziel, Seinfeld never made yada-yada sound so tasty. Well, here we go, again. This year’s match-up will be DeShone Kizer versus Kevin Hogan.

There are two things I need to admit. For one, Kevin Hogan was my favorite quarterback in the 2016 Draft Class. Not Goff, not Wentz, not Prescott…what were the Browns thinking when they drafted Cody Kessler in the third round? Kessler, as we now know, has been inactive all season, and the kid started eight games back in 2016. Nope, it was Kevin Hogan. That’s right, the fourth man on the depth chart to open the preseason. Naturally, I thought Hogan would be the odd man out this year, simply due to Kizer’s and Kessler’s draft statuses, and the trade for Brock Osweiler.

We know what happened. Osweiler looked like Jim Druckenmiller. Who? Exactly. Look up the 1997 San Francisco 49ers, and you’ll find out. Kessler took about twenty steps backwards, and ended up losing his starting gig in training camp to Brock Osweiler. Osweiler proved to be a free agent bust in Houston, and he didn’t impress anyone in Cleveland. Kizer impressed against the back-ups, and played well enough against the starters to earn the job.

Then came the game against Pittsburgh. Get this, the Browns almost won! And it was DeShone Kizer leading the charge, looking like Tim Couch from back in the day. Hey, if you think Couch is a bust, you need to watch some of his game film. Sure, there’d be games where he went something like 13 for 35 for 98 yards and a few picks, but two weeks later he’s 30 for 40, with 350 yards, and 2 touchdowns. Then he’d play a few okay games, and finally, a few not-so-okay games. Then, he’d have the one game where you’re begging for Kelly Holcomb. Want more fun? Holcomb starts a few and looks like the career-backup he’s always been, and manages to break his leg. Before you knew it, Couch was back in, and the fans were looking to the Heavens as if Thanksgiving came early. Well, DeShone Kizer has looked exactly like Tim Couch…no, maybe Couch isn’t a great example. What about Mike Phipps? Phipps was before my time. All I know is he was supposed to have been the successor to the aging Bill Nelson and blew his shot.

Look, we all knew Kizer wasn’t going to be the reincarnation of Otto Graham. Nor is Hue Jackson the reincarnation of the team’s namesake, Paul Brown. Okay, Hue Jackson may be the one guy in the entire history of Cleveland’s Head Coaches who bears resemblance to Brown’s personality. The passion, charisma, never-say-die attitude, and then some. Look, I know Jackson’s 1-20, but this roster was torn to the bare bones. Besides, how can Kizer be anything but what he’s been, with his 49.1 passer rating and 50.1 percent completion percentage. The kid was throwing the ball to Kasen Williams and Bryce Treggs last week! Who? Exactly!

                Then Kevin Hogan came into the game and played “lights-out,” if I’m going to quote Hue Jackson when describing the play of Kizer just one week before. No, Hogan played lights-out in the second half. Heck, a 122.1 quarterback rating is going to change the mind of any coach, especially with a kid whose faced adversity over the past few seasons such as Kevin Hogan. Here’s the harsh reality, Browns fans. Didn’t Kelly Holcomb do the same thing? I was on the Holcomb bandwagon at the time. I was also eleven years old and didn’t know the first thing about NFL quarterbacks. Then there’s Couch, who in 2002 went 8-6 as a starter, 7-3 down the stretch, and won the must-win, do-or-die Week Seventeen Game against Atlanta on a broken leg. Kelly Holcomb plays next week in the Wildcard Playoffs against Pittsburgh and, well, plays as if he was the reincarnation of Otto Graham. He had a 24-7 lead in the third quarter, a 33-21 lead in the fourth, and ended up losing 36-33.

Here’s the stark difference between Hogan and Holcomb. For one, Hogan was drafted, Holcomb wasn’t. For another, Hogan’s twenty-four, Holcomb was thirty at the time. Hogan is young enough to be the next Tony Romo or Russell Wilson. Holcomb was more like Gus Frerotte, or worse, Matt Flynn. Hogan’s going to relish the opportunity, while Holcomb never appeared to be totally comfortable, always looking over his shoulder at Couch, knowing he’d be yanked by former Coach Butch Davis after throwing his first interception.

So, who would I go with against Houston? Honestly, I’d throw them a curve ball. Kizer moves the ball well, just watch the game film. Problem is, he’s left more points on the field than he’s scored, including twenty last week against the Jets. The Browns outplayed the Jets, and Hogan’s two touchdown passes would’ve added to the score. So, I’m starting Kizer. Once he drives the offense into the red zone, I’m switching to Hogan. Why? Hogan’s scored thirty-one points on ten drives.

Know who Hogan reminds me of? Joe Montana. Before claiming I’m out of my mind, hear me out. Look at Montana’s strengths and weaknesses. Hogan’s accurate. Montana was accurate. Both knew how to extend plays. Neither had brilliant arm strength. Both had brilliant minds. Best yet, both were rookies during their respective coaches first seasons with their teams. Both were mid-round picks. Hogan wears eight, Montana wore sixteen. Both are gutsy. What’s the most striking trait about this duo? Both are playing, or in Montana’s case, were playing on storied franchises with loyal fanbases going through the worst seasons in franchise history.

You know what, I talked myself out of it. I’m going with Kevin Hogan. I don’t know if he can be the next Joe Montana, but I’ve seen the play of DeShone Kizer, and it’s uninspiring.

Party Like it’s 1999 (and 2000)

Hue Jackson is the 2010’s version of Chris Palmer. I’m going to go ahead and say it. Eric Mangini was the late 2000’s version of Chris Palmer, and Chris Palmer was, well, Chris Palmer. The Browns made a mistake when they fired Mangini after the 2010 Season and hired on Pat Shurmur, who had never even been a coordinator in this league. Backtrack to a decade earlier, the Browns fired Chris Palmer in favor of Butch Davis. The similarities I see between Palmer’s Browns and Jackson’s Browns are astounding.

Want a run down?

1: Each coach had thrust a young quarterback into action, which in my opinion is a good move, considering all quarterbacks go through the same phases.

2: In Palmer’s second season, the Browns led the league in injuries. They aren’t doing so this year, but Myles Garrett, Jamie Collins, Corey Coleman, and possibly Danny Shelton will miss Sunday’s game. That’s four of twenty-two starters.

3: In their second season as Head Coach, a defensive end, Courtney Brown and Myles Garrett, respectively, were taken Number One Overall in the NFL Draft.

4: In their second season, the offense failed to score points (161 in 2000), and the Browns are currently averaging around 18.5 after three games this season, one of the lower marks in the league.

5: There’s already uncertainty (perceived) in the front office regarding the coach, similar to what Palmer faced in 2000.

We all know what happened after 2000. Palmer was fired, Davis was hired. After the conclusion of the 2000 season, Palmer met with then Owner Al Lerner, General Manager Dwight Clark, and CEO Carmen Policy. Lerner asked Palmer how many games he thought the Browns would win next year, and Palmer responded with six. He was let go a few weeks after that meeting. Enter Butch Davis, who was a respected college coach.

After leading the league in injuries in 2000, Davis’ Browns led the league in injuries in 2001 and 2003. One of the excuses for firing Palmer was Browns Management thought his practices were too tough, which caused the injuries. Too bad they hired someone who ran even more physical practices. Davis’ players also lacked discipline, with too many penalties and too many late hits on defense. They were a cocky bunch, and while the current Browns defense will hit you hard and talk some trash, they’re a disciplined bunch. Many of the penalties have been on the offensive side of the ball. Want an example of the lack of discipline imposed by Davis on his players? In Week One of the 2002 season, the Browns led the Kansas City Chiefs 39-37, and ended the game on a quarterback sack, only for linebacker Dwayne Rudd to remove his helmet prematurely, prompting an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The Chiefs won the game, 40-39, after being granted a last second field goal.

But what is my real message here? The fact that Davis came in and cleaned house, getting rid of Palmer’s players. Sure, many of those he got rid of deserved to be gone. But was it fair to Tim Couch, who today is labeled a bust? Couch had a magical 2002 season in the win-loss column, but Kelly Holcomb played so well in a relief role, Davis couldn’t figure out who the quarterback should be moving forward. After granting Holcomb the starting job in 2003, he proved to the NFL why he was a career back-up. With his confidence shot, Couch never became a viable NFL player again. But what about 2002, when Couch went 8-6 as a starter, and 7-3 down the stretch? He had a breakout season the year before in 2001, yet when Davis found ‘his guy’ in Holcomb, Couch became an afterthought. Want to have more fun? Since the 2003 quarterback controversy, the Browns have had twenty-two different guys line up under center. Butch Davis created a chain reaction that has yet to be solved.

Know who Chris Palmer was targeting with the third pick in the 2001 NFL Draft? It wasn’t “Big Money” defensive tackle, Gerard Warren, who flamed out in Cleveland after four seasons. It was running back LaDanian Tomlinson. You can only wonder what could’ve been with Tomlinson lining up behind Tim Couch, with Kevin Johnson and Dennis Northcutt lined up at receiver. The running game would’ve opened the passing game. The Browns had a playmaking defense in 2001, and they barely missed the playoffs. Insert Tomlinson, and the Browns make the playoffs that season, or close to, with Chris Palmer. Palmer said the Browns were capable of winning six games in 2001, and they won seven, which is the same in the minds of many.

Here we sit in 2017, with Hue Jackson sitting at 1-18. At this time in 2000, Chris Palmer was 4-15, but would finish the season 1-12. Again, there are rumblings among fans that Jackson needs to go, and there’s no way they can keep him after a 1-18 start. Yet Browns fans have short memories, forgetting this front office tore apart the roster back in 2016, the year Jackson was hired. Last season, there was nothing going to keep the Browns from being anything but a terrible team. This season, they’re hit hard with injuries, but if one sits there and tells me they haven’t improved, they’re either blind, ignorant, or they don’t know football. All me to give another rundown.

1: DeShone Kizer looks like a young Peyton Manning, and this year’s version of Jared Goff. Manning still holds the NFL record for most interceptions in a season for a rookie with 28, but like Manning, Kizer has given the offense life. Three of his seven interceptions occurred in the red zone. And in case one didn’t notice, he threw for two touchdowns and ran for another. In fact, he’s run for two touchdowns, and has produced five touchdowns in three games. Name another Browns quarterback who could say that in the last fifteen seasons. I can think of one (Derek Anderson).

2: This is the youngest team in the league by average age. The Browns average age this season is 24.1, this means the team as a whole are younger than I. In fact, I’m older than two-thirds of their team. I should mention I’m twenty-six.

3: The offensive line is going to be one of the best in the league. Sure, they struggled as a unit, but Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter are new to the table, and Joel Bitonio is coming off a long layoff. Right tackle Shon Coleman is in his first season as a starter. Of course, they’re going to struggle.

4: Duke Johnson is the jack of all trades, who may evolve into becoming a queen on a chessboard. There are rumors he may overtake Isaiah Crowell as the starting running back, and Duke Johnson can play anywhere on the field, also seeing time at receiver both split out and in the slot. Speaking of running backs, there’s another ultra-talented back coming out of school in 2018, a kid named Saquon Barkley. Dear Sashi Brown, don’t make the same mistake Butch Davis made back in 2001. Package your two first round picks, Crowell, and a second-round pick, move up to number one and snag the kid. He’s going to be better than Zeke Elliott.

5: Myles Garrett (R), Danny Shelton (3), Emmanuel Ogbah (2), Trevon Coley (1), Joe Schobert (2), Chris Kirskey (4), Jabrill Peppers (R), Derrick Kindred (2), and Briean Boddy-Calhoun (2) are all in their fourth season or less. Add in Jamie Collins and Jamar Taylor, every single Browns starter on defense is in their fifth season or less, the oldest being Collins and Taylor, who are twenty-seven.

6: The closet is bare at receiver, but Rashard Higgins and Jordan Leslie are showing signs of being darkhorses. Higgins had a great game Week Two against Baltimore, and Leslie made a catch last week to rival Cole Beasley’s from Week One. Corey Coleman is out with a broken hand, but Josh Gordon may finally see the field for the first time in three seasons. If both Coleman and Gordon can return, the passing game just became dynamic. The Browns also are rotating three tight-ends in Randall Telfer, Seth DeValve, and David Njoku. Telfer is in his third season, DeValve is in his second season, and Njoku is a rookie.

If you look at the numbers provided in this rundown, I’m not entirely sure why anyone is panicking at the moment. The Browns are 0-3, and they’ve looked good at times, and bad at times. However, this team isn’t built to win this year. If they win four games, it’s a success. If they’re in six of the twelve games they would lose, it’s a success, and in case one hasn’t been keeping track, they lost by three twice this season. For a young team full of rookies, second year players, and an average age of 24.1, this isn’t half bad. My message is to continue with Hue Jackson. If the Cleveland front office lets him go, they made a huge mistake.

 

The Top Ten Cleveland Browns Since 1999

The Browns have struggled to put a viable product onto the field since 1999. Many might ask whether I’m joking about this post, as even the most die-hard NFL fan would have a tough time naming ten relevant Browns who’ve succeeded enough to warrant recognition on a Top Ten List. However, there is hope despite the fact the Browns are 88-203 since returning to the league. Many may find it more appropriate to do a Top Ten Browns of All-Time kind of list, where guys such as Paul Brown, Jim Brown, Brian Sipe, and Bernie Kosar would easily make such a list. Clay Matthews, Otto Graham, Bill Willis, Lou Groza, Gary Collins, Paul Warfield, and others would easily warrant consideration. Ironically, it’d be tough to find ten players to end up a cut above the others, especially during the 1950’s, 60’s, and 80’s. There are simply too many to fit into a top ten. For that, I needed a challenge, so I took the last eighteen years since the expansion season of 1999 to bring to you the Top Ten Cleveland Browns Since 1999.

 

10) Josh Gordon, WR: 2012-present- Despite his endless suspensions, Josh Gordon put together one of the best seasons in NFL History back in 2013. After an initial suspension cost him the first two games of 2013, Gordon returned to dominate the league with 87 receptions, 9 touchdowns, and over 1,600 receiving yards. The jury is still out on Gordon’s return, and he’s only a two-year-wonder. If he can get his act together, Josh Gordon can move up the ranks on this list.

9) Daylon McCutcheon, CB: 1999-2006- Daylon McCutcheon was the longest lasting player from the original 1999 team who wasn’t a specialist (Phil Dawson). A third round pick out of USC, McCutcheon posted a respectable 7 sacks and 12 interceptions in seven seasons with the Browns. Known for his physicality, he made 463 tackles before being released in March 2007.

8) Kevin Johnson, WR: 1999-2003- Many wonder what could have been with Kevin Johnson had the Browns kept Head Coach Chris Palmer, who drafted Johnson in the second round of the 1999 NFL Draft. Johnson is best known for being the one to haul in a last second Hail Mary to give the Browns their first win in the Expansion Era. Johnson was known among fans as Tim Couch’s favorite weapon until 2003, when Couch was benched for Kelly Holcomb. Johnson also clashed with Palmer’s successor, Butch Davis, ultimately leading to his release in the middle of the 2003 season, justified by Davis as, “Not being a good blocker.”

7) Tim Couch, QB: 1999-2003- Tim Couch may land on several lists of All-Time NFL Draft Busts, but few remember his magical 2002 season, where he went 8-6 as a starter, going 7-3 down the mid to late season stretch, leading the Browns to their only playoff appearance in the last two decades. Couch is also the last (and only) Browns quarterback since 1999 to have started all sixteen games in a single season (2001), and start the season opener for three straight seasons. To this day, he’s one of the most highly respected Cleveland Browns among the fan base.

6) Kellen Winslow, TE: 2004-2008- A broken fibula and motorcycle accident marred Winslow’s first two seasons, but when he returned in 2006, he proved he wasn’t broken. Winslow tied a team record in receptions, hauling in 89 receptions in 2006. In 2007, he became part of a dynamic trio with quarterback Derek Anderson and receiver Braylon Edwards.

5) Jamir Miller, OLB: 1999-2003- One can’t say enough about Jamir Miller. The outside linebacker was signed as a free agent back in 1999, and was easily the team’s most talented player. In 2001, Miller recorded 13 sacks, becoming the Browns first and only Pro Bowl player of the Expansion Era until 2007.

4) Joe Haden, CB: 2010-2017- Joe Haden’s career started with a bang, recording six interceptions in 2010. From 2010 to 2014, he was one of the NFL’s best corners, making the Pro Bowl in 2013 and 2014. Injuries have derailed Haden since and the artist known as Mr. Cleveland has since moved on to the rival Pittsburgh Steelers, enabling the Cleveland Cavaliers season ticket holder to remain close to his shoe companies, located in his first football town.

3) D’Qwell Jackson, MLB: 2006-2012- When one thinks of D’Qwell Jackson, they think of a warrior. Jackson missed all of 2009 and 2010 with a pectoral injury, only to return in 2011 to continue where he left off, leading the NFL with 158 tackles. In 2014, after moving onto Indianapolis, Jackson led the AFC with 140 tackles, and followed up in 2015 with 150.

2) Phil Dawson, Kicker: 1999-2012- Phil Dawson, at age 42, continues to kick in the NFL. Dawson’s first big break came in 1999 when the Browns upset the Steeler at Three Rivers Stadium on a last second field goal. Dawson was the last remaining player from the Browns Expansion Era, moving on to San Francisco in 2013. Dawson may be best remembered with his unusual field goals, where he had two in 2007 bounce off the crossbar. The first, initially being called ‘no-good,’ was reversed after a long review, leading to a new rule in the NFL dubbed, “The Phil Dawson Rule.”

1) Joe Thomas, Offensive Tackle: 2007-present- Everyone in slots two through ten were competing for second. In fact, it would be hard to keep Joe Thomas off the NFL’s All-Decade team for both the 2000’s and 2010’s. Thomas is the Tom Brady of NFL Offensive Tackles, having set what is believed to be the longest consecutive snap streak in NFL History, well over 10,000. In fact, Thomas has never missed an NFL snap in his eleven seasons, and is one of only a handful of players to have been selected to the Pro Bowl every time in their first ten seasons. Thomas will retire one day, and five years after his retirement, he’ll be a first ballot NFL Hall of Famer. He’s arguably the greatest Offensive Tackle to ever play the game.