Improvement in 0-13

Give the Browns credit, they’ve been in all but two games despite the 0-13 record. 0-13 is something to dwell on, and Hue Jackson’s 1-28 record is unacceptable, but when you’re coaching the NFL’s youngest team with a roster torn apart two off-seasons ago, wins are few and far in between. Even with the level of experience, one would expect more wins, but in Hue’s defense, he’s been competitive. I’ll be the first to say a competitive 0-16 is better than a 4-12 season where a team gets blown out eight times, as is the case of the 2008 or 2009 Browns, who finished 5-11. Each week was an expected blowout. At least here in 2017, they keep a fan’s interest.

I get it, this team is 1-31 since Week 15, 2015, and 4-46 since Week 13, 2014. This futility has even the most die-hard fan shaking their head, wondering why they bother to care. But if you ask anyone with an ounce of mainstream or commercial success who mastered their craft without inheriting a fortune from mom, dad, or the grandparents, they’ll tell you one thing: they failed about one-thousand times before succeeding. It’s a message we can hold true to ourselves, especially today, where everyone expects a quick fix. Look, the Browns are losing at an alarming rate, but there is talent all over the board.

Myles Garrett, Danny Shelton, Trevon Coley, and Emmanuel Ogbah are all young and growing together. The depth is there with Carl Nassib, Nate Orchard, Larry Ogunjobi, and Jamie Meder. This depth was on display last Sunday, as both Shelton and Ogbah are out, and they succeeded. Onto the linebackers, where Christian Kirksey, Jamie Collins, and Joe Schobert make up one of the better linebacking corps on the NFL’s tenth ranked defense. That’s right, they’re a top ten defense. Check the rankings. Defensive backfield is where the problem lays, as Jamar Taylor and Jason McCourty are stopgaps, while Derrick Kindred and Jabrill Peppers are in their second and first year. But Kindred and Peppers possess a hitter’s mentality. Imagine if the Browns had two Pro-Bowl caliber corners as young as Peppers and Kindred. Briean Boddy-Calhoun? Great nickelback, but not a great one or two cover man. If the Browns hit the defensive backfield hard in free agency or the draft, watch out.

DeShone Kizer has turned the ball over as much as Peyton Manning during his rookie season. Look it up, Manning threw twenty-eight interceptions back in 1998, and he had Marvin Harrison. Kizer had a bare cabinet until Corey Coleman returned from a hand injury and Josh Gordon returned from a three-year suspension. Speaking of Gordon and Coleman, they gave Kizer a few legitimate options last Sunday. Kizer had a 72% completion percentage when the duo took the field. I’m excited to see what the last three games hold. Duke and Crow are great backs. Neither should be featured, and the Browns must find a workhorse via free agency or the draft, but both have a role, especially Duke Johnson.

I can’t say enough about the offensive line. They’ve opened holes for the running backs all season, and for half the year they played without future Hall of Fame tackle, Joe Thomas. Spencer Drango has done an excellent job filling in for Thomas, given the shoes he had to fill. Zeitler, Tretter, Bitonio, and Shon Coleman will be here for the long haul. This is a good unit.

Same goes for the tight-ends. Randall Telfer is a blocker, but Seth DeValve and David Njoku have grown together and will continue to do so. Njoku is a future star, and has shown more than flashes of brilliance. He was supposed to be raw, but he’s come into his own as his rookie season winds down.

I could care less about the record. The team is better than the 2016 version, where blowouts became paramount down the stretch. The 2017 Browns, at the very least, have remained competitive in most games. It’s a sign of growth. Now, they just need to figure out how to convert leads into W’s. Leading by two scores in the fourth quarter is a good first step. Finishing games is the next item on the to-do list.

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.

NFL Inter-Conference Rivalry Proposal

We know the classics: Washington-Dallas, Philadelphia-New York, Pittsburgh-Cleveland (Baltimore-Pittsburgh spawned from the original Cleveland Pittsburgh), Green Bay-Chicago, Oakland-Kansas City, and more. For each NFL team we live and die with, there’s always one or two teams we can’t stand. For a Browns fan like myself, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are my pet-peeves. In irony, I’m chill with Baltimore, as the raven is a key symbol in Germanic Paganism, but we’ll talk football in this article.

As the NFL dives deeper into becoming the ‘No Fun League,’ I like to spice things up. Interesting proposal? Rather than the final two games of a team’s schedule be decided by division placing the previous season, why not hand each NFL team one inter-conference rival? Like Interleague-Play in Major League Baseball, one AFC team gets a designated rival with one NFC team. Without further ado, my proposal goes as follows:

Dallas Cowboys versus the Pittsburgh Steelers: The Game. The NFL’s classic inter-conference rivalry. High school and college football being a big deal in both regions, eleven combined Super Bowl titles, and two legendary coaches makes Pittsburgh-Dallas the gold standard. Taking a page from Ohio State-Michigan, I call this one The Game.

Washington Redskins versus Baltimore Ravens: The Battle of D.C. consists of two successful franchises with a combined five Super Bowl titles. The cities are near, and the Redskins headquarters reside in Landover, Maryland. An Instant Classic from the beginning.

Cleveland Browns versus Detroit Lions: A Rivalry Reborn, also known as the Battle for the Great Lakes. The NFL’s most successful franchises from the 1950’s met in two NFL Championships and a combined eight NFL titles to their name. Two former model franchises with recent track records of futility will one day make this a key Super Bowl match-up (seriously). Let’s make them meet twice a year, since it might take a while before either team raises the Lombardi.

Cincinnati Bengals versus Chicago Bears: The teams in the Battle of the Midwest share initials and geographic landscapes. Want more fun? Both are second fiddle to the class of their division (Pittsburgh and Green Bay), but each possess a classic, hard-nosed style of play. Let’s create a new rivalry, shall we?

Los Angeles Chargers versus Los Angeles Rams: Two franchises with something in common: They simultaneously called Los Angeles home back in 1960. Both franchises left, and both returned. Oh, and both are sharing a venue once City of Champions Stadium begins its reign as the new Taj Mahal in the City of Angels. Let the Battle of Los Angeles begin.

Denver Broncos versus Seattle Seahawks: Two former division rivals met in the Super Bowl back in February 2014. A first in NFL history. It’s natural to place these two in the same category due to their history between 1977 and 2001, but also because of the geographic landscape the teams play in. I call it the Battle of the Great Northwest.

Oakland Raiders versus San Francisco 49ers: Sure, the Raiders will be in Las Vegas by 2020, but it won’t stop the hatred between these Bay Area rivals. Even in preseason we hear rowdy fans sparring in the stands. Why not make them play twice a year? The Battle of the Desert and the Bay, people.

Kansas City Chiefs versus Atlanta Falcons: This became a rivalry by default, but both wear red. Also, before being placed in the NFC South, the Falcons played in the NFC West from 1966 to 2001. We’ll make it a new rivalry.

New England Patriots versus Philadelphia Eagles: The Battle of the Liberty Bell takes place in the Cradle of Liberty. Are there two teams with more patriotic themes? The irony? Fans all over the NFL love to hate each due to the classlessness of these fanbases. But still, nothing screams America like the Patriots and Eagles.

Miami Dolphins versus Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Two conferences, two different lifestyles in their respective cities, one state. The Atlantic versus the Gulf. One team ran the table, the other ran it in reverse. I’m calling it the Battle of the Sunshine State.

New York Jets versus New York Giants: The Battle for the Big Apple in New Jersey. What’s not to love? The New York media, the Geno Smith saga, one of the NFL’s best franchises versus the NFL’s biggest laughingstock. I’m excited just thinking about it.

Buffalo Bills versus Minnesota Vikings: Similar climates and similar luck in eight combined Super Bowl appearances. But this isn’t the Battle of Futility. Far from it. Oh, and the Bills started play in 1960, the Vikes, 1961. The teams are brothers who love to fight.

Jacksonville Jaguars versus Carolina Panthers: Rivalry ’95. Two teams to make their respective conference championship games in their second season, numerous ups and downs, and a man named Steve Beuerlein played for both. Better yet, both entered the league with their own unique shades of teal and they faced off in their first ever preseason game.

Tennessee Titans versus New Orleans Saints: Battle of Dixieland. Two teams based in the Old South go head to head.

Houston Texans versus Arizona Cardinals: The Battle of the Southwest: Our two teams based in the Southwestern United States go head to head. While the Texans are the NFL’s youngest franchise, the Cardinals are the NFL’s oldest. As new faces old, we’ll see if the age factor decides this outcome.

Indianapolis versus Green Bay: Two teams based up north, where snow hammers the towns. From Bart Starr versus Johnny Unitas to Peyton Manning versus Brett Favre to Andrew Luck versus Aaron Rodgers, a rich quarterback history makes the game a must-see. Oh, and we can’t forget the longevity of each team’s classic threads. Indy and Green Bay feels so right.

Continuity Counts

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.

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!