You knew it was coming. At some point, you just had to expect Cleveland Browns coach Hue Jackson to have to answer some iteration of the following question.
“Seriously, though, are you guys actually trying to win this year?”
While Jackson continues to insist the Browns’ goal is to win every Sunday, many outside the organization have their doubts. There is a common belief among NFL media that, once again, Cleveland’s goal this year is to tank, and tank hard.
Apologies to those who think the Browns are heading into 2017 attempting to outdo last year’s 1-15 campaign, but this simply isn’t the case. While I don’t know what’s being discussed within Cleveland’s front office, I firmly believe this team is not once again intentionally trying to put forth a historically awful season.
Those who think the Browns are tanking again base their claims in the fact the team parted with a few notable veterans for the second year in a row. Neither long-tenured cornerback Joe Haden nor versatile lineman John Greco made the final roster, leading some to associate this cut session with last year’s infamous veteran purge.
I’ll admit the latter’s release is puzzling, considering both guard Joel Bitonio‘s recent injury issues and the fact the offensive line in general is lacking depth. That said, these cuts aren’t a clear sign Cleveland is ridding itself of anyone who might help the team win this year.
For one, did everyone forget the offseason the Browns had? Where they spent a ton of money to upgrade the offensive line? And extended linebacker Jamie Collins with a four-year, $50 million deal? While also extending linebacker Chris Kirksey as well?
Sure, this wasn’t a monster spending spree, where Cleveland splurged every bit of its cap space on free agents. At the same time, it wasn’t remotely similar to the previous winter, where anyone over the age of 30 seemed to be shown the door.
Yes, the Browns still did what they could to accumulate more future draft picks, while also appearing content fielding an incredibly young roster come Week 1. Still, this shouldn’t be read as their trying yet again to finish with the worst record in the league.
Yet people continue asking “if Cleveland is really trying to win this year, why would it cut guys who can help?”
It’s a fair question, but one which can be answered with a reminder this is only year two of a very extensive rebuild. Said rebuild requires finding building blocks at all positions. Right now, the team appears to have more this year – at least potentially – than last season.
This is what you have to do when starting over from scratch. You invest more time and capital on young players who will help lay the foundation to build a team upon. The focus is no longer on throwing overpriced contracts at past-their-prime vets in attempts to find quick fixes. Previous front offices have tried this, only to watch it all flame out in epic fashion.
Since this latest regime arrived, it’s made no bones about the fact the goal is to be a contender by 2018 or 2019. As upsetting as this may be for an incredibly impatient fan-base, this remains the right mindset for the Browns to utilize. Choosing to spend the first couple years to see what they have in players like Corey Coleman, Myles Garrett and DeShone Kizer is far more productive than hanging on to vets who may not even be around come 2019.
As you can see, Cleveland didn’t let Greco and Haden go because it felt these moves would somehow improve draft position come next spring. The team did this because it felt neither player was going to be a part of the puzzle when this process started coming to fruition.
This is why I find it crazy people are insisting the Browns are going through another tank season, simply because they cut a few veterans. These moves simply shouldn’t be seen as a sign Cleveland has no interest in winning games this year.
I’m not saying the Browns will make a massive turnaround this season, suddenly looking much-improved while gunning for a playoff spot. Cleveland will very likely lose more games than it wins.
It just won’t be intentional.
The Browns aren’t trying to fail. They’re just proceeding through steps of a rebuild plan they told you all about last offseason.