“I don’t know that a fan has the desire or the stomach to go through what we’ve been through the last few years.”
When you consider the source of this quote – Cleveland Browns co-owner Dee Haslam – you immediately agree with the sentiment.
Haslam, speaking with CrainsCleveland.com, is referring to the past two years of attempting to rebuild the Browns. Though the front office came into the project with good intentions, the results have been disastrous. It’s been two years of chaos, ineptitude, failed draft picks and one total victory on the field. Haslam, in no uncertain terms, laments the entire ordeal, wishing it upon no other team.
But what if it was worth it?
What if the only way to turn the Browns into a winning franchise was to force the team to endure two years of losing at a historic rate?
What if the only way to rejuvenate wounded and frustrated fans was to alienate them for two straight seasons?
We’re still waiting for actual proof this is indeed the case. Still, optimism has crept its way back into the fan-base, a stunning turn of events considering we’re seven months removed from watching Cleveland finish a winless season.
If the Browns somehow lived up to their preseason hype this year – which is growing louder by the day – would Haslam reconsider her tune?
Make no mistake, it’s difficult to believe any team would willingly endure what Cleveland has gone through since 2016. The idea of tearing a franchise down to the studs and then some isn’t what you’d call appealing. It’s even riskier when you consider the fact you’re basically telling fans not to bother paying for tickets, asking them to hold out hope this disaster will pay off in the long-run.
However, Browns fans are legitimately looking forward to the upcoming season, some even thinking playoffs despite being almost two-years removed from the team’s last victory. This fact is both astounding and proof this self-destructive rebuild might not have been as bad as Haslam has painted it.
Cleveland wouldn’t have had so much draft capital to work with over the past couple years without a combination of dreadful football and trading for the future. Sure, the franchise may forever be mocked for the players it passed on while acquiring future first round picks. Still, the team has cashed in on five first-rounders in the past two drafts, which has no doubt sped up the process.
The Browns also wouldn’t have been able to toss out lucrative contracts to talented players like Jamie Collins and Jarvis Landry without spending entire offseasons shedding any pricey veterans on the roster.
So, while Haslam regrets everything we’ve had to endure since this project began, these same missteps might’ve actually greased the wheels for the rebuild.
To be fair, there are many aspects of the past two years we could’ve lived without. In-fighting and front office turmoil were constant, as the endless losing brought on finger-pointing and blame everywhere you looked.
The grueling process also had to include something the Browns have been desperately trying to avoid – firings.
At the same time, canning former executive VP Sashi Brown was a necessary step to this rebuild. His inability to evaluate talent was blatantly obvious. While he had a knack for stockpiling assets, the team would’ve kept losing if he kept getting the opportunity to waste them.
So, despite Haslam wishing this rebuild involved less chaos and defeat, those elements may have put the team in a position to get back on track quicker than originally planned. It can take teams a decade or more to truly transform from losers to contenders. If this Browns season goes as more than a few national pundits are predicting, Haslam may have helped make this transformation in just a handful of seasons.
It wasn’t the way anyone would’ve wanted to go through. Despite any positives the team was able to find after the past two seasons, this was indeed extremely risky, and has also pushed a loyal fan-base to brinks never thought possible.
However, it sure sounds like those fans are looking forward to what lies ahead in 2018.
No matter how broken down Browns supporters get after a difficult season, they’ll come back the second the team starts winning. As turbulent as this rebuild has been, the chaos Haslam laments might’ve brought us closer to winning football much faster than anticipated.