“There’s nothing here to build on.”
This was the first thought I had as the Cleveland Browns‘ 2015 season (mercifully) came to a close. The front office was wiped out (again), the QB position was a disaster (again) and, making matters worse, there wasn’t a single player you could label as a franchise cornerstone.
Three years later, the Browns are heading towards a regular season looking to win their second game in three years. However, the situation isn’t nearly as dire as it was on January 3, 2016.
With this fact comes the reality that expectations for Cleveland have vastly increased. Thanks to the work done over the past three years, regression – or even a slight improvement – is no longer an option.
It’s time for the Browns to take a big step forward, if only because there’s no excuse not to.
Believe me, I reread that last sentence over and over again after typing it, and I’m admittedly still shocked I left it in here. However, take a look at almost every disastrous aspect of that 2015 team and notice how it’s improved considerably since then.
The front office, once a place where incompetence and ineptitude flourished, is now loaded with respected personnel, as the hiring of John Dorsey, Eliot Wolf and Alonzo Highsmith has helped establish an executive team that – dare I say it – might know what it’s doing. Gone are the days of relying on former lawyers to build a winning team, or having a front office run by someone who thinks texting complaints to the sideline mid-game is both a good idea and within the rules.
Slowly but surely over the past couple seasons, the Browns have added talent to key areas of the roster. Provided he stays healthy, Myles Garrett looks like the linchpin of Cleveland’s front seven on defense. The Browns head into 2018 with enough depth at linebacker that Jamie Collins, once one of the team’s lone talented players, might actually lose playing time. Jarvis Landry not only looks to be one of the best wideouts Cleveland has had in years, he’s also quickly becoming a vocal leader for a team which has desperately needed one for years.
Technically, the jury is still out at quarterback, the one position this team hasn’t figured out since the 1980’s. That said, the Browns are currently taking the best approach at QB in quite some time.
The fact Tyrod Taylor is both proven and knows how to win football games is, sadly, a huge step up for Cleveland. For the first time in decades, the Browns head into the season with an established veteran QB whom everyone seems to agree is a logical choice to start.
It’s Cleveland, though, so a backup plan is always necessary. In this instance, said contingency is Baker Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner who just wrapped up a season breaking his own NCAA records from the year before.
While Mayfield still needs to prove he can be the Browns’ quarterback of the future, he doesn’t need to do so right away thanks to Taylor holding down the fort. It sure seems like Cleveland has one of those…oh, what do you call them…”plans” at QB.
As you can see, this is a team which is not only ready to make notable progress this year, said outcome should be expected. All the reasons this team has struggled have been addressed. A talent-less roster, a clumsy front office, zero cornerstone players, a lack of stability or generally smart approach at quarterback. Each situation looks much better than it did just three years ago.
It needs to be said there’s still work to be done. The latest crop of draft picks need to succeed. There’s still depth issues in some positions. To be blunt, playoffs may still be a bit down the road.
They shouldn’t be that far, though. The Browns aren’t a finished product, but they’re much closer to this than in 2015.
As a result, it’s time for this team to start winning more often, if only because there’s no reason why they shouldn’t.