The State Of The Franchise series continues with a team that has struggled to turn the corner as a franchise, the Cleveland Browns
It’s a franchise that has been synonymously known over the last 18 seasons for losing, bad draft picks, and just overall putrid vibes.
The hiring of Hue Jackson as head coach in January of last year was a key move. It gave a saddened franchise a glimmer of hope. With a bright head coach in tow, the Browns are slowly climbing from under the crevasses of bad football. It may not show in the win-loss record but progression is there. For a Browns team that hurt themselves significantly because of poor drafts, the type of work needed to repair the organization requires patience. The 2016 season produced a 1-15 record for the Browns. Today, I’ll provide an ultimate outlook of the team in preparation for their 2017 season.
With stops in Washington, Baltimore, Atlanta, Oakland, and Cincinnati since 2001, Jackson built a reputation of being a polished and intriguing assistant coach. His hire by the Browns prior to last season was long overdue. He’s the head coach and the primary play caller on offense. Having the guidance of Al Saunders as his senior offensive assistant provides another knowledgable offensive mind to the staff. Saunders has 33 years of offensive assistant experience under his belt. Newly hired defensive coordinator Gregg Williams will look to change the defensive approach with toughness and discipline. An under-the-radar hire of the Browns was the addition of defensive line coach Clyde Simmons. Brought over with Williams from the Los Angeles Rams, Simmons molded a defensive line with the Rams that collected 217 sacks over the past five seasons.
At the time, it looked to be a reclamation project. After just one season, the insertion of Robert Griffin III into the Browns offense is now a memory. The recent release of Griffin during this offseason was a clear sign of the team owning their mistake. The future starter at quarterback for the Browns will likely be added in the upcoming draft. Looking into the trade of Brock Osweiler will result in misconceiving as the team has clearly stated that Osweiler is not in their plans at the position. Running backs Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson are the one-two options in the run game. The two have combined for 2,143 scrimmage yards last season with eight touchdowns.
What may be the strength of the team this season is the offensive line. A cornerstone left tackle in Joe Thomas has been a mainstay for nine seasons in Cleveland. Picking up right guard Kevin Zeitler and center JC Tretter in free agency gives the line more experience and impressive amount of skill. Re-signing left guard Joel Bitonio was big this offseason as the veteran is very reliable, especially in the run game. The team allowed leading receiver Terrelle Pryor to depart in free agency was one move made that the franchise may regret. Now, free agent pickup Kenny Britt and 2016 first-rounder Corey Coleman are the main targets at the receiver position.
Priority #1 for the Browns this offseason was to make linebacker Jamie Collins a long-term chess piece. A 4-year, $50 million dollar contract extension gives the Cleveland defense an athletic, versatile linebacker. Adding talent around him is the task at hand currently. The Browns were 30th in scoring defense last season and allowed 27 or more points in 10 of their first 12 games last season. So expect Williams to truly dig into improving this unit. With the 1st overall pick in the upcoming draft, Cleveland expects to select Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett. The talent of Garrett is drastically needed and is that elite talent that has been missing from the unit for a while.
Cornerback Joe Haden is another linchpin on the defense and was tied for 1st on the team in interceptions with three. The secondary can use another upgrade or two, mainly at the safety spots. Strong safety Ibraheim Campbell was expected to progress last season yet he enters 2017 with the same lingering question marks. Linebacker Christian Kirksey had a 2016 season in which he led the team in solo tackles with 93 to go with 2.5 sacks. His play indicated that his pairing with Collins can make plays at the linebacker position for the Browns.
After going 1-15 last season, expectations for the Browns this season are minimal at best. The team is still a ways to go from fielding a team that can win consistently. However, they do have vital pieces at linebacker, running back, offensive line, and cornerback.
Once again, Jackson is the right guy. Although, he needs time. Building a team from the ground up is not an easy task by any means. Jackson knows that. He, along with general manager Sashi Brown, have a clear direction to build the team through the draft. Which is an always sound and efficient strategy. There are 11 selections in their pocket right now for the draft in April. That number will likely change given their recent history of being aggressive with draft picks.
Given that the Browns are in the AFC North, a toughness has to develop as well. Having Williams guide the defensive unit will provide just that. Youngsters such as defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, nose tackle Danny Shelton, and corner Jamar Taylor will need to provide improvement at their respective positions. It probably won’t be until 2018 when we see notable signs of the Browns development into a decent team. It’s a waiting game in Cleveland right now. One that can lead to a future of wins and quality play.