Another Cleveland Browns season has come and gone without a playoff appearance. Despite an AFC North leading 6-3 start, the home team finished with a 7-9 record—good enough for last in the division while losing their final five games. Many fans are angry, myself included. However, I am choosing to focus on some positives rather than tearing down every position, as easy as that would be. I feel we have great leadership in place at the top that allows me to feel hope for the future of the Browns.
We were once again dealing with a rookie Head Coach and rookie GM this year. However, Mike Pettine took this team to a 7-9 record when many national pundits predicted the Browns would with four or less games again this season. Before the season began, I know many Browns fans would have called me crazy if I said this team would win seven games.
Pettine is also establishing a no-nonsense culture in the locker room. While it is tremendously beneficial to have veteran voices like Donte Whitner and Joe Thomas in the locker room, the leadership and discipline needs to come from the Head Coach. Mike Pettine decided to sit Justin Gilbert and Josh Gordon for violating team rules. Regardless of it being a meaningless game for the Browns, the message was sent that it doesn’t matter who you are or where you were drafted, get it together or you won’t be playing for this team.
It was also the first year for Ray Farmer to hold a General Manager position. I believe he did very well and look for him to improve in the years to come—especially in the first round of the draft. While I’m not quite ready to give up on Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel, there definitely needs to be significant improvement from these two to salvage the TWO first round picks we had in 2014. Johnny is a knucklehead that needs to grow up, but I both of these players have the talent needed to succeed in the NFL. The question is, will they apply themselves to realize their potential, or will they be names in the long list of poor Browns draft choices?
While the first round is still undetermined, the rest of the draft as well as the undrafted players that Ray Farmer brought in have already made significant contributions. Joel Bitonio (2nd round), Christian Kirksey (3rd), Terrance West (4th) and Pierre Desir (4th) all had pretty decent rookie years—especially Bitonio.
Let’s also look at the notable undrafted players that Farmer and his scout team deemed worthy to bring in this year. Isaiah Crowell, Taylor Gabriel, Connor Shaw and K’Waun Williams. That is pretty impressive, considering a few of these players arguably performed well above veterans or those that were actually drafted this year.
Add these rookies along with free agent signings Andrew Hawkins, Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby, I believe Ray Farmer gets an A for this rookie year. This, as well as adding an additional first round pick in the 2015 draft, which we now know the Browns will be picking 12 and 19.
I believe a bit more praise is in order for Ray Farmer. This time, for realizing just how valuable Alex Mack was for this offense. I remember many fans and media members bemoaning the Browns matching Jacksonville’s 5-year, $42 million offer to resign the center. After Mack went down for the season, you would have to be blind to deny the impact he makes on the offensive line. It was a brilliant move to use the transition tag and allow another team do the negotiating for them.
Looking forward, while there are a few holes that need to be addressed (unfortunately we still don’t know who will be our starting QB), I see the Cleveland Browns future is bright. You can call me a blind, hopeless optimist. You can say I’m suffering from some morbid sports Stockholm syndrome. Call it whatever you’d like, I enjoyed watching the Browns this season and I’m positive to see how this team grows under the current leadership.
Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine are exactly what we needed in this organization. Also, the very last thing that should happen is to get rid of them, so any talk of firing either of them needs to stop. You get rid of them, who would want to come to Cleveland in a situation like that?
What Cleveland needs is continuity for multiple years. No knee-jerk reactions. Stay the course.