It’s November in Northeast Ohio and the warm evening gentle breezes of early fall have quickly turned stiff and brisk. That change, as it does every year, has brought about a change in the color of the leaves throughout the region. The leaves color’s transitioning from a solid sea of green to a bright pallet of yellows, oranges, reds, and browns.
The Cleveland Browns, by their own choice, entered the 2016 season with a league leading 17 rookies. Those rookies were quickly introduced to the world of NFL football. Early in the season despite the relative youth of the team they competed and, though losing, did manage to show some promise towards the future.
As the season has progressed and this young team has entered into the meat of its schedule, the cold hard truth of the NFL has exposed itself. It’s a tough league and what it takes to win requires not only talent, but veteran savvy, great effort, and great sacrifice. At 0 - 9, many Browns fans have started losing hope towards the future, and the last 20 years would prove for good reason. They’ve started questioning the direction and the leadership of the organization. Many fans have simply stopped watching. The normal Browns jokes have come from the national media and the local media looks to debate and harp on any and all negative talking points they can find.
I implore you to stick with this young team. I will make the argument that the same cold hard truth that has exposed itself, just as weather of Northeast Ohio has, is exactly what this team needs to bring change. For the first time in a long time, we have a roster full of young and green players who for the first time in their careers will begin to understand what it takes to be successful in the National Football League. They have, and will continue, to take their lumps. This experience may not manifest itself in wins this season, but it’s crucial to the growth and maturation of this young team moving forward.
I’ll also argue that the transition to extreme youth and relative inexperience of this team as a whole is essential if a turnaround of this organization is to come. Wholesale buying in free agency isn’t a viable option. Free agents aren’t looking to enter into the journey that a young team is bound to go through, they’re looking for a payday. A weaker less patient organization will give them their payday without properly gauging a player's motives. At that point, the slippery slope of integrating veterans with poor motives into a young team who needs to experience sacrifice and struggle has begun.
This has been the struggle of the Browns for the last 20 years. Players who aren’t willing to sacrifice and struggle for the payoff of winning and on the field success. When things get tough, the young players will at the very least begin to question the veterans next to them, and at worst they’ll question their own sacrifice. They’ll question this because of veteran players next to them who’ve been validated by the organization with a free agency pay day.
With free agency needing to be more of a way to supplement the building of the team and needing to flush out players contributing to a bad culture, has left us where we are now. They can’t rebuild a team through the draft with 7 picks a season because the front office and coach will be fired before they ever get a chance to realize winning. This where the trade down and compensatory picks come in. Two seasons with a few free agents and 14ish picks in the draft and the team is going to be pretty much totally turned over in a matter of 2 seasons. That’s 2 drafts with 6 top 40 picks, 10 top 100 picks, and nearly 30 overall picks. From this point on, like always, it’s about hitting on as many players as you can. Hitting on players, as always, will be what determines the impending future of the Cleveland Browns.
I totally get that 0 - 9 is tough, and even the thought of 0 - 16 is extremely hard to stomach. I understand there are going to be people who question the methods of the Browns front office in how they’re choosing to go about this rebuild. I just can’t help but to think that laying a foundation of young talent that wants to be in Cleveland and win, is the right way to do it. I can’t promise Browns fans that this newest rebuild will result in long-term success. I can, however, be hopeful. Hopeful that with a foundation of young talented player’s, they’ll transition from green to Orange and Brown, and that success will follow.