At this point in the season, sitting at 2-8 with 6 games remaining, wins and losses have lost their value. HC Mike Pettine has been consistent in wanting to play the players he believes gives him the best chance to win. This strategy also helps keep veterans, like Joe Thomas, Alex Mack and Tramon Williams, bought into the program. Planned losing doesn't go over well with veterans when the season still is in the balance. At 2-8, the season's outcome has been decided.
But does that mean the Browns are going to just play their young players and only worry about development and "seeing what we have"?
The first shoe to fall was Johnny Manziel being named the starter for the rest of the year. It is no coincidence that this happened very quickly after he was cleared by the NFL from the traffic stop. While the Browns want to see what they have in Manziel, the league's investigation loomed as problematic to name him the starter any sooner. Manziel showed against the Steelers that the Browns offensive staff has done a great job developing him as an NFL type QB.
That, along with the clearing from the league, was enough for the Browns to announce him as the starter long term.
Does that mean the team is just going to turn to their young guys?
Last year, once Brian Hoyer went down and Manziel showed he wasn't ready, the Browns didn't pack it in and just play young guys. Obviously things were a little different given the Browns finished with a 7-9 record but Pettine played his healthy regulars in in the last game of the season. Even with fans begging to see younger players getting snaps, even though many are already, Pett is not likely to move off of this script.
There are two good reasons why:
First, the Browns are very aware and very concerned about building the right kind of culture for their young players. Just using ESPN's roster page, the team has 37 players on their roster 26 years old or younger. That includes some players who are injured or suspended but that is a huge chunk of their roster. The Browns do not want to instill in those players that losing is acceptable and okay as long as players are being developed. That sets a bad tone long term.
The second reason the Browns are unlikely to plan to lose to "see what we have" in the young players is free agency. We all know that Alex Mack can become a free agent but he can be joined by Travis Benjamin and Gary Barnidge in free agency. Those are 3 big pieces of the Browns offense that may not want to return if losing is an acceptable practice for the team. It also hurts the Browns ability to draw other free agents from other teams. This was a key factor in Trent Cole's decision to spur his home state team for the Colts.
The State of the Team is an interesting middle ground. Coaches are always about winning. They care about winning games, winning quarters, winning possessions and winning plays. They also are constantly evaluating players, mostly in practice before getting game snaps. The Browns have a lot of young players that fans, and maybe Browns executives, want to see in game day situations. Coaches want to see players earn their playing time.
Expect to see the Browns play that middle ground over the last 6 games. Younger players will be given more snaps while veterans will be kept fresh or held out of games due to minor injuries. Yet, the Browns will still play to win games, won't play guys who are making tons of mistakes and will let the game results fall where they might. Not an easy balance to keep but will be an interesting one to follow.
Where do you think the State of the Team is during Bye Week Sunday?