Many Cleveland Browns fans have been dealing with the Cleveland Browns Organization from the time they were born. We didn't know it but, for many of us, how the Browns performed on Sunday impacted how family members dealt with the next 24-72 hours or so. Good, bad or ugly, the Browns have been a key factor in our lives for years.
Few have chosen to "become Browns fans" as they do with other organizations. We "are Browns fans." Choice really doesn't seem to play into the equation for us.
So while Hue Jackson, Sashi Brown and the rest of the Browns new regime are working through putting their system into place, Browns fans have a system. More and more that involves depressing expectations, confirmation bias on anything negative (especially as "big" Cleveland media push the narrative) and even more drinking. Much, much drinking.
So 2016 has rolled around. Jackson was a highly sought after coach. The #2 overall pick in the NFL Draft has value. Johnny Manziel is off the roster, gone the way of Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer.
A fresh start for the organization.
Then NFL Free Agency began and the team lost starters Mitchell Schwartz, Alex Mack, Travis Benjamin and Tashaun Gipson. For fans and the media, the new regime's honeymoon was over. The team lost 4 starters off a team that was 3-13. Four starters that were homegrown, 3 drafted and Gipson who was developed as an Undrafted Free Agent.
Even if the Browns had brought back any number of those players, should the team's goal be to win games in 2016?
Many fans will not want to hear it but the answer is/was NO!
With or without those four, the team was still missing out on a core that could be built around. On offense, the Browns best players are/were on their offensive line, a rookie RB in Duke Johnson, a surprising Gary Barnidge and, if reinstated, WR Josh Gordon. On defense, it is the good but not great Joe Haden and a bunch of young players we can be hopeful about.
That is not a foundation.
Besides missing a quarterback, which we will hit on in a second, the Browns lack an identity. They lack being great at anything with little hope of that developing anytime soon. Even with 4 good to great offensive linemen, Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, Mack and Schwartz, the Browns struggled to run the ball and move the ball on offense over the last few seasons.
Even if the Browns had brought back a few of their free agents, Mack would have been in his mid 30's, and the rest around 30 and close to the end of their new deals by the time the Browns were close to winning. While losing high-level talent is never a good idea, as the Browns look at building their team letting these walk at this point makes a lot of sense.
For Jackson and the new Browns organization, 2016 is about obtaining and identifying players that could be a part of a AFC North Division Title contender in 3 to 4 seasons.
The NFL Draft should supply some foundations, as long as this regime is given at least 3 or 4 seasons.
For now, that is all that matters for the 2016 season. While fans want victories, the organization has to create a future for those very same fans.
That future must be built around talented young players, a system on each side of the ball and a culture that breeds winning. Those 3 things must create the identity of the Browns going forward.
The first, and most important, piece seems likely answered soon. Either the Browns trade for Colin Kaepernick, sign a Robert Griffin III level free agent or drafting their next "QB of the Future." Knowing that Kaepernick or drafting a QB high are the most likely options, the Browns won't be ready to win at the most important position in 2016. Kaepernick will have to prove he is healthy and work through mechanics issues while rookie QBs always take time.
If a veteran is brought in, expect the Browns to seek dynamic level players on each side of the ball. With, presumably, Jackson on board with the veteran QB, Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack or Joey Bosa would be targeted at #2. A trade down would also excite many. If the Browns draft a QB early, their need for high-level talent is still obvious.
With the 32nd pick, Michael Thomas or Josh Doctson could be drafted to go with Duke, Barnidge and the QB. Another starter would be expected in the 3rd or 4th round, depending on what is left after a trade for the QB. Drafting a falling, injured Jaylon Smith also shouldn't shock fans.
Yet, even with those picks, the Browns foundation is far from good enough. While they will be an important part of the foundation, they will need time to develop and will need help.
With a very difficult schedule, a change in systems and building through the draft, the Browns should be drafting high in 2017 as well. With the young players on rookie contracts currently and two drafts under this regime, the Browns would then be in position to bring in a couple of big free agents to build around that foundation.
Winning games in 2016 does not matter. Building a culture, obtaining and identifying young core players and drafting high once again in the 2017 NFL Draft is the best way for that to happen.
Nothing else really matters in 2016.
Do you care about how many games the Browns win in 2016?