This past Sunday morning, the OBR’s own Jared Mueller sent me an email inviting me to offer a rebuttal to a piece he was working on. The piece, entitled 2016 Browns: Why Winning Doesn’t Matter was published Monday morning.
Now, Jared and I have had a few discussions on this topic in the past. He knows we fall on opposite sides of the fence on this idea, which is of course why he offered the chance for my perspective. Jared and I both want to see the Browns become a championship contending team. We are friends and colleagues.
His idea is also completely nuts.
Let me start by saying that the goal of the Browns should be to win every game they play. That’s the goal for the players, the coaching staff, the front office and the fans. Never should a team go into a game with some other agenda or goal in mind.
“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.” -Jared Mueller.
No question obtaining and identifying players that can contribute to a championship team is one of the tasks that Hue Jackson, Sashi Brown and whoever else is making decisions this week must complete. And it is a big task. A task that the Browns have failed since 1999.
It is not the end of the equation for 2016 though.
I will not pretend that the Browns will become Super Bowl contenders this season. That’s an unrealistic expectation. Nor would I place upon them the worst-to-first expectation, though it is certainly a feat that has been accomplished.
But winning, and winning more is certainly an expectation that fans, players and front office types alike should be able to share.
Let’s break a few things down.
Every team in the league is measured by how many games they win. The teams that win the most get invited to the big tournament at the end of the season. It’s kind of the reason teams play. They want to hoist the Vince Lombardi trophy after the last game while confetti flies all around them. I have yet to see a picture of players taking victory laps with a participation trophy. We aren’t talking about third grade soccer here.
Now in order to get there, the Browns have to improve, but this nebulous ‘get better’ idea also needs to be quantified.
When a team loses consistently, we are left to ask why. Stats help us diagnose problem areas. (Hmmm, the Browns were 29th in yards allowed per game? I bet that defense was a contributing factor.) We can notice that the Browns have trouble setting the edge and stopping the run. But when they ‘get better’ at that, the defense will get off the field more. They will get more stops. The opposing offense will score fewer points, which might even lead to more wins.
A lack of playmakers on offense? No consistency in the running game? No deep threat to stretch the field? No go-to guy in the red zone? Improvement in these areas will lead to—say it with me—more points, which leads to MORE WINS!
When you are talking about a team that went 3-13 a year ago, improvements will lead to more victories. Maybe not eight victories in Hue’s first year, but is there really any reason they can’t win six lousy games?
Oh, what’s that? The Browns lost every free agent they had?
Well let’s be real clear about something. The ‘clean slate’ for this new regime didn’t start AFTER free agency began. Letting go of good, young players is a mistake. The Browns were supposed to let Mitchell Schwartz walk because by the time the team is ready to contend he’d be up for another contract? How is that a legitimate argument? Ok, so he’s a free agent again. Make your decision then if he’s good enough to keep or if you need to replace him with a cheaper option.
The Browns have serious roster holes. Allowing homegrown players coming into their prime to walk just creates more holes. Last time I checked, the Browns don’t have six picks in the first two rounds.
Fans should and do know that this team is at rock-bottom. If you could guarantee that in three years the Browns would be a contender, most fans would put up with just about anything in 2016, but to say that winning doesn’t matter is just crazy-talk.
Winning is why coaches give up time with their families and study film.
Winning is why players play through pain and work to become the best.
Winning is why fans show up on cold, blustery Sundays in December.
Doesn’t matter? Crazy-talk.