Two for Christmas: Season’s Expectations and Offseason Cheer

With the Browns kicking off today, on this Christmas Eve, we unveil our Two for Christmas Eve conversation.

With the upcoming holidays, the Orange and Brown Report’s Brent Sobleski and Jared Mueller have been scrambling to get everything done in time.

But snow, ice or loss of power will not stop these two from discussing the Cleveland Browns even during the worst season in franchise history.

With a looming 0-16 campaign, it’s time to take stock in the team by contemplating the past, present and future of the organization.

Everything begins with a visit from the ghost of training camp past…

Compared to your expectations when training camp began, the Browns are better, worse or about what you expected?

SOBO: At 0-14, it’s hard to imagine a season being any worse than the 2016 Cleveland Browns campaign.

All offseason, it became easy to preach patience and this season being an evaluation year. Both were true then as they are now. However, I believed two very simple goals were achievable this season.

First, the young players—specifically the team’s large rookie class—needed to show development throughout the season. The organization made a concerted effort to acquire draft assets and partake in a youth movement. Each of the incoming talents should have had an opportunity to prove themselves along the way.

In multiple instances, this didn’t happen, whether due to injury, poor play or even suspension.

Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah has been the team’s most promising first-year player but even he disappears for long stretches as the team’s top pass-rusher.

Fellow defensive end Carl Nassib and first-round wide receiver Corey Coleman dealt with injuries that completely nullified their promising play by the end of the year.

Offensive tackle Shon Coleman barely saw the field, while the team’s second third-round selection, Cody Kessler, flashed yet proved to be more of a backup option than a starting-caliber quarterback.

Fourth-rounders Joe Schobert and Ricardo Louis are both solid special-teams players, but neither has provided much on defense or offense. Tight end Seth DeValve does have some potential if/when he sees the field. Derrick Kindred is a nice rotational player better served in a backup role.

Spencer Drango started down the stretch. He’s been inconsistent and hasn’t made anyone forget about Joel Bitonio or John Greco.

Meanwhile, Jordan Payton, Rashard Higgins and Trey Caldwell haven’t made any type of impact, and the team’s final selection, Scooby Wright, is no longer with the team.

When the Browns drafted such a big class, more was expected than what everyone has seen.

Second, being a young team with a new coaching staff and philosophy, the Browns needed to show improvement from the start of the season until the end. Essentially, the team over the last quarter of the season should be coming together instead of apart.

Injuries have played a large role, but Browns fans are faced with another late-season fade as players grow disinterested and start to make plans for the offseason.

Even if the Browns manage a win in the next two weeks, they already fell short of these meager expectations.

JM: For me, the young players have been up and down with some solid signs, and a few extremely good looking glimpses. I expected the Browns to struggle and would rather have them go 0 - 16 and get the #1 overall pick than go 3 - 13 and pick 5th or 6th.

For me, evaluating the Browns offense and defense is more interesting. Going into the season, I expected the offense to carry the team and the defense to struggle. In Training Camp and Preseason, this seemed like it was going to be the case.

Hue Jackson's offensive genius was expected to pair up with Robert Griffin III, Terrelle Pryor, Corey Coleman, Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson to do something special. 

The defense, with Ray Horton back at the helm, was expected to have a bunch of young players playing too important of roles and not enough impact players to keep teams off the board.

Instead, I have been disappointed by the offense. Jackson has gone away from the run, even when it is going well, and the creativity has seemed to frustrate more than anything. Pryor has been a revelation but a lot of targets have been forced his way and his mouth seems to be getting him in trouble.

On the defensive side of the ball, the team has improved. Even before the addition of Jamie Collins, the Browns have started to show something defensively. Danny Shelton is a monster in the middle of the line. Ogbah has been making plays and shows high upside, Christian Kirksey is making plays with Collins and Nassib has had a couple of flashes. The backend of the defense is still a wreck and they still struggle getting pressure on the QB.

All and all, the offense is behind where I expected them to be while the defense is ahead.

Should the Browns hire a “football guy” to help executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown with roster decisions?

JM: No, not even in the slightest. 

Now saying that, the one guy I wouldn't' be totally surprised by is Peyton Manning coming on in some role but I don't see him as the football guy that May Kay Cabot and others have talked about.

Bringing in someone else to have any level of power within football operations department would be a perfect way of upsetting the apple cart. That story could be written so easily: "Front Office Divided" or "Power Struggle Ousts Sashi."

The Browns need to stay the course, period. For me, that is a minimum of 3 full seasons. After that, the team should have a solid foundation and realistic playoff expectations for the following season. While many fans won't be happy with that timeline, missing the Playoffs for two more seasons, a teardown/blow up would extend that another couple of years.

For the future, Jimmy Haslam has to show that he can create stability. No coach, GM and player wants to join a team they are, rightfully, worried will undergo a change over every few years. Hue Jackson and Sashi Brown are the best options for the next few years at a minimum. 

If Haslam mucks things up again, high school coaches and not-ready executives are likely to have interest in the position.

Jimmy, Just Say No!

SOBO: Only a psychiatrist should answer a question with another question, but when was the last time the Browns actually stuck with an organizational plan?

The lack of a top-down philosophy has plagued the franchise since Randy Lerner owned the team.

Current owner Jimmy Haslam needs to show restraint and patience, because he has no other option. Haslam painted himself into a corner by firing multiple coaches and front offices.

After doing so, he hired an entire front office with no experience making football decisions. Those around the NFL looked at it as the grand experiment.

At the time, Haslam bought into the plan. Now, he needs to stick to it, because everything pointed toward the upcoming offseason with plenty of draft capital and over $100 million in salary cap space (including the rollover from the current season).

The only worse possibility than a winless season is seeing the Browns start over again. Continuity is needed to see what the team’s current approach can achieve.

Understandably, fans are frustrated after years of losing and now finally bottoming out with a terrible excuse of a season. The coaches and players legitimately felt they could be competitive this year. They were wrong.

This season has always come down to Sashi Brown’s plan and its offseason execution.

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