It's time to go to work.
Now that all of the principal people – team president Mike Holmgren, general manager Tom Heckert and head coach Eric Mangini – are in place for 2010, it's time for the Browns to get down to the nitty-gritty and begin in earnest the job of rebuilding this team.
And it's a big job.
Yes, the Browns this season won their last four games for the first time since 1994 – their next-to-last playoff appearance, of course – and while that's commendable, the fact remains they finished 5-11 overall and had a franchise-worst 1-11 start, during which time they were non-competitive, especially offensively, to historic proportions.
A 12-game stretch is a lot longer than one consisting of just four contests, so it only makes sense, then, that what happened through the first three-fourths of the season gives a much truer picture as well of the actual state of the team. That late-season push should not – and can not – mask the truth, that this is a team with plenty of major holes and plenty of major questions.
And when we say a lot, we mean a lot.
At the top of that list is the quarterback situation. If you don't have a capable quarterback in the NFL, then there's no way to have a capable team. Quarterback is, by far, the most important position not just in football, but in team sports overall.
Do the Browns have their 2010 quarterback on the roster right now in the person of Brady Quinn or Derek Anderson? No one knows. But while the other three teams in the AFC North all are set at quarterback – the division champion Cincinnati Bengals with Carson Palmer, the divisional playoff round-qualifying Baltimore Ravens with Joe Flacco and the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger – the Browns have no idea who will be under center for the season opener, let alone if the guy is for real and will still be there halfway through the year.
Yes, Holmgren will be – and should be – involved with the tutoring of the quarterbacks. While he will have his hands full in being team president and doesn't have time – nor should he – to pick up a whistle on a consistent basis, here's hoping and expecting that he gets his coaching fix out of the way by taking the quarterbacks under his wing. That's no disrespect to veteran quarterbacks coach Carl "Tater" Smith, a capable man, but he would no doubt welcome some – if not a lot – of input from someone as accomplished in the field as Holmgren.
Also, it's not known what kind of an offense the Browns will run. Will it be the run-oriented attack that came into being through all the victories down the stretch, or the West Coast, pass-first scheme favored by Holmgren, who has run it everywhere he's been?
A power running game and a rollout passing attack with short throws are about as different as winters in Hawaii and winters in International Falls, Minn.
Should the Browns decide to implement the West Coast, then there are a good number of players on the roster right now who just won't fit anymore.
In addition, after playing a 3-4 the last five years, will the Browns continue with that defensive scheme or go to a 4-3? Holmgren prefers the latter alignment, while Mangini is a strong proponent of the former.
If the Browns go to a 4-3, then it's going to change not only what kind of players they procure, but also their assessment of every front-seven player currently on the roster. A lot of players – not just with the Browns but throughout the NFL – fit one scheme or the other, but not both.
So, other than finding a quarterback and deciding on both offensive and defensive schemes, the Browns are pretty well set then, right?
But no matter what offenses and defenses the Browns choose to run, and who their quarterback turns out to be, the Browns, in a broad sense, simply have to find better players at nearly every position. It's been said the Browns excelled at special teams this season because their roster was filled with special teamers. That's not good. You need to find talented playmakers on both sides of the ball. The Browns were asking too many special teams-quality players to step up and be producers on offense and defense. It's simply not realistic to expect those players to be able to do that on a consistent basis.
Special teams is one-third of the game. But it can't be the entire game.
The next time the Browns get talented, young players who are also head cases, such as wide receiver Braylon Edwards and tight end Kellen Winslow, they have to keep them and find a way to get them to perform well on a regular basis. They can't just throw them out the door for the garbage man and be happy to accept draft picks or special teamers in return.
With 11 picks in the NFL Draft, including the seventh overall, the Browns have a great opportunity to improve themselves in dramatic fashion. But it won't happen without good, sound talent evaluation – talent evaluation where everybody is on the same page, with egos checked at the door – from Holmgren, Heckert and even Mangini.
If the Browns fail to take advantage of this, then it will set them even further behind their foes in the division.
So enough talking. Enough introductory press conferences. Enough major hires.
Enough of everything superfluous.
It's time to go to set about the process of building a Browns team that will eventually resemble those great Browns teams fans remember so well.
It's time, quite simply, to go to work.