CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – What a difference a few months can make.
General manager John Dorsey took the Browns job on Dec. 7, 2017, mere hours after the team fired Sashi Brown as executive vice president of football operations, because of an estimated $110-million surplus in salary cap space and 6 draft picks in the top 65, which should enable him to get the franchise finally moving in the right direction.
But Dorsey, who was unemployed at the time following his departure from the Chiefs over the summer, also has quite the mess to clean up. And none of it has to do with Xs and Os football.
The last 3 years – actually, the last 5 truth be told – have been significantly damaging to the Browns’ brand and credibility around the NFL.
There are lingering questions about just how honest the team’s search committee that included Jed Hughes of Korn Ferry, owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam, Brown and current chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta were with Hue Jackson when they recruited and ultimately hired him in January 2016 about the rebuild plan. The complete roster gut the last 2 years has surprised Jackson, which likely played a significant factor in the commitment to him not just for 2018, but beyond. Brown, whose relationship with Jackson became frayed in part due to mistrust, was ousted on Dec. 7 and Dorsey hired hours later with the announcement Jackson would be retained.
The New England Patriots declined to do business with the Browns when they traded Jimmy Garoppolo to San Francisco on Oct. 30. Same with the Chiefs and Alex Smith prior to the Super Bowl. Granted Smith’s hefty contract extension would have likely forced the Browns to look elsewhere, but the point is that 2 teams specifically chose not to do business with one that could’ve paid them highest price in return for a quarterback.
No matter how you want to slice it, that is a problem, and a direct reflection of how the Browns have been viewed around the league.
Dorsey now has to prove that Cleveland is no longer football Siberia, or a death sentence for quarterbacks.
Cleveland will get another crack at AJ McCarron when free agency negotiations commence on March 12 after he won his grievance last week making him an unrestricted free agent, but the odds that the Bengals would want to do business with the Browns anytime soon doesn’t seem to be likely after the embarrassing series of events that took place at the trade deadline in 2017 involving McCarron.
Jackson hoped that McCarron would provide a similar impact that Garoppolo did in San Francisco and help salvage a lost season before whatever version of the story you choose to believe happened and the deal with the Bengals went kaput.
Dorsey has already reestablished some credibility for the Browns with the hires of Alonzo Highsmith and Eliot Wolf – two familiar faces from his time in Green Bay. Had those personal relationships not existed before, it’s unlikely the Browns would’ve been able to land either one.
Thanks to Dorsey, the Browns are now regarded as having one of the strongest front offices in the league.
Stop the presses. That is not a typo or misprint.
Lost in the revolving door of turmoil that has included 4 head coaches, 5 general managers, 2 team presidents and a CEO since 2012, the NFL – like every other businesses – is a people business. Relationships matter. Truthfulness, trustworthiness and stability matter. That may be the most important lesson the Haslams have needed to learn as stewards of what used to be a bedrock franchise now turned laughingstock of the NFL.
The Browns caught a big break when the Steelers decided not to renew Todd Haley’s contract as offensive coordinator allowing Jackson to swoop in and hire him to run his offense here in Cleveland. The move, along with his willingness to cede control of the offense and play-calling, has given the beleaguered Jackson some instant credibility as well.
By Browns standards, they have had themselves a very good 2 1/2 months.
Dorsey and the Browns get to take the show on the road next week in Indianapolis at the NFL Combine where they’ll not only be scouting the class of 2018 but also have the opportunity to get in front of agents prior to free agency where they will try to reestablish credibility with them because, let’s be honest here, who really wants anything to do with an 0-16, 1-31 or 4-44 football team?
The Browns know this.
That’s why 10-time Pro Bowl left tackle and presumed future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas has been so vocal on Twitter in his recruitment of Kirk Cousins. To land the biggest fish this offseason, the Browns are going to have to do some serious recruiting on top of backing up brinks trucks loaded with bags and bags of cash.
Fortunately for the Browns, money isn’t an object and their reputation – albeit soiled – is improving.
The massive miscalculation the Haslams, Brown and DePodesta made when they began the roster gut in 2016 was the significance of the damage the extreme amount of losing would do to a franchise that already had achieved perennial superiority as a 4-12, 5-11 juggernaut. Not just among their own fans, but leaguewide.
Rebuilding frayed or burned bridges has become as much of a priority this offseason for Dorsey and the Browns as injecting the roster with leadership and talent is.
After coming within a blocked field goal on Christmas eve 2016 from back-to-back 0-16 seasons, Dorsey is doing all he can to leave that blueprint in the past and help Jackson accelerate their ability to compete in the fall by looking to spend on some older, experienced veterans while adding another 12-member draft class to the mix this offseason.
Christian Kirksey, Danny Shelton, Myles Garrett, Jamie Collins and Jabrill Peppers provide a pretty strong foundation to build on defensively. Offensively, the skill positions need upgrading – quarterback, receiver and running back. Duke Johnson, Seth DeValve and David Njoku possess the potential to be stars in the making and hopefully Josh Gordon can remain clean and out of trouble, but in an offensive league, Dorsey will need to add some serious artillery on that side of the ball in 2018.
What has happened – and pretty much all of it has been bad – no longer matters as Dorsey plots the course this offseason.
Things appear to be looking up again and move by move the laughter over what the Browns have become will start to die down.
Hopefully wins will follow.
That is the plan. But there is also still a lot of work to be done.