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A trail of tears from Cleveland

Scott R. Galvin/USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland natives tend to feel the cold fronts coming off of Lake Erie this time of year. Unfortunately, what seems of late, they can settle for the bitter cold feeling of their once beloved football team. For at least a half a century, the city has been on the wrong side of history. Fortunately, recent success has come from the anchors of The Land, the Indians and the Cavaliers.

For the Indians, who haven’t had scent of a world title since the Truman administration, the tide is turning for the Wahoos. The past seasons have been pretty fortuitous to say the least. Coming off of a 100-win season in 2017 and World Series appearance the year prior, the Indians’ future looks brighter than ever. This upcoming season, the Indians are predicted to compete for a title as a top baseball club.

The Cavaliers have been through their own personal battles but still hold their position as Cleveland’s best export. The return of LeBron James has been filled with fortune and serendipity. The Cavs Captured a title in 2016 and ended the championship the fifty-year drought for the city. As long as King James and the Cavaliers are one of the heavyweights in the NBA, they will forever be the epicenter of Cleveland sports.

However, the Browns are at an all time low. Coming off a 2016 season that only amounted to a single win, 2017 couldn’t be any better. In fact, it wasn’t. The worst team of the past became the worst team of the present. And at this rate, they look to be the worst of all time.

On January 7, 2018, along Alfred Lerner Way, Brown fans celebrated their “perfect” season. Instead of cheers, cries for help were heard adjacent of the FirstEnergy Stadium. A parade that mirrored a funeral buried the 2017 Browns along with the NFL’s list of deplorable winless teams. With a platform built by greats including Ozzie Newsome, Lou Groza and Jim Brown, Cleveland has yet to return to such heights.

Enveloped in the lingering scent of their 1964 championship, which unfortunately now has only seen by a handful. The majority of the fan base still cringe over the most gut wrenching moments as the world recognizes them as miracles. The Fumble, The Drive, The Move, all still remain in many fans’ hearts as the lowest points in the franchise. Since the golden ages of the 80’s, the Browns haven’t been able to capitalize in the turn of the century.

Scott R. Galvin/USA TODAY Sports

Without a playoff birth in almost two decades, fans questions have turned to prayers. With a lack of a notable franchise star, a questionable and ever-changing coaching staff and poor management, the future looks pretty dim as of right now. Even at the franchise’s lowest point, it seems that it is going to get worse as the years go by. Only thing that is safe to say, is that the Browns are here to stay. The efforts of Art Modell in moving the team to Baltimore in 1995 was disastrous. Other than setting precedent for franchise relocations and expansions of the future, for Cleveland, it was futile.

With that being said, Cleveland will have to bare what is to come. In doing so, the seasons of the future might mimic the franchise’s lack accomplishments like the display this past year. For Cleveland to turn things around, this particular off-season will prove to be detrimental for the squad.

 

A star…?

In the past, Cleveland has harbored quite a few franchise cornerstones. Some of who were regarded as not only arguably the best in their respective position like Ozzie Newsome, Bernie Kosar and Lou Groza but also the best player in the league. From 1957 to 1965, Jim Brown reigned as the best player in all of football. Bringing home a rookie of the year trophy, three NFL most valuable awards, and garnishing the franchise’s last championship in 1964.

At the height of his career, Brown retired from professional football in 1965, leaving the franchise in search for a new star. Spurts from Hall of Famers like Bobby Mitchell, Greg Pruitt and Leroy Kelly proved to be promising. Unfortunately, the void left by Brown became too hard to fill. That void still plagues the franchise fifty-years later.

An addition of a prominent all-pro player or an emergence of a young star may speak vibes for the team going forward. After an impressive season by the Buffalo Bills that ended in a playoff berth, the Browns now have the longest current playoff drought in the NFL. In other words, the way the organization is going, the Browns won’t be seen in the winter anytime soon. Great confidence, effort and camaraderie comes from leadership, something the Browns lack. A star could be the epitome of these components and their focus and pursuit in becoming a contender.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

A bright spot in the tumultuous past has been the career of all-pro left tackle Joe Thomas. Thomas, who holds the NFL record for most consecutive snaps played, has proven to be remarkable with nine all-pro selections and ten Pro Bowl appearances. But questions mount as the organization looks to move on from arguably the best lineman in football. According to Cleveland.com, reports show that the 33 year old might consider retirement after a ten year career with the Browns. On a laundry list of problems, this holds as the highest priority for the franchise.

Let’s be honest, Cleveland isn’t the most attractive destination for a free agent or even a draft pick. It does not have the appeal of Los Angeles, Miami, New York or even Texas. The golden age of the city is long gone so a potential of a star wanting to play in Cleveland is slim.

When asked about Cleveland, New York Knicks center Joakim Noah said during an interview with TNT in 2009, “I don’t know about this place, man. I just stayed in my hotel room, man. Every time I look out my window, it’s pretty depressing out here, man.” He reiterated his position in a later press conference season after facing the Cavaliers. He was asked if he had regretted his comments, he replied, “Not at all. You like it? Do you think Cleveland’s cool? I mean, I’ve never heard anybody say ‘I’m going to Cleveland on vacation.’ What’s so good about  Cleveland?” The franchise has to offer more than just Cleveland to reel in targets.

 

A move in Free Agency

The Browns’ organization has been in a rebuild mode since the beginning of their playoff drought. Though certain components of the franchise might seem unattractive, it can be a valuable home for player looking to revitalize their career. A quarterback is  probably the most inconsistent position for the franchise since the departure of Bernie Kosar… literally. Since Tim Couch, the last quarterback for the Browns to start an entire season in 2001, the Browns have started 25 different quarterbacks in 16 seasons, the league’s highest.

This one seems a bit far fetched, but any big name potential targets in this years free agency wouldn’t be any different.  Drew Brees, who has plagued the NFC South Division with four division titles and a Super Bowl in 2009 might look for a change in scenery. After an astounding season with 4,208 passing yards with 23 touchdowns on 73% completion, an NFL record, Brees looks better than ever. The only ones looking forward to Brees departure are the Buccaneers, the Panthers and the Falcons. More than likely, if Brees is to leave, he would want to play for a contender. As tough as the AFC North is, contending for a title isn’t in the team’s imminent future. Brees would be the best case scenario. His pedigree would add appeal for free agents to come to Cleveland.

Patrick Smith/Getty

Kirk Cousins at the moment, is having a difficult time with management of the Redskins. During an interview on the Pritchard and Cecil Hour Podcast, former Redskins GM Scot McCloughan told the tandem when questioned about Cousins, “He’s a good player. Is he special? I don’t see special”. McCloughan was responsible for putting the two franchise tags on Cousins. For that, Cousins has something to prove, something he won’t get from a contender. Cousins has to prove he is a legitimate franchise player.

A career in Washington may not be the answer. With franchise tags it seems that Washington is not 100 percent sold on Cousins. NFL analysts expect the ‘Skins to take a quarterback in this upcoming draft. The only downfall is that Cousins has dealt with a shifting front office. His trust of Cleveland management might not be enough to sign and he’s not wrong for thinking so. To counter that, Cousins play has reflected the ‘Skins success. But it seems a contending team’s management may not think so. Cousins might have to settle with a rebuilding franchise.

Cleveland as a destination could be in consideration. Not only for the money, but a list of players who also have a chip on their shoulder. Browns receiver Josh Gordon is looking to prove the critics wrong and have his named edged in consideration as one of the league’s top wideouts. Also free agent pick ups like Marquise Lee or Terrelle Pryor could be a good addition to the core. Pryor/Lee and Gordon could be wonderful targets for Cousins or Brees or even a younger quarterback.

The Draft

Luckily for the Browns, bad seasons return great draft picks. The team gets an A+ for drafting Myles Garrett last year. After tallying seven sacks in only ten games, the rookie out of Texas A&M might break the chain of poor draft picks for the Browns. This year, they have a chance to do the same as they have the first and fourth pick (via Houston) of the first round in the draft.

Free agent targets like Kirk Cousins and Drew Brees might be out of reach for the Browns. Because so, the organization might have to settle for drafting a quarterback. Luckily, a whole slate of quarterbacks can fit the bill. Wyoming’s Josh Allen, USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Heisman trophy winners, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson all look promising for any team. The only problem is the fourth pick, which is a good problem to have. A perfect execution can be the foundation for the future and help pull the Browns out of this hole.

As a prediction, in the first round, the Browns are getting a quarterback and a running back. If the Browns are sold and solely want a particular quarterback, they should pick him first.

Jeff Roberson/AP

As the mock boards have it, the Giants have their eyes on Josh Rosen or Sam Darnold. If the Browns want Josh Rosen, they should draft him. However, that leaves a home run hitter like Penn State’s Saquon Barkley on the board. If Josh Rosen is taken first by the Browns, the Giants or the Colts could take Barkley for the second and third picks respectively. If that’s the case, the Browns should draft Barkley first. The Giants will probably take Rosen, but the Colts won’t draft a quarterback. This leaves Darnold, Mayfield and others on the board for the fourth pick which should be suitable.

Injuries make most players question their futures but ultimately the doubt will fade. More than likely, Joe Thomas will stay with the Browns. He has a lot more football to play and like the Browns, he has something to prove. With that being said, the Browns should look to fortify their defensive line or secondary instead. Best bet is defensive tackle, Trenton Thompson from Georgia at the 33rd pick and Mike Hughes, defensive back from UCF with the 35th pick to replace the released Joe Haden. If the future of Joe Thomas fears the organization, Offensive tackle Connor Williams from Texas looks valuable at the 63rd pick. In the end, Spencer Drango looks promising after filling in for the injured Thomas this year if Thomas decides to hang it up.

 

The fan base

As the transportation hub of the Great Lakes, Cleveland rose to prominence in the mid nineteenth century. By the 1920’s, it became the nation’s fifth largest city. The progressive era brought on businesses and businesses brought a booming economy that welcomed an influx of people. This economy aided the birth of sports as Cleveland was dubbed, City of Champions.

Matthew Emmons- US Presswire

Because of these roots, the love for sports have seeped into the culture. There is no discussion, no fan base is more loyal than Cleveland fans. When most of our country’s industries of energy, automobile manufacturing, and agriculture slowly left the region, the residents of the 216 embraced sports. As the surrounding area seemed to deteriorate, Baseball, Football, Basketball, were seen as beacons of hope for natives of northeast Ohio. Camaraderie means everything to a team. A mystery lies whether if there is enough among the players. However, the fans show to not disappoint.

Over the last seven seasons from the ball club, the team’s record has only amounted to an abysmal 89 loses and 23 wins. However, the Browns fans have been able to keep up almost a full attendance at FirstEnergy Stadium over those years. That can be music to a free agent’s ears. There is nothing like home, but a place where you are wanted can move mountains. A free agent like Kirk Cousins, who has been doubted by  his own ball club’s fan base would instantly be accepted among the dawg pound.

Cleveland’s downfall has come by its own merit. Poor management, lack of a stable roster, and a questionable coaching staff have prevented the franchise from reliving those glory days of the past and give what their respected fan base deserves. To no surprise, the Cleveland Browns’ organization is moving toward being the worst franchise, not only in the NFL but in professional sports. Not only because of its dysfunctional team’s performance, but the potential the team should have based upon the foundation it lays upon.

Despite all of this and what their record was this past season, there should optimism in Cleveland. It literally cannot get any worse than this. Anything is better than current situation of the franchise. And there’s hope. The region was built on determination and grit. The energy and commitment of the fans exhibit those roots. As grim as it may seem, light is always at the end of tunnel. But there aren’t any miracles in northeast Ohio, at least not in favor of Browns. No magical superstar is going to fall out of the sky and it’s unlikely LeBron James will take his talents to the Cleveland backfield.

With that being said the Browns are all they got. There are going to be desperate changes. Maybe a couple drifter-like free agents ever now and then, a couple of hiring and firing of coaches and questions of leadership will still linger. But maybe some advice from it’s parallel sport franchises in the Indians and Cavaliers might be of some help. As they’ve been able to pluck themselves out of their downfalls. It is well known the teams are built around stakeholders and the community. If any motivation the Browns are going to get, it lies within the roots of the fight that the city of Cleveland is willing to put up.

 

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