TDC Forward Thinking – Cleveland Browns

BrownsAs franchise tags get applied and free agency looms, the offseason is underway in the NFL. Over the next few weeks, we’ll go “Forward Thinking” on all 32 teams previewing what went right in 2013, what went wrong, and what lies ahead for the offseason.

The morale in Cleveland is low. And rightfully so. The Browns gave their fans hope with a 3-2 start to the season. However, a brutal schedule caught up with them as Cleveland lost 10 of its final 11 — including a 7 game losing streak to end the season.

The franchise is wrought in turmoil. Head coach Rob Chudzinski was fired after less than a full calendar year on the job. After nearly every head coaching candidate turned down the job, the Browns were left to settled for Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine as their new head coach. But Pettine won’t even work for the men who hired him as team owner Jimmy Haslam fired team president Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi a few weeks ago.

The off the field problems mask the Cleveland’s needs on the field. As they continue to be a laughing stock of the NFL, we dive into what the Browns need to do during the offseason.

2013 Predictions

2013 Record: 4-12

Alex’s Prediction: 7-9

Jamie’s Prediction: 5-11

What Went Right in 2013

Could the Browns have actually found a star player on offense? After being suspended for the first two games of 2013, Josh Gordon exploded for the remainder of the season to finish with over 1,600 yards and 9 touchdowns. His 7 games with 125 yards or more were most in the league and he was a consistent threat to stretch the field regardless of what quarterback was throwing to him throughout the season. Gordon’s season put him in the conversation of the best wide receivers in the game.

What Went Wrong in 2013

Cleveland still can’t find a quarterback. After yanking Brandon Weeden for Brian Hoyer, the backup showed some promise, until a season ending injury struck in Week 5. Jason Campbell and Weeden filled in for the remainder of the season. It’s very likely that the Browns’ quarterback of the future isn’t on the active roster — a statement that feels like it has been echoed in Cleveland for the last two decades.

3 Big Questions

1. Can Pettine get help on both sides of the ball? 

Chudzinski’s surprise firing also meant that the Browns lost two of their lone bright spots from 2013 — offensive coordinator Norv Turner and defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Both men on were on the job for just one season, but were on track to provide much needed stability and leadership to the team. With Pettine being the last head coach hired, he resorted to hiring Kyle Shanahan as his offensive coordinator — someone who had friction with his quarterback and was jettisoned from the Redskins. If Pettine can’t get leadership from his staff, he might be another one-year wonder.

2. Do the Browns select a quarterback in the 1st round?

Rumors are flying that the Browns have their sights set on Johnny Manziel with the #4 overall pick. However, there’s no guarantee that Manziel will be there when Cleveland is on the clock. If the Browns want their guy, they’ll either have to trade up or get stuck in the unenviable position of potentially taking a flier on a guy like Blake Bortles out of UCF.

3. Will they make the commitment to defense?

Cleveland had the makings of a solid defense over the last few years. However, safety T.J. Ward is a free agent and it remains to be see whether the Browns will commit to him long-term. The team just released veteran LB D’Qwell Jackson. With plenty of cap room, there’s no reason not to get a young star like Ward signed.

Biggest Needs This Offseason

In addition to the quarterback issues, the Browns must also try and find their future running back after giving up on Trent Richardson. With over $20 million in cap room, making a run at free agent Ben Tate would be a wise move for the team. Additionally, while the Browns are strong in the middle of their defensive line, they need a dominant pass rusher. If he’s not franchised by Carolina, you could see the team make a run at DE Greg Hardy.

Is This Team Rising or Falling?

Cleveland is a dumpster fire on and off the field. Although they’re already in the depths of despair, this team is falling.

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