Understanding the problems of the Cleveland Browns
By PAT RALPH
College Contributor Network
There's a reason the city of Cleveland has been notoriously known as a sports town defined by losing. Despite being a dominant baseball club in the 1990's and early 2000's, the Cleveland Indians have not won a World Series since 1948. Up until the arrival of "The Chosen One" in 2003, the Cleveland Cavaliers never made the NBA Finals. After that same guy decided to leave Cleveland for sunnier pastures in 2010, the Cavaliers were worthless until "He Who Must Not Be Named" returned to Northeast Ohio and made the Cavaliers relevant again.
And then there are the Cleveland Browns. The Browns have yet to win a Super Bowl, let alone appear in the Super Bowl. Yes, the Browns won several NFL championships, but all of those happened before the AFL merger which formed the NFL as we know it today.
Not to mention, the only worse thing to happen to the city of Cleveland besides "The Decision" was when Browns owner Art Modell decided to move the original franchise to Charm City and create the team we now know as the Baltimore Ravens. Since the Browns 2.0 version emerged as an expansion team in 1999 after three seasons of inactivity, the Browns have only had two winning seasons and made the playoffs once.
Flash forward to 2015 and not much has changed for Cleveland. Despite at one point holding claim to first place in the AFC North with an impressive 7-4 record and eyeing down a playoff berth, the Browns found a way to be, well, the Browns. After winning six of eight through the months of October and early November, the wheels came off the wagon fast as Cleveland would go on to lose five straight to finish the season in last place in a division where every other team made the playoffs.
From a big picture standpoint, the season was seen by many as a success in head coach Mike Pettine's first season after Cleveland went 4-12 back in 2013. The most notable area of success was on the defensive side of the ball where the Browns had a fantastic secondary and were one of the best in the NFL at takeaways. However, it was their offense and inability to control the run and line of scrimmage which ultimately caused the most problems for them this season.
Conveniently enough, the Browns' offense has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons on and off the field. The drama starts with, not surprisingly, the quarterback position. While Brian Hoyer entered the season as the proven veteran ready to lead the franchise, an infamous rookie by the name of Johnny Manziel waited in the wings for his chance to start at quarterback. Hoyer won the starting job after training camp and proved his worth through the first half of the season, as he helped guide the Browns to the top of the AFC North.
But as the struggles began to set in, the pressure to start the world-famous Manziel grew week by week. The Browns faced an important decision, "Do we continue with the guy who got us into contention or put in the exciting guy who, for all we know, may have been partying into this morning?" Eventually, the Browns gave Manziel a chance to start but he proved to be nothing special this season.
To no one's surprise, the Browns have yet to fully answer this question as of mid-February. For Hoyer, there is no question the veteran quarterback feels slighted by the coaching staff and front office for being benched in favor of an inexperienced rookie despite putting the team in a position to make the playoffs. In addition, the "Text-gate" scandal surrounding Browns general manager Ray Farmer has definitely factored into Hoyer's mindset. A free agent this offseason, Hoyer will need to decide if the Browns are the right franchise for him.
In my opinion, Hoyer should pack his bags and find a new home where the fans, coaches, and front office will appreciate his skills. More importantly, Hoyer should look for a stable franchise where he can start right away. It's clear to the eye that stability is not a word used to describe the Cleveland Browns, especially after former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan unexpectedly left after the season. If Hoyer can find another team where he can make an impact right away, I encourage him to get out of Cleveland as soon as possible because he should not stay there unless he is the starter. The franchise is totally noncommittal as to who it wants right now as its quarterback.
And then there's Manziel, who admitted he could have been a better and more focused teammate this season. Manziel made up for his lack of playing time by living up the nightlife as an NFL rookie, only to soon realize that he is an adult now not a college student. Due to his poor play and lack of size as a quarterback on the field and his issues off the field, doubt is beginning to grow that Manziel can be an effective starter in the league. While starting Manziel over Hoyer brings in the money from ticket sales and generates hype, as Manziel's famous touchdown celebration can elaborate on for you, it does not necessarily mean that celebrity stardom wins you games.
Because of his issues with partying, and potentially substance abuse, Manziel checked himself into a rehab center recently to get his life back on track. At the age of 22, being able to recognize this problem before it got worse is a very mature move by a traditionally immature man. As the late UCLA basketball coach John Wooden once said, "Discipline yourself before others discipline you." Manziel is doing exactly that by looking to fix his problem and become a responsible teammate and adult. It would not surprise me if the Browns behind closed doors strongly encouraged Manziel to pursue this option, but I think it is fair to say the Browns have to be content with Manziel's actions and attempts to correct his wrongdoings. But it's way too early to tell if this will bring about a permanent change to the often-crazy Manziel.
With regards to the Browns' quarterback situation, I believe the team should give Hoyer the starting job unless he chooses to leave. If Hoyer leaves, it would be wise for Cleveland to go after a quarterback in this spring's draft who can be a starter or insurance policy to the ticking time bomb which is Manziel. Giving Manziel the keys to the franchise sounds like a train wreck waiting to happen. Of course, there is always the possibility Manziel outplays Hoyer in the preseason and earns the starting job. You never know.
Getting lost in all of the drama of the Cleveland Browns is the actual delinquent, wide receiver Josh Gordon. Despite having some of the best talent in the league, Gordon has had too many run-ins with the law. Gordon was suspended 10 games this past season for violating the league's drug policy, only to return and render himself completely ineffective as he was suspended by the Browns at the end of the season for violating team rules. For the curious readers, Gordon spent his time off from football working at a car dealership.
The problems have only gotten worse for Gordon, as his second violation of the league's drug policy has led to a suspension for the entire 2015 season. The only thing worse right now than Josh Gordon is Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Justin Blackmon, who is on indefinite suspension. Just like Manziel, Gordon needs some serious help if he wants to get his life back together as a football player and, more importantly, as an adult in society. It would really be sad to see a player like Gordon waste his talent by keeping himself off the field due to bad decisions.
All in all, life as a Browns fan in the Dawg Pound is not fun. The fans deserve better than an unstable organization where the locker room is divided and the general manager is texting coaches during games about who should be starting at quarterback. The fans deserve to be proud of their team, not embarrassed by it and the actions some players take off the field. Most importantly, the fans deserve a team that can win. Unfortunately, I don't know when that day will ever come for the Cleveland Browns.
Pat Ralph is a junior at Villanova University. He has a passion for Philadelphia sports, especially the Phillies and Eagles, as well as Villanova Basketball and the New York Knicks. Follow him on Twitter @Pat_Ralph