The Browns season can be described by their first game of the season at the Jets. Josh McCown started and got hurt, Johnny Manziel came in and they lost. The Browns were 1-6 in McCown starts, 2-5 in Manziel starts and 0-2 in Austin Davis starts this year. McCown started in their most satisfying victory, beating the Ravens in Baltimore while throwing for 457 yards and no interceptions. The team has a plethora of lows including a seven game losing streak that featured four consecutive division losses by a combined total of 131-49.
The Browns are back to square one as Mike Pettine has recently fired as well a GM Ray Farmar. It is tough to see a bright future for the Browns as a team that is going on their fourth duo of coach and GM in as many years. The least impressive thing about Pettine was his ability to adapt to his owner and GM making decisions that he may not have agreed with. Adjusting to your bosses demands is somewhat important. John DeFilipino did an above average job as the offensive coordinator this year, and with the house cleaning it would be an upset if he were to stay on board, making him a name on the market to watch.
To start, the future Browns quarterback isn’t on the roster yet. Josh McCown has started in his career, but he has had such a long career because he has been a back up for the majority of it. With Johnny Manziel potentially cut if not traded, he seems pointless to talk about moving forward in Cleveland. Austin Davis is the current third option and played in two games for the Browns this season. He has potential to last in this league ala McCown, the backup thing is the key similarity for these guys. We now have a team with no GM, head coach, or starting quarterback.
The skill players for the Browns are not quite as gloomy as the top of the pyramid. Duke Johnson is a guy who can catch out of the backfield, he can sneakily run between the tackles, and can at times be a bit of a power runner. Isaiah Crowell is almost exclusively a power runner. If Johnson can grow into leading a team in carries, and using Crowell for power running the backfield really has a future.
Wide Receiver and Tight End
Another big question this off-season will be what happens to Travis Benjamin? He had a breakout year as a returner and a deep threat, but as an unrestricted free agent, it is tough to project if he returns with no coach or quarterback in place. If the Browns were to be able to sign him he would be a great fit across from Josh Gordon. His deep threat ability can take attention away from Gordon enough to cause havoc. This is of course, if Gordon is even wearing an NFL uniform next year. Aside from the hypothetical dynamic duo they have a hypothetical slot receiver who missed the last eight games of 2015. Andrew Hawkins has shown flashes, but has never been able to consistently be healthy, or be the team’s slot receiver. Dwayne Bowe was a 2015 disaster and another shovel on Farmars’ grave and aside from a potential project in Terrelle Pryor there is little upside away from the three.
The Tight End position brightened quickly with the unexpected break out of Gary Barnidge. Barnidge received for over 1,000 yards and 9 touchdowns. To put that in perspective from 2008 to 2014 he had three touchdowns and a little over 600 career yards. Barnidge is now signed long term, and for the Browns sake you just hope that he doesn’t fall off after one good season at age thirty.
There have been injuries and depth issues that have caused a few problems but overall the offensive line could be considered above average. Joe Thomas really does live up to his name and accolades, and as a left tackle it should have made building a team much easier. Joel Bitonio has slotted in as a solid guard for the future despite facing injury in his second season. Center Alex Mack comes off of multiple Pro Bowl seasons. He alsois an unrestricted free agent, and had previously tried to test the waters before being franchise tagged. Mack is presumably gone, and the Browns drafted Cameron Erving in the first round to take over those duties. If the team were to find a way to sign Mack, Erving did start four games at guard. Mitchell Schwartz is also a free agent this season and the Browns should try to retain him and Mack. One would assume at least one is out the door and it will call for at least some addressing this off-season.
The defensive line is a unit that was lackluster for the majority of the season but at least has its bright spots. To start, the defensive coordinator Jim O’Neil had a hard time installing a successful defense, behind that is the fact that their most impressive performer was rookie Danny Shelton who played the nose tackle position. Being set at nose tackle in the 3-4 defense is a good position to be in. The ends in which surround him have name value, but neither Desmond Bryant or Randy Starks put forth a solid 2015 campaign. Neither is tied down to guaranteed money, but both are under contract. It pushes the defensive line down the list of needs, but with no youth at either end and little depth behind under performers, the line should see a bit of an overhaul.
Linebacker, similarly to the line has some veteran presence, but the Browns are no longer financially tied to many if any of these players. Nate Orchard, another rookie may have the most upside at the position. Orchard may not have the highest ceiling, but he should be slotted in as a starter in what could be a defense with a lot of turnover. Paul Kruger may start opposite him on the outside, but the team could also move on from him with about 3 million guaranteed over his next two years. Barkevious Mingo is what led to Orchard being drafted and playing and he is likely on his way out. In the middle, there isn’t much upside. Tank Carder may be a name to watch, but he didn’t quite emerge this season. Karlos Dansby is signed for the future and it would be surprising to see the Browns cut him. In the end it gives another name to pencil in as a starter, but the flash isn’t here and the linebacker position will need to be addressed inside and out.
The Browns secondary is somewhat set for the next year or so. Joe Haden missed most of 2015 with a concussion. Bringing him back would take a lot of pressure off of Tramon Williams, who could not live up to the task of being a top cornerback. Pierre Desir showed some flashes, but also showed he may not have the highest ceiling. Either way a healthy Haden, Williams, Desir combination is one we have not seen yet, and should be the depth chart to start 2016.
At safety, Donte Whitner is tied down and he will be back. Free Safety Tashaun Gipson is a free agent, and is unlikely to be back, but the team has two young options in Jordan Poyer and Ibraheim Campbell to take over his spot. With Haden back next year it may change the overall outlook of the secondary, and you would hope the pass rush will help the corners leaving the secondary to be potentially be a team strength.
Where do they go?
The Browns are a bit of a mess at the moment. Hiring a coach and GM every year shows no sign of a plan and no sign of times changing in Cleveland. After hiring front office members, the question will become is Josh McCown slotted in to start another season? Aside from QB most of the offense should be in place and the question will become how to beef up the defense. A new coordinator should truly help, but this team is going to have to draft well. Essentially a lot of lottery tickets have to hit, but this year with a #2 overall pick they cannot mess this one up.