I have spent the last two days pouring over offensive and defensive statistics of the new-era Browns, starting with the franchise's return to Cleveland in 1999.
In between various, and necessary, cigarette breaks and drink refreshers, I manipulated the data trying to find a definitive reason why the current front office should remain in place. I searched for some statistical pattern that marks vast improvement, that sets this group of players with this group of powers that be above any prior regime.
I could not find any statistical evidence to support the theory.
The only definitive answers I was able to arrive at is that being a Browns fan may be equally hazardous to your health as smoking cigarettes and consuming vast quantities of alcohol. Were I a player, I would be questionable with "a finger" from the heavy amount of scroll downs I had to do to collect what is a truly woeful body of work since the Browns return in 1999.
What came to light, when looking over these statistics, was that there isn't a large enough data sample on any one front office regime to definitively say that any of them would not be successful over time.
Did Policy and Clark draft poorly? Absolutely. Were they perhaps rushed into putting a product on the field to their and the franchise's detriment? Most likely. Would they be able to overcome this faulty start and produce a winner?
We'll never know, because after two years they were gone.
Their replacement, Butch Davis, brought the team to its only playoff season by bursting the salary cap at its seems. The Browns lost that lone playoff appearance in typical Browns fashion, blowing a huge lead and dropping a first down catch that would have sealed the victory.
Butch Davis shared a common thread with Dwight Clark, he too, drafted poorly. Trading up to get a tight end, no matter who the tight end is, isn't ever advisable. I don't recall the last Super Bowl MVP tight end; in fact, I don't recall a regular season MVP tight end.
There are certainly other missteps along the way, but statistically, Butch's defenses were some of the new-era Browns best, bordering on almost respectable. Again, were he given more time, could he have produced a winner?
Randy Lerner thought he figured it out in 2005 when he hired Phil Savage to take over as Vice President and General Manager and brought in head coach Romeo Crennel, defensive coordinator of the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
By all accounts, it looked like a great move. But from the get-go there were problems, in-fighting in the front office and horrendous luck with big-time free agents.
Eventually the bottom fell out. The team had overspent in free agency and, aside from DQwell Jackson and Joe Thomas, drafted as poorly as the prior front offices. Four years in and working on an extended contract (which would have expired this year), Savage and Crennel were let go and the not-so-merry-go-round continued.
In 2009, Browns owner Randy Lerner officially switched things up by naming his head coach before the general manager. Eric Mangini would later wear two hats as George Kokonis proved not to fit the Browns as a GM. Mangini installed a blue-collar, hard-worker ethic, which appeared to reap benefits, as the Browns, after a disastrous start, won the last four games of the 2009 season.
But it became clear that Mangini wasn't up for the task of wearing multiple hats. He, too, shared an inability to procure talent through the draft. In fact, were he to—in George Constanza-esque fashion—do the exact opposite of what he wanted to do on draft day, the Browns would have been loaded with talent.
This brings us to the start of the Mike Holmgren era.
One of many mistakes Holmgren made during his tenure was sticking with a coach that doesn't share his philosophy. When failure occurs, lets say a team that finished the prior year on a four-game winning streak, finishes the following year on a four-game losing streak...the only recourse is to fire said head coach.
This brings us to near present day. The 2011 season wasn't kind to the Browns, it was a season filled with "Browns-like" blunders. In fact, the first play from scrimmage was a McCoy completion to...Colt McCoy, for a loss. It was probably a bit ambitious of Holmgren to take on a rookie head coach, a brand new offensive scheme (run by a rookie quarterback) and a brand new defensive scheme—all during a lockout year.
Yes, as with prior Browns front-office tenures, the current iteration have made mistakes. Big ones. But unlike their predecessors, this front office does appear to have brought in some promising young talent.
Young talent like DE Jabaal Sheard, who as a rookie, netted 8.5 sacks. Or CB Joe Haden, who has seen his numbers decline after an impressive rookie season because opposing offenses now choose to throw away from him. DT Phil Taylor, who has promise to be a force up the middle along with Ahtyba Rubin (though ESPN.com reported earlier this week that Taylor has been put on the Reserve-PUP list with a torn pectoral muscle and will miss the first six games of the season)
Then there is this year's crop of draft picks: Trent Richardson, Branden Weeden, Maxwell Schwartz, James Michael Johnson, Travis Benjamin and Josh Gordon, who was picked in the supplemental draft.
But they, like the future of this team, are an unknown.
This unknown, is exactly why Jimmy Haslam needs to put the breaks on customizing his new toy. Because as a Browns fan, I've learned that trading one unknown for another doesn't necessarily equate to improvement. In fact, it often times leads to heartache.
This front office is not perfect. My thoughts on GM Tom Heckert's use of free agency are that he is entirely too conservative. My thoughts on Holmgren is that the only thing he's definitively gotten right was hiring Heckert, whose drafting prowess overcomes his toe-in-the-water approach to free agency.
But Holmgren has at least laid down a foundation, a plan with which everyone is on board. This team might not be there yet, but it is quite clear that it is moving in a positive direction.
Will it work when they make it there? I don't know, but I'd sure like to find out before we hit the reset button once more.
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