Browns Just a Couple Pieces Away from Contention, but What Are Those Pieces?
The Cleveland Browns keep losing close games, and Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys was no different. The close loses are an indication of where the Browns are as an organization; close to being a winner.
Over the last three years, piece by piece, what was once missing has been added to the roster. It has come to a point where the Browns can start adding the best player at any position. The personnel plan that Tom Heckert has put into place is starting to clear up.
The problem for Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur is they most likely won't get to see the fruits of their labor. The change in ownership from Randy Lerner to Jimmy Haslam III will most likely mean a clean sweep in the front office and the coaching staff.
Whoever ends up coaching and acquiring talent for the Browns in 2013 won't be too far away from a finished product. A foundation of young talent is in place and is ready to stop losing.
The finishing pieces are not all on the field for the Cleveland Browns, so let's take a look at what is needed on and off the field to make the Browns a winning product.
Keep It Consistent
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Yes, that is a Pittsburgh Steelers helmet in an article about the Cleveland Browns. The new owner of the Cleveland Browns needs to apply the business model of the team he had a minority ownership in, the Steelers.
Over 40 years ago the Steelers found a formula for success and stuck with it to the tune of six Super Bowls. As Mike Tomlin says on a regular basis "the standard is the standard" and it doesn't matter who is in the uniform on the field or what coach is on the sideline. Once you become a Steeler player or coach, the standard for success is high, and the organization will support the people on the team to achieve the high standard of success.
The Browns need to set the standard, enforce the standard and support the people they bring into the organization to meet the standard.
No Pain, No Gain
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The current roster for the Browns is one of the youngest in the NFL, and it will need time to grow. The team may take a big step forward next year, but it is unlikely to be a Super Bowl step.
If you look at the history of most teams who contend for the Super Bowl year in and year out, they didn't get there overnight. In some cases, it may look like a team went to the Super Bowl in one season. An example would be when Jon Gruden took over as the Tampa Bay head coach and he won the Super Bowl in his first year. When you look at the situation, Tony Dungy and Rich McKay had spent several years building Tampa into a winner.
Another example is Bill Belichick's first Super Bowl win with the New England Patriots in his second year as head coach. The fact is most of that team was built before he got there, and some guy named Tom Brady showed up to finish things off.
It took Jimmy Johnson four years to win the Super Bowl after rebuilding the Cowboys. The Browns are not staring where the Cowboys were in 1989, so the process may not take as long.
The moral of the story is it will take time to get the coaching, quarterback and personnel combination correct.
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When free agency starts in 2013, the Browns will need to add a little extra cash to get the free agents they want. The Browns need players at wide receiver and cornerback who know how to play in the NFL.
In order to acquire the services of veteran players on their second contract, the Browns will have to overpay. The landscape of Cleveland won't get it done, and the missing winning tradition won't help either.
So the Browns will need to strategically pay more for certain players to help the quarterback and defense. The contract Tampa Bay gave Vincent Jackson was more than his value, but it is paying off in spades on the field for their quarterback Josh Freeman.
Greg Jennings would look nice in a Browns uniform with some extra cash in his pocket. Once the team wins on a regular basis, they won't have to write the fat checks to get free agents.
Develop the Quarterback
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The age of Brandon Weeden and development don't necessarily go together, but the rookie continues to improve as the season goes on.
The rules in place in the NFL will allow the quarterback to play longer, which will give the Browns more time to let the Brandon Weeden process develop. The continued investment in Weeden will allow the team to concentrate its efforts in free agency and the draft on putting the best players around the quarterback.
The Browns will have a high draft pick, which would best be suited to add a playmaker on defense or at wide receiver. The Browns don't have a second-round pick, so skipping the quarterback is even more important since they can't come back in the second round to address other positions of need in the early rounds.
A Fourth-Quarter Playmaker
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The Browns need to develop or acquire a fourth-quarter playmaker. In close games, often it is a player who defies the X's and O's who makes the difference.
The Browns are in desperate need of a player who can end the game on offense or defense. The fourth-quarter assassin could already be on the team and he just needs to be developed or put in a position to make those plays.
It could be Joe Haden, who is the Browns' most talented defensive player.