Another season has gone by for the Cleveland Browns, which means another season of fans saying “There’s always next year.”
Technically, yes, there is a next season. However, that doesn’t mean the Browns are going to be any better.
They took their first step in making serious changes in the offseason by firing pretty much the entire coaching staff and front office, bringing in new head coach Rob Chudzinski, offensive coordinator Norv Turner, defensive coordinator Ray Horton and general manager Mike Lombardi, to name a few.
There is still much more to be done in the offseason, though, if the Browns want to stop being the laughingstock of the AFC North. Keep in mind that the Browns will play the AFC Champion Ravens, the Bengals who made the playoffs this year and the Steelers, who the Browns have never been able to beat on a consistent basis.
Now that a solid coaching staff is in place, most of Cleveland’s moves should be focused on the personnel on the team. First off is deciding on the quarterback situation.
Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy will both be on the roster next season, McCoy heading into the final year of his rookie contract. Lombardi told Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer that he is going to evaluate Weeden’s play, and not his age.
Clearly, Weeden’s play needs to be called into question, only throwing for 3,385 yards, 14 touchdowns, and 17 interceptions. Lombardi doesn’t have much to look at when it comes to McCoy, who only threw 17 passes in the 2012 season filling in for Weeden when he was injured. When McCoy was the starter in 2011, he missed several games due to injury, and threw 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.
Now is not the time to call one of them the starter, but in the time leading up to training camp, it’s imperative that the Browns examine all options at quarterback. That includes looking at Weeden and McCoy, as well as any quarterbacks they could either pick up in the draft or trade for, such as Alex Smith.
While the quarterback is the most important position on the field, it certainly isn’t the only one that the Browns need to work on in the offseason.
No matter who the quarterback is when Week 1 comes around, they’ll need wide receivers to throw to, and the Browns are considerably lacking when it comes to receivers. Josh Gordon, a supplemental draft pack, was arguably the best receiver the Browns had all year, catching 50 passes for 805 yards and five touchdowns.
The next closest receiver to Gordon was Greg Little, who scored four touchdowns this season and had 647 receiving yards. However, Little’s season was plagued by numerous drops, even prompting then-head coach Pat Shurmur to call him out during a press conference after the team’s Week 3 game against the Bills.
After Little, the next receiver with the most reception is Travis Benjamin with 18. Ahead of Benjamin on that list are two tight ends, Ben Watson and Jordan Cameron, and two running backs, Trent Richardson and Chris Ogbonnaya.
If the Browns want to be successful in 2013, Lombardi and the coaching staff must bring in receivers who can complement Gordon, and cut the receivers who are underperforming.
While that just about does it for the passing game, the Browns will also need to look at the running game. Trent Richardson had an outstanding rookie season with the team, carrying the ball 267 times for 950 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Richardson did miss a few games with injuries, however, and the Browns clearly do not have anyone who can spell or back up Richardson. Montario Hardesty has seriously underperformed since coming to the team in the draft, and while Ogbonnaya has been effective in certain situations, he isn’t in a position to take over for a whole game if Richardson goes down.
Yes, Richardson is Cleveland’s solution to an every-day back, but they’ll need to bring in someone who can be a powerful one-two combination with Richardson.
With the slim chance that the Browns will find some way to answer all three of those questions on offense, their problems don’t stop there.
What the team needs to do on special teams is re-sign Phil Dawson. Dawson’s contract is up at the end of this season, and Cleveland needs to sign the Pro Bowler to a new deal. Not only is Dawson an exceptional kicker, but he has been extremely loyal to the team, even during the worst of times, and he deserves a contract just based off of the fact that Dawson hasn’t abandoned ship after being with the team for 14 years. Not signing Dawson would be a huge mistake for Cleveland.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Browns are pretty set at almost every position, but could afford to look for some new options in the secondary. Joe Haden and Sheldon Brown will both return in 2013 to start, but after those two, there isn’t much for the Browns to brag about.
The third corner, Buster Skrine, is only 5’9" and 185 pounds, and manages to draw a pass interference call once a game, especially in the game against the Dallas Cowboys this season when the Browns gave up a second-half lead.
After Skrine, the Browns have Prince Miller, Trevin Wade and Johnson Bademosi, three corners who aren’t going to be pulling off late-game pick-sixes anytime soon.
The Browns could have a solid defense if they could pick up one or two corners to help out Haden and Brown in the secondary in this pass-happy league.
Addressing any of these concerns will instantly make the Browns a better team, and if almost all of them are addressed, especially the problems on offense, the Browns have a shot to be real contenders in the AFC North in 2013.