The Monday after week 17 in the NFL last year, I (and I am sure many other Browns fans) was in total disarray with respect to the future of the Cleveland Browns. We left with several personnel questions, coaching vacancies, and a disappointing season which began with playoff possibilities after just missing the playoffs the previous year.
The end of this season is not exactly the way Browns fans imagined it would be, but it is safe to say that we have learned a few things this year:
Jerome Harrison has real possibilities
The running back from Wash. St. finally got a shot to show he could play in "the league" and I believe he has a bright future ahead of him. He has learned for two years behind a once-elite NFL running back and does not have the tread on the tires that most 3rd year backs have at this point in their careers. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that Harrison is the next Jim Brown, but he could certainly have a chance at being a quality starter and being the answer at RB and leave one less hole Mike Holmgren will have to try and fill in the off-season
Eric Mangini does in fact have a system, and once players buy in, it works
E.M made the statement that he would turn the Browns around during the bye- week and while people laughed at him, he did in fact succeed. Its obvious that the players Mangini got rid of would never have fit into his system (Winslow, Edwards). E.M's system has no room for pre-madona's and is centered around a strong core team atmosphere. I will admit I did not think Mangini deserved another year in Cleveland, but after the longest winning streak in 16 years for the Franchise, with that streak including wins over Pittsburg and Jacksonville, I think he deserves more time.
Joshua Cribbs is the explosive player to build around
Cribbs has done it all for the Browns this year, and been the x-factor that lead to almost all 5 victories this year. The best news all month is that Holmgren has already reached out to Cribbs assuring him that a new deal will get done this off- season. Cribbs has been so dynamic on offense, and explosive on special teams that he is the MVP of the Browns this season. And even better news for fans is the former Golden Flash seems to have no burning desire to get out of Cleveland; In fact, he almost wants to make this work as much as anyone in that organization. Cribbs is going to be one player Cleveland fans will love for many, many seasons to come.
Regardless of what happens with the coaching staff, Rob Ryan needs to stay
Ryan has been a shinning star in what was a mostly miserable season. His defense clearly does not have the depth in talent or a full 11 man solid starting defense, and yet he managed to get these guys to play with their heart and soul, and sealing some of our victories this year (particularly in Buffalo). As I said, the statistics aren't there to support my statements, but anyone who watched the Browns play this year can attest to the defense's strong play, and that despite high scoring games, it did what it could to keep the team in the game week after week.
Mike Holmgren has his worked cut out for him
"The Czar" has many important decisions to make over the next 4 months. The most obvious is the decision on the current coaching staff's future in Cleveland, but there is much more than just coaching. Holmgren needs to evaluate needs at several positions, and that will not be an easy task. The roster has many young players that have showed promise, and so he will need to use his football IQ and determine which of these players have the best potential. This will be the hardest at the quarterback position. Mike knows quite well the Browns need a quality, solid starter. Is that man Brady Quinn who had a few 300-yard games and showed promise after relieving D.A? Is there a free-agent out there who the Browns can lure to Cleveland during the upcoming no-salary cap season? Holmgren will have to make this decision, plus many more and he has a short period of time to do it, and prepare for the draft in April.
The April's draft is huge for the future of the Browns
In reality, last year's draft was also huge for Cleveland, but this upcoming year continues what was possibly a good draft for the organization to build on. The positions of need are really up to Holmgren to evaluate, although I would love to see the Browns land Eric Berry personally. I personally feel the defense needs the most help in the draft, since there is no clear all-start QB's in this draft honestly (Bradford is arguable, but his injury makes me weary)
Cleveland fans will never abandon this organization
Lets face it, being a Browns fan is like being a druggie: You cant get off it even though you know its killing you inside. I am on the younger side of Browns nation, I am a card-carrying member of the Browns Backers, and go to bars week after week to support my team, even if we would have been 0-15. This year's first two months of the season were some of the worst I have ever experienced as a fan, and yet I couldn't tear my interest. Long live Browns nation, the best fans the NFL has to offer.
Let's hope this off-season continues to put the puzzle together, and not another "fresh-start" season. The fans have been through too many of those in the past 10 years.