With their 17-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 16, the Cleveland Browns fell to 3-12 on the year. The only thing guaranteed about the team's future is that it will have a high pick in the 2016 NFL draft.
It's possible that in a week's time, Browns head coach Mike Pettine, general manager Ray Farmer and their respective staffs may be receiving their walking papers. Yet another rebuild could be in order.
But is it necessary? With just three wins this year and 10 total so far during Pettine's two-season tenure, it's understandable why he is on the hot seat. The defense has been atrocious, worse than it was even a season ago. The offense has been a bright spot at times—the Browns had 232 yards rushing on Sunday, and when healthy, quarterback Josh McCown had the second-highest quarterback rating of his career.
And there are numerous promising young players on the roster whose careers could be hindered or even derailed by wholesale change. There are as many reasons to blow things up in Cleveland as there are reasons not to.
Every team in the Browns' situation is going to make mistakes when trying to turn its fortunes around. A rebuild is a process, and hits as well as misses are common. What Browns owner Jimmy Haslam has to do now is determine whether things will only get worse if the status quo is maintained in 2016.
One thing that seems necessary, if not inevitable, is the firing of defensive coordinator Jim O'Neil. For everything the Browns offense has done right this year, it's been almost entirely undone by the weakness of the defense against both the run and the pass. There is a glut of talent on the Browns' defensive roster, but O'Neil's scheme has done little to maximize it.
There is also an argument to be made for Farmer's ouster given his track record not only in the draft, but also in free agency. The wasted pick on running back Terrance West, the possibility that four Round 1 draft picks never reached their full potentials and, especially, the big-money signing of receiver Dwayne Bowe have been marks against his managing of the team.
Indeed, smaller fixes tuned toward ridding the Browns of their most glaring failures could produce far better returns in 2016 than wholesale change. This way, Cleveland still gets more than a modicum of much-needed stability while also not keeping around what has been holding it back.
That would not mean that Pettine should feel secure about his job for the long term. Another year of this, sans O'Neil and potentially Farmer, would doubtlessly cost him his employment.
But a final chance would not be unwarranted. After all, what have the Browns' numerous coaching changes brought this team? Fifteen seasons with a sub-.500 record and 23 straight losses against teams with eight or more wins, according to ESPN's Darren Rovell.
Continuity for continuity's sake is never an advisable strategy for an NFL team. But firing everyone, making new hires and expecting drastically improved results—especially right away—is historically not a fruitful one for the Browns, either.
There are changes the Browns can make to better their lot—or with an eye toward doing so—that don't have to result in everything changing. While it wouldn't be surprising for Haslam to move on from everyone and start anew, it would be equally as unsurprising if it doesn't happen.
The key is to figure out what will fix this team, once and for all. And there are many paths Haslam's Browns can take to try to reach that long sought-after result.