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Important decisions lie ahead for Browns

Posted Jan 3, 2014

The decisions that the Browns will make over the next four months will guide the direction of the team heading into the 2014 season.

Decisions, decisions.

The Cleveland Browns’ front-office tandem of owner Jimmy Haslam and chief executive officer Joe Banner has a lot of decisions to make over the next four months. And those decisions will shape the future of the organization for years to come.

The choices made by Haslam and Banner will be made in an effort to turn the team’s fortunes from six straight double-digit loss seasons to playing championship-caliber football that they believe the fans deserve.

“We have the best fans in the world,” Haslam said. “I’ve said our fans deserve better. What I want our fans to hear is nobody cares about winning and is going to work any harder to get us there than the people you’re looking at right now, particularly the owner. We take this extremely seriously. It galls me when you all write, and you have the right to do it and people have the right to say it, ‘Same old Browns.’ It’s our single mission to change that.”

“The idea of seeing progress and meaningful progress is something that we don’t have any problem with people expecting and demanding of us,” Banner said.

Selecting a head coach

The first decision that will be made this offseason revolves around the coach.

After firing former coach Rob Chudzinski in the hours immediately following last Sunday’s 20-7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, Haslam and Banner immediately began their coaching search.

Multiple media outlets, both locally and nationally, have reported the Browns’ interest in New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, and Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase, as well as coaches from the college ranks, including Oklahoma’s Bob Stoops and Auburn’s Gus Malzahn, among others.

Once the Browns decide on the team’s 15th full-time head coach, that man will be charged with building a staff that can help develop the talent on the roster.

According to Haslam and Banner, the key is not getting the coaching search done quickly, but rather, correctly.

“The idea (is) finding a coach that we’re confident can win, can take this group, see it as a group that has a strong nucleus, help together to figure out how to utilize the assets we have going into the offseason to take us to the next level,” Banner said. “I think that’s the focus of what we’re going to try to find.”

Player Evaluations

Once the Browns have their head coach, he will be charged with filling out his own staff and hitting the road to evaluate players alongside general manager Michael Lombardi and assistant general manager Ray Farmer.

The process, which started during the college football season, hits full steam after the bowl games as players begin the all-star game circuit before the top 300 are invited to the annual NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis in February.

Through informal interviews and on-field work with NFL coaching staffs and more formal meetings with teams, drills and competitions at the scouting combine, the coaches and personnel departments will take deeper looks at their top players and then, invite athletes to Berea for individual visits.

Following the evaluation period at the Senior Bowl and NFL Scouting Combine, Lombardi, Farmer, Banner, Haslam and the new coach will formulate their draft boards.

Adding established talent

While continuing to evaluate new talent coming into the NFL in the draft, the Browns will also focus on building the roster through free agency, which the team will have a reported $30 million to spend.

Last year, the Browns proved to be liberal with their spending, particularly when addressing the defensive front seven.

Within the first few days of free agency in 2013, the Browns signed outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves, as well as defensive end Desmond Bryant, and those signees made an impact.

Kruger registered 4.5 sacks and 69 total tackles, while Bryant, despite missing the last four games of the season because of an irregular heartbeat, collected 3.5 sacks for 22.5 lost yards. Groves had two sacks and served as the Browns’ special-teams captain before being lost for the year on Nov. 11 because of an ankle injury.

“I think if you took the players that we added, if you took them comprehensively -- undrafted free agents, people we claimed, people we drafted, in free agency -- if you look at the teams that we played over the last five or six weeks and compare it, I think we’ll stack up okay in terms of what we added for 2013,” Banner said.

Filling in the gaps

Whether it be through free agency or the 2014 NFL Draft, the Browns will look to fill several spots on the roster, starting with adding depth at the quarterback and running back spots.

Because of injuries and ineffectiveness, the Browns went through three quarterbacks during the 2013 season, and after trading running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the team relied on veteran Willis McGahee, as well as Fozzy Whittaker, fullback Chris Ogbonnaya, and later, Edwin Baker, to rush the football.

The Browns may also look to address the offensive line, where they had a rash of injuries at the guard positions to veterans Shawn Lauvao, John Greco and Jason Pinkston, as well as the secondary, where the depth was tested late in 2013 as Joe Haden suffered a hip pointer and Chris Owens was released with less than a month left in the season.

“If we get that right then we’ll have a lot of really positive press conferences,” Haslam said of the decisions that await. “If we get that wrong, the responsibility is on us. We all understand, and we just met with a core group of our players. We understand. We feel a lot of pressure to get this right for the franchise, for the City of Cleveland, for our fans. We understand how important it is.”