Smart approach makes Browns' job attractive

Posted Dec 31, 2013

Senior Editor Vic Carucci says the Browns' smart approach makes their coaching job attractive.

So how do the Browns get it right this time?

What’s going to make the search for their next head coach any different than the one that led to the hiring of Rob Chudzinski last January … followed by his firing on Sunday?

For starters, the Browns, despite losing one more game than they did in their 5-11 finish of 2012, will have a dramatically different story to tell and one that should paint a fairly attractive picture to prospective candidates.

In January, team owner Jimmy Haslam and chief executive officer Joe Banner were effectively starting with a blank slate. All that had been in place through the 2012 season – including then-coach Pat Shurmur and his staff – was done so by a previous administration. Haslam and Banner had no tangible proof of the sort of organization a coaching candidate would join.

This time, they do.

This time, while touring a practice facility that recently underwent a $5-million renovation, they can talk about the many moves that were made to field a younger team in the 2013 season and to allow for the addition of much more talent to a roster that is sending five players to the Pro Bowl.

They can talk about creating upwards of $25 million in salary-cap space by unloading the salaries of older and mostly less productive players such as linebacker Chris Gocong ($5.5 million), cornerback Dimitri Patterson ($5 million), defensive lineman Frostee Rucker ($4 million), linebacker Scott Fujita ($3.8 million), tight end Benjamin Watson ($3 million), and safety Usama Young ($2 million). Watson had been the team’s most productive tight end in ’12, but his replacement, Jordan Cameron, performed well enough to earn his first trip to the Pro Bowl.

As a result of those transactions, the Browns not only were able to take an aggressive approach to the free-agency market in the offseason – landing younger corps defensive components such as outside linebacker Paul Kruger, defensive lineman Desmond Bryant, and reserve outside linebacker/special-teams ace Quentin Groves – but also putting themselves in position to have about $30 million in cap space, third-highest in the NFL.

In 12 starts before developing an irregular heartbeat that ended his season prematurely, Bryant had a team-leading 32 quarterback-harassments, along with 3 ½ sacks. He is expected to be a full strength by the start of offseason workouts. Before suffering a season-ending ankle injury, Groves was a dynamic force on special teams and registered a pair of sacks. He, too, should make a full recovery.

The Browns can talk about the spark that free-agent quarterback Brian Hoyer provided in two games before suffering a season-ending knee injury, and his potential to, at the very least, serve as a bridge for a quarterback selected in May’s draft.

They can talk about the tremendous promise that running back Dion Lewis, acquired in an offseason trade with the Philadelphia Eagles, showed (with 4.5-yards-per-carry and 5.3-yards-per-catch averages in the preseason) before suffering a season-ending broken leg.

They can talk about the raw athletic skills that draft picks such as outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo and defensive lineman Armonty Bryant possess and can greatly develop.

And they can talk about owning 10 picks, including two in the first round and seven of the first 122, in the 2014 NFL Draft. 

That sets the stage for the most crucial offseason the Browns have faced in years. If they can land a quality coach and continue with the same thoughtful approach to player transactions that they displayed in 2013, then 2014 has a chance to be a transformative year for the organization.

“I think that we’re going to be thorough in really researching and understanding who the candidates who are out there that we should be talking to,” Banner said during an appearance on “Cleveland Browns Daily, Driven by Liberty Ford.” “And, hopefully from that, we bring our past experiences with some successes and what happened last year.

“Obviously, we’re making a change, so we feel we could have done a better job. And, hopefully both of those learning curves come together and put us in a position to get it right.”

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