Browns are committed to the lakefront, and 7 other things we learned from Dee and Jimmy Haslam at NFL's Annual Meeting

Browns owner Dee Haslam started a conversation last year about an exploration into the viability of the team's current residence along Lake Erie. The waterfront around it is largely undeveloped, which could change with the help of the city. The first order of business, though, is to make FirstEnergy Stadium more accessible to pedestrians and connect it to the rest of downtown Cleveland.

"We are working with looking at the downtown development in general," Haslam said. "So obviously we're committed to being where we are. And we'll make improvements to the stadium. We ask a lot of people about what they think we should do to the stadium and we'll just continue to update it and make it the best possible place it can be. It has its limitations, right? But I think the location and kind of who Cleveland is, if we can develop around there and make it easily accessible to the city, I think the No. 1 thing we've got to do is make it easier to get to our stadium." 

Haslam emphasized the importance of a "connector" to downtown, a bridge over Route 2 that allows pedestrians to cross the road to the stadium unimpeded by automobile traffic. She called such a project "really important to the city." That's the first step toward developing the rest of the lakefront.

Such a vision also includes the existing FirstEnergy Stadium, which Haslam said the Browns are committed to maintaining and improving where it's needed. 

"We're committed and we are committed to, we think the best thing for Cleveland is to stay where we are," Dee Haslam said. "I think we asked the question then if they want us there. If somebody came in with a development program for the waterfront and they said 'the stadium doesn't work there,' would we be willing to talk about moving somewhere else close to town? We feel like it's the best place for us. It's there and it's a community asset that we feel is really important."

Discussions about developing the lakefront have also included the potential repurposing of Burke Lakefront Airport. Haslam said ideas about the area go beyond the airport. 

"There's a lot of discussion on shutting down (Route) 2, making it pedestrian friendly, opening up the waterfront entirely, including the airport," she said. "There's a lot of discussion on that. But I think right now everyone is focused on how do you connect it and then how do you develop what's there. But cities that really do well have that. We have this huge asset, so I think it's really important that we connect to the waterfront. People are moving back into town, right? And you want to be able to run along the water and access the water. I think those are the first two priorities that we have to think about before we think about what else we can do to our stadium."

From a larger standpoint, the Haslams are aware of the important role they and the Browns can play in developing the lakefront.

"I believe we can," Dee Haslam said. "We obviously have a vested interest, so I think we can be very helpful and I think we've already been pretty helpful on what are we waiting on, let's get this going. So I think you'll see there will be some activity there."

Here's what else the Haslams covered in their media session with local reporters Tuesday.

1. New uniforms are around the corner

Dee Haslam confirmed Tuesday the Browns will unveil new uniforms next spring for the 2020 season. The process is still in the final design stages with prototypes and further tweaks on the way. 

When pressed on further information, Haslam remained mum, emphasizing her happiness with what's been produced so far.

"I think we got it right," she said. "I think we got it right. I think you need to be surprised."

For more on the new uniforms, click here.

2. Training camp is staying in Berea

With the added expectations comes a greater attention on the Browns, both from national media and fans. Attendance at training camp is expected to be at capacity, but that isn't pushing the Haslams to move the preseason preparation to a different site.

"We've had a lot of discussions about everything regarding training camp," Jimmy Haslam said. "First of all it's free and it's a great chance for people who may not have the ability to go to a game to come and see the team, and it's a great chance for young people. We've traditionally had good crowds on the weekend, and I hope now we'll have good crowds for every practice." 

"I don't know if we can accommodate everyone but we obviously want to put in more seating," Dee Haslam said in regards to potential changes for expected crowds. "We want to take care of the fans. Most our fans want to watch what's on the field so we will put a big emphasis on providing that and around the edges there will be things for kids. Our primary focus is giving everybody a place to watch. We have talked about (LED video screens) and we'll continue to discuss things."

3. With excitement comes prudence 

The Haslams are just as excited about the team's recent developments as its countless diehard fans. But as with any improvement, caution is advised. 

"We definitely try to temper (expectations)," Dee Haslam said. "Let's take one step at a time. But I think everybody's really excited, but we're like you guys. Let's just take a breath here and take each game as it comes and play to the best of our ability. Get better every day. I think Coach (Freddie Kitchens) says that. I don't know if he's said that to you guys but he says we're going to get better every day." 

The prospect of primetime games is present in nearly any conversation involving the Browns these days, which invigorates ownership. But again, the results must follow the buzz. 

"I think it's really hard to win in the NFL," Dee Haslam continued. "I think each game is really hard. I think you have to take each game as it comes but you know, we're optimistic but I think we're probably like you guys a little bit, right? You're so excited, but on the other hand, let's just take each game as it comes, get excited, get better every day."

4. Kareem Hunt's signing came with plenty of discussion and research

The Browns made the decision last month to sign Kareem Hunt, who was released by the Kansas City Chiefs last season due to off-field incidents that drew him an eight-game suspension for the upcoming season. The Haslams explained the team didn't sign Hunt without doing its due diligence.

"We met with Kareem," Dee Haslam said. "That was the main thing that led us to say yes. He's a really nice young man who obviously made some horrendous mistakes but owns those. He owned them. Wants to do better. Wants to be a better person. Listening to John (Dorsey) and Freddie, they felt confident he would contribute to the team and could do this. It's up to Kareem. He has to prove it. But he's a young man who made a terrible mistake. It's something we put a lot of thought into." 

Jimmy Haslam emphasized such a decision wasn't made overnight.

"It was a marathon. It wasn't a sprint," he said. "John has a long history with Kareem. We started talking about early on, talking almost weekly. We met with Kareem the first time for almost an hour and had a very positive meeting. We continued to do lots of due diligence on him and like Dee said, he made an egregious mistake. Twenty-three years old, tough background, we think he's a nice kid and he's obviously a really good football player. He'll get his second chance. 

"I know people say he should have paid more of a penalty but if you think about the career of a running back, he's paid a pretty good price, right? He's missed five regular season games, two playoff games and now eight games next year, and you get paid per game in the NFL. He knows he cannot make these kind of mistakes again." 

"Everything is up to him," Dee Haslam added. "Obviously there are no guarantees here. He seemed very sincere and very remorseful. He realized his actions were unacceptable."

5. The Haslams believe Freddie Kitchens is the man to lead these Browns

The Haslams helped make the decision to keep Kitchens with the team and elevate him to head coach after the 2018 season, a choice they think works in part because he is an honest, no-nonsense individual who cares most about the team.

"I think he only cares about winning and cares about football," Dee Haslam said. "I don't think all that other stuff will matter to him at all. From our experience being around Freddie and you guys, too, he focuses on the players and coaching the team and the game. all that other stuff I don't think he even notices."

"I think he relates really well to people, all kinds of people, whether it be players, coaches, people that work in the building, the interns," Jimmy Haslam added. "I just think he relates very well to people. He's very comfortable in his own skin, has been around a long time. He has some tremendous mentors. He's just an easy guy to work with now. He hasn't won a game yet as a head coach. He knows that and we know that, but I think we're all very comfortable with Freddie. He won't be perfect just like none of us are, but we're all very comfortable where he is and what he has ahead of him."

6. A year after picking Baker Mayfield at No. 1, the Haslams see a bright future for him

The Browns stunned the NFL when they selected Baker Mayfield with the first overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft. Nearly a year later, they're pleased with their decision and the years ahead. 

"There's no position that compares to quarterback, so when you get a quarterback that can play," Jimmy Haslam explained, "and Baker certainly proved that in his first year, that it looks like he has really good potential, and has dynamic leadership potential which we saw early on both when we visited with him and doing our background checks. You have a two—fer so to speak. We're excited. He turns 24 in two weeks."

7. Life as owners of the Browns is much better a year later

One year ago, the Haslams arrived at the NFL Annual Meeting after their team didn't win a game. Now, coming off a 7-8-1 season, things are looking up. 

"Everybody's always treated us really well," Dee Haslam said about fellow NFL owners. "It's a great partnership among 32 teams, so I haven't noticed (any change in how they're treated). I've just heard, especially from the other media people and the other coaches and the GMs and stuff, they come up and say you guys have done a really good job, so that's great to hear. It's much more fun this year, obviously, than it has been in the past."

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