The Browns will exit 2018 with fewer questions to answer than they entered with, but a sizable question still looms
Who will coach the team?
Will the Browns retain Gregg Williams and/or Freddie Kitchens? And if not, who will replace them? It's among the most important choices John Dorsey's management team will decide during its tenure. After all, the future of the team is at stake.
The players don't quite see it that way, however. In their minds, the Browns' future rests in their hands, regardless of who's wearing headsets.
"This is a players' team," wide receiver Jarvis Landry said. "Our team is the locker room."
Landry and his teammates adopted this mentality when the Browns changed coaches midseason. They believed the season was headed in one of two directions. One would lead to more losses and dysfunction, an abject diversion from the goals they'd set early in the season.
The other? To band together and raise their standards. That's the direction the players chose, and that's a large reason why the Browns boast one of the most attractive head-coaching destinations in the league.
"We decided that we weren't going to give in," center JC Tretter said. "We were gonna give everything we got and do whatever we can to turn everything around."
For his part, Tretter played through a high ankle sprain for the second half of the season. He never entertained the thought of sitting out because he considered it giving in, and he'd promised his teammates he wouldn't. Sentiments like that are why emotions poured out of the Browns locker room after Sunday's loss in Baltimore.
Veteran guard Joel Bitonio said the end of every year is emotional, especially when a team loses its last game. This year's emotions stemmed from different origins, though. A group of teammates that considered each other family knew that their family would change next season. This exact group would never be replicated.
Dorsey took note of the emotions flowing through the locker room. He saw an exhausted group. But the investment that led to the exhaustion is what gives him great faith that the Browns will excel under whoever is named the next coach.
"It was a little emotional after last night's game, but there were strength of men in that locker room," Dorsey said. "And there is nothing better than the strength of the men in that locker room to lead those younger players and lead this organization. They are looking forward to 2019 and they will set that bar very high for themselves as well, and that is all you can ask for."
So when next year rolls around, the returning Browns will be challenged with recreating that bond with a new batch of teammates. Those new teammates won't share the experience that this year's group shared, but they'll be introduced to a new coach, just like the 2018 Browns were midseason.
And the 2018 Browns know how to navigate that situation.
"We play for (our teammates)," defensive end Myles Garrett said. "Keeping that same mentality from this year to next year, and we'll be able to hold firm through whatever happens through the offseason."