Five-foot tall cardboard boxes stood in front of each Browns player's locker Monday. The sound of packing tape flying off the roll filled the air as players walked through the room where they spent nearly every day of the past four months one last time before departing for the offseason.
With the Browns parting ways Sunday with general manager Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine, Cleveland players left for their respective offseason destinations understandably uncertain of what's next.
The frustration of a 3-13 finish lingered with all of them. Offensive lineman Joel Bitonio spoke for many when he said part of the blame for Farmer's and Pettine's respective removals fell on the players, too.
"We didn't win enough games for him. It is not just on the coaches. It is on the players," Bitonio said. "We didn't perform well enough. I think the whole thing wasn't quite good enough, and that is what happens in the NFL."
Shortly before meeting with reporters, the players gathered for a meeting with owner Jimmy Haslam and newly appointed executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown. For many, it was an introduction to Brown, who held the role as Cleveland's executive vice president-general counsel since January 2013. It was not for wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, who called Brown "very impressive."
"I am a fan of Sashi Brown and the way he approaches things," Hawkins said. "I think he has the knowledge. If he has been in it long enough to understand everything, then I am all for it. I am on the side of putting Sashi Brown in charge."
The message to the players was similar to what Haslam delivered in a press conference late Sunday: The Browns leadership is determined to get the franchise turned around after a season that disappointed absolutely everyone inside the Berea facility.
"The fans deserve a winner," Hawkins said. "We have the best fan base in the National Football League, which is the truth, and they deserve to have a team that reflects the reason why they are so loyal. I think that is his goal and that is everything he laid out for us in the meeting."
Running back Isaiah Crowell called it a "sad day for everybody" but stressed there's nothing the players can do now but put themselves in the best position to succeed for whomever is hired to replace Pettine.
"They're just looking for coaches and (we) have to just come back strong, get our bodies healthy and come back strong ready for next season," Crowell said.
In his press conference Sunday, Haslam talked up a number of the Browns' selling points -- great franchise, great fans, lots of draft picks, strong core of young talent -- but conceded that the state of the team was a "several-year rebuilding program." Tight end Gary Barnidge, who recently signed a contract extension and said Monday he had no regrets in doing so, was confident whoever is hired would turn things around sooner rather than later.
"It's happened to other teams. You can win the next year. That happens," Barnidge said. "You just never know what's going to happen. You just have to come and be ready to go each year."