When NFL players who aren't under contract and their agents evaluate which teams to choose from, the Browns are now going to find themselves high among that list. Why? Here are five reasons.
1) The defensive scheme
When players were first introduced to Mike Pettine this spring, the head coach put up a slideshow in front of the team. The presentation averaged the defensive statistics of the Ravens, Jets and Bills – all while Pettine was with those teams – and compared the numbers to NFL teams since 2006. The result? Pettine's system ranked in the top 10 of nearly every category; third down percentage, sacks, turnover margin etc. Defensive players aren't just coming to Cleveland anymore. They are coming to Cleveland to thrive.
2) A new atmosphere
Team owner Jimmy Haslam tells employees to call him by his first name. Team president Alec Scheiner recently played in a shuffleboard tournament against the entire office. General manager Ray Farmer wears Nike shorts and Cleveland Browns t-shirts. Gone are the days of the past, when many thought the Browns front office took themselves way too seriously. Haslam, Scheiner and Farmer are constantly working together in unison to restore the Browns into winners. An example of how well they work together came in March, when the brass flew out to California to meet with Pro Bowler Alex Mack. A deal wasn't hammered out with Mack on the spot, but the center told reporters he was "impressed," by the Browns. Eventually, Haslam, Scheiner and Farmer want to be regarded as the best front office operation in the business. This healthy relationship and an engaged owner truly could make the difference in Cleveland. The trio's energy and belief in each other's abilities, alongside Pettine, is a breath of fresh air in Berea.
3) "Playing like a Brown"
Mike Pettine has made it clear: if someone doesn't play football competitively and to his standard, then that player won't be a Cleveland Brown. Pettine knows talk is cheap, so the Browns did release some players this offseason who didn't fit his program's mold. This type of commitment to having the most focused players possible is attractive to free agents who want to win now.
4) The Browns aren't just drafting football players; they are drafting people
Talk to anyone of the six Browns draft picks from the 2014 class. All of them could be described as intelligent, well-spoken, and persevering individuals. Justin Gilbert shook off a so-so junior season to become one of the best cornerbacks in the country. Duke Johnson Jr. was able to deal with an unbelievable amount of distractions to post some of the best SEC statistics we've ever seen. Joel Bitonio and Chris Kirksey both lost their fathers while they were in college, and used the tragedy to push their football careers further. Terrance West and Pierre Desir didn't let going to small schools deter them from reaching the NFL. But all six of those players know their slate is wiped clean now. The 2014 draft class has high expectations within their own group. That's something the Browns will expect going forward.
5) Cleveland has become a better place to live
Take it from me, someone who just moved from Washington D.C. to the revitalized downtown. A friend who visited me called Cleveland "charming," and it's easy to agree. According to WKYC, the city's population skyrocketed in 2013. Cleveland's restaurant scene is one of the most underrated in the country. Places like Little Italy and the West Side Market are staples of why people keep moving back into the city. Why do movies like Captain America keep coming back to film in Cleveland? Because the skyline and uniqueness of the city truly do stand out. Don't count out the new renovations at FirstEnergy stadium either, which will make the game day experience better for both fans and players. The city itself can now actually be boasted as a pitch to potential Cleveland Browns free agents.