No quick fix for Browns after 4-12 season
The growing pains were agonizing, the mistakes numerous, the
progress difficult to spot.
The Cleveland Browns had another one of those seasons.
Losing, though, has its rewards in the NFL, which compensates
its worst teams with high draft picks to help them get better.
After going 4-12, the Browns, with one of the league’s youngest
rosters, will have the No. 4 overall selection in April and
Cleveland fans are already frothing at the chance to bring in a
college star like Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III to be their
As he packed his bags for the offseason Monday, Browns
cornerback Sheldon Brown issued a warning to that line of
”My thing is, if you’re dependent on a draft pick to come in
here and change your life, then you’re kidding yourself,” he said.
”This game is too hard.”
It certainly has been for the Browns, who haven’t made the
playoff since 2002. They’ve lost at least 11 games in each of the
past four seasons and a minimum of 10 in eight of the past nine.
Green Bay (15) won more games this season than the Browns (14) have
won in the past three seasons – combined.
And consider this stat: The defending Super Bowl champion
Packers outscored the Browns 560-218.
So while some think Griffin, the Heisman Trophy winner, is the
answer to all of Cleveland’s prayers, Brown believes the Browns
already have the players they need to win consistently.
”The guys here have to step their game up to another level
because they’re experienced,” he said. ”Most rookies get hurt
because they get tired and they don’t understand the speed and the
strength of this game at the professional level. So I’m never sold
on high draft picks.”
It was a turbulent first season in Cleveland for coach Pat
Shurmur, who because of the NFL lockout didn’t have an offseason to
install his new West Coast offense or get to know his team on the
field. He made his share of mistakes, but Brown, who was previously
with Shurmur in Philadelphia, is confident Browns president Mike
Holmgren hired the right coach.
Shurmur has his detractors, but there’s no denying that the
Browns, who went 0-6 in the rugged AFC North, played hard for
”He did a tremendous job,” Brown said. ”Everybody thinks it’s
an easy job, everybody wants to sit in a room and say, `I can do
this better, I can do that better.’ He dealt with the situations to
the best of my knowledge, the best he could, and he kept this
football team fighting. And for me, that’s how I judge a head
”If a football team goes out there and competes week in and
week out, through thick and through thin – and it was very thick
this year – but we didn’t quit. So that tells me that the leader is
Shurmur will discuss his rollercoaster rookie year Tuesday, and
Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert are scheduled to meet the
media Thursday, when they’re sure to be grilled about the team’s
tricky quarterback situation.
Colt McCoy made 13 starts this season, but missed his final
three games with a concussion. The Browns have a better sense of
what McCoy is, and there’s a strong argument to be made for
sticking with him in 2012 after investing so much time into his
But if the Browns – particularly Holmgren – don’t think McCoy
can take them to a Super Bowl, they may look for a starting QB in
free agency, a trade or the draft. With Stanford’s Andrew Luck
expected to go No. 1 overall to Indianapolis, the next best choice
could be Griffin, who resurrected Baylor and would be counted on to
do the same with the Browns.
Brown, for one, isn’t counting on Griffin to ride in to the
”I’m definitely not, and if you are, you’re crazy,” he
Crazy would describe Cleveland’s wild season, which included
costly injuries, endless drama around running back Peyton Hillis,
dropped passes, and tough losses. The Browns lost six games by
seven points or less, dropping their final three by a total of 13
But close doesn’t put anything in the win column, and kicker
Phil Dawson, whose 13th season with the Browns may have been his
best, said the near misses can only help if players learned
something from them.
”We were in a lot of games. It’s death by inches, though,”
said Dawson. ”Are we that close, or is that just the nature of the
league? It depends on your personality, how you’re going to view
that. In my little world, if my plant foot misses the spot by a
quarter-inch, I miss the kick.
”That will probably tell you how I look at it. Everybody looks
at themselves critically and figure out how they can improve. If we
do that, now these close games are coming out in our favor.
Hopefully that’s the way guys respond to it.”
Brown, too, thinks the Browns are nearing legitimacy.
”We’re very close,” said the 10-year veteran. ”It’s one or
two plays each game. You just have to find the playmakers and they
just have to understand the sense of urgency and make the
That sounds like a broken record, but Brown said he hasn’t felt
this way before – not with the Browns.
”I didn’t tell you this last year,” he said. ”I thought we
were way off last year.”
The Browns put their franchise tag on Dawson this season and may
do so again. The 36-year-old said he had a positive exit interview
with team management and was encouraged by Heckert’s recent
comments that the team would like to have him back. It would be
hard to imagine the Browns not re-signing him.
Dawson has served his time – hard time – in Cleveland. The
Browns have gone 68-141 during his tenure, and Dawson would hate
not to be here when things finally get turned around. After waiting
so long, he would hate to miss out on the good times.
”I don’t want to be Moses,” he said. ”I don’t want to lead
the people right to the edge and not get to go in. There’s going to
be so many things, I can’t prioritize them at this point. We just
lost to the Steelers 20 hours ago and that still hurts. I need to
get home and eat a burrito.”
Hopefully, it will go down easier than this season.