Haslam expects progress, but not domination

PHOENIX — Jimmy Haslam gave no brash predictions for the 2013 Cleveland Browns when he met the local media at the NFL Meetings this week.

His discussion about his team contained his usual candor and enthusiasm, but it was mixed with a heavy dose of realism.

“We’ve won 23 games in the last five years, 14 games in the last three,” Haslam said. “So we’re not going to go 13-3 next year. I think what I’ve stated back to Aug. 3 is we’re going to do this the right way.”

Haslam was the picture of comfort as he sat in a leather chair at the Arizona Biltmore — even if he was the second-most famous man in Cleveland to wear a gingham shirt as he spoke. Saying his team won’t win 13 games fazed him not one bit as he addressed several topics about the Browns.

“I expect us to be better,” he said, “but this is a process and it’s gonna take a little bit of time. When I look at the 49ers and they have 10 guys in the (Pro) Bowl and we have three, and two of ours were special teams players, you can see talent wise we still got a ways to go.”

And … those two Pro Bowl special teamers no longer will be with the Browns, with Josh Cribbs joining the Cardinals soon and Phil Dawson signing with the 49ers. Yes, the Browns allowed two of their three top players to walk, and yes, the word “process” is back in vogue.

But as Haslam spoke, it became evident he was not joking when he said his team’s emphasis will be on building through the draft. He described free-agent spending as nearly complete, and he described the team as far more of a “people business” than his other businesses. The key is hiring the right people.

“The best teams have the best players and the best coaches, right?” Haslam said.

The front office combination of Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi and Rob Chudzinski decided building from the inside-out was wisest.

Which meant focusing on the lines.

“I think we inherited a good offensive line and I think we’ve put in place the makings of potentially a very good defensive line in terms of quantity and quality,” Haslam said.

The Browns added linebackers Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves and defensive lineman Desmond Bryant. They signed Bryant even though he had an ugly offseason incident when he tried, after a night of drinking, to break into a house he thought was his even though police reports said it was three miles from his home.

“To the best of my knowledge or our knowledge, he’s never had any other issue,” Haslam said. “We looked at his background. We knew people at Oakland. Our trainer was there before and spoke highly of him. We had dinner with he and Paul and Paul’s parents last Wednesday night.

“I thought he was a standup guy, very smart, very impressive, and we feel confident he made a mistake. He said he made a mistake and he understands that’s not our expectations. I think not only he’s going to be a really good player, but a really good person off the field.”

Haslam repeated Chudzinski’s recent stance that competition at quarterback can come from within the team, and he said he believes Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner think Brandon Weeden is better suited to their system. He also acknowledged the offense will need attention — but it might not come immediately.

“I wish we could have done on offense what we did on defense but you’ve got to spend your money selectively and smartly,” he said. “A lot of it had to do with the players who were available. The players available that fit the defense Ray (Horton) wanted to play. I’ve got high confidence we’re going to be a lot better on defense. I think Chud and Norv will do a great job with their offense.

“I’ll just continue to state this. You’ll get tired of hearing me say it. This is a process, and we’re in it for the long run and we’’re going to do it over several years. We’re going to do it the right way. I don’t want to be sitting here two years from now and we’re cutting two players because we didn’t use the cap wisely.”

He admitted the Browns saved some salary cap room for the future, and he and Chudzinski both said the priority when they return to Cleveland will be the draft.

“Hopefully we’ll have a good draft, and now that free agency is almost over – it’s not completely over – we can look at the draft and what we can do there,” Haslam said. We have six picks, so that’s a little bit of negative, but we have to do the best we can.”

Yes, the process has returned, with yet another set of folks mentioning said process.

Yes, the same lines have been used before by other regimes. Haslam understands that, but he hopes people also understand he believes in the people he’s hired.

He also understands one bottom-line reality.

“We’ve just got to win,” he said.