The Browns have to grow up -- and fast
The Cleveland Browns have 99 problems -- that's both a cheesy rap-song reference and a rough estimate -- and, if a recent CBSSports.com article outlining those problems is to be believed, ex-offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan facilitated his exit with a 32-point presentation to head coach Mike Pettine about why he should be let out of his contract.
He eventually was. The quarterbacks coach who admittedly texted with Johnny Manziel on draft night last spring and reportedly showed them to team owner Jimmy Haslam in a push to draft Manziel has been fired. The text messages everyone's been talking about in recent weeks, though, are ones the NFL is investigating and supposedly were sent from the owner's suite to the sideline and/or coaching box during games. Wednesday brought reports that Browns general manager Ray Farmer and the team face sanctions for that texting incident.
The list could go on, and it does. It's been an ugly offseason for the Browns, who are still five weeks from being able to add any new players via signing or trade. And whether or not any of the latest whispers and accusations about what's gone on inside the walls of the team's ever-changing and apparently cursed headquarters are true, there are a few problems.
The Browns are looking up at the rest of the AFC North again. The Browns are searching for a quarterback again. And all that's been out there, from texting and partying and bickering and power-hungry suits overstepping their bounds, is pretty par for the course.
True or not, it's all believable. New year, new stories, same circus.
Cue the music. The Browns still have to change both perceptions and reality. Changing results is the only way to squelch this stuff.
The front door has been spinning since the franchise was revived in 1999. Three owners, seven full-time head coaches, a boatload of awful draft picks and dozens of people paid to leave before their contracts expired later, who's really in charge of what is again in question and the team unquestionably has holes to fill on the roster.
The week started with the Browns announcing quarterback Manziel had voluntary placed himself in a rehabilitation clinic, and the next day the team made a statement about the NFL's suspension of at least one year of wide receiver Josh Gordon.
That was before the reports and rumors started flying. There's been no straight answer on the reports of text messages going from higher-ups to the sideline, and there's no reason a coach would have his cell phone during a game. But the CBSSports.com article said "it was not unusual for (Farmer) to call and/or text former Browns quarterback coach Dowell Loggains in the coaches box during game days."
That's against the rules. Much of the rest just goes against common sense in regards to football people trying to win football games.
Among the accusations made in the article were . . .
• That "things are worse than ever" in the organization and that "Haslam has brought nothing but misery and instability."
• That "at 6 a.m. every Monday, Pettine is joined by Farmer and (team president Alec) Scheiner to watch film, with the division between ownership and day-to-day coaching decisions becoming increasingly blurred."
• That Haslam vetoed a 2013 in-season deal that would have rid the Browns of Gordon for a second-round pick and other compensation.
• That the front office was pro-Manziel and the coaching staff pro-Brian Hoyer during a quarterback staredown that nobody won last November and December. Things were so icy, the story said, that Haslam and Scheiner didn't congratulate Hoyer after a wild comeback win in Atlanta in late November.
• That Justin Gilbert -- the guy picked before Manziel who allowed himself to be further forgotten by barely being ready to contribute last season -- showed up for a 1 p.m. game at 11:45 a.m.
• That Shanahan presented Pettine with a 32-point presentation on why he should be able to leave. Lawyers got involved, the sides eventually signed off on allowing Shanahan to leave and awkward statements were released. The best jobs in Cleveland are Browns player and Browns lawyer.
In summation, the article made it seem less like the inmates are running the asylum than it made it sound like someone closed the asylum and didn't bother to tell anyone still inside.
Farmer spent most of January on the All-Star game circuit, traveling the country to see draft prospects himself. Pettine went to the Senior Bowl but wasn't there long because he was hiring a new offensive coordinator. Haslam told the media that key members of the organization were taking off on a retreat to plot strategy for the months ahead. That he said the owner and team president would be involved in football talks was a hint that at least some of the stuff floating out there now is true.
Gordon's antics and attitude after coming off suspension late last season begged the Browns to just move on from him. The rumor mill links Manziel and Gordon as partying buddies, and the track record of both makes that believable, even before both no-showed the final walkthrough the day before the season finale. Gordon was suspended. Manziel, who was injured, still made the trip, though Pettine made Manziel and Gilbert, also suspended, watch that game from the locker room.
Read that again. The head coach made his two first-round picks stay in the locker room for a game.
After news leaked last week that another suspension was coming, Gordon claimed via an online essay bearing his name that he didn't have a single drink from July until January, when he admitted he had four drinks on a private jet. The Browns wide receivers coach last season, Mike McDaniel -- who's now left the team -- was on that flight and is in pictures that have circulated of Gordon and other players holding cups and smiling for the camera.
Some of the stuff out there may be either fabricated or passed along by people with an axe to grind. But whether you're watching from afar or reading it via a text message sent from the owner's suite, you can see why it's all believable.
Somewhere amid the rest of this week's news and rumors, someone on Twitter or the radio floated a rumor that the Browns are willing to part with multiple picks and move up in this year's NFL Draft to select quarterback Marcus Mariota. It gained some steam because rumors do, because the Browns need a quarterback, because there's always some sort of story floating from somewhere near the team's offices.
Farmer was promoted 51 weeks ago, out of seemingly nowhere on a snowy morning after Haslam fired the team's CEO and general manager. Those guys had overseen the search for Pettine last January. Pettine hired Shanahan. Pettine became the first coach Haslam didn't fire at the end of a season since he took ownership in October 2012.
What's next? Who's next? Who's going to be a fall guy? Who might be a hero?
No one knows, obviously. But just about anything would be believable.