“The Times They Are A-Changin’” – Bob Dylan‘s iconic song seemed to be the theme for the 2014 Cleveland Browns after they sat with a record of 7-4 following a week 12 win over the Atlanta Falcons. It seemed as though the Browns finally were taking that step forward that had proven elusive for the past decade. These didn’t seem like your father’s Browns, the times indeed seemed to be changing.
Then it all came crashing down as the Browns proceeded to lose their remaining five games – a late season meltdown that was all too reminiscent of 2013 when the team lost their final seven games of the season.
To make matters worse, news came this past weekend of turbulence stemming from the three players Cleveland is penning their future to – another Josh Gordon suspension, Johnny Manziel being fined for missing treatment and growing concerns surrounding Justin Gilbert‘s struggles since being drafted eighth overall this season (not to mention being late for meetings).
This leaves the Browns in a very precarious position, and this offseason will go a long way into determining how the next decade could play out in Cleveland. With quarterback, wide receiver and cornerback being three of the most vital positions in football today, the Browns cannot afford any more mishaps. This upcoming offseason will be the first time in which general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine will spend the entirety of the offseason working together, and it will be crucial that they not falter.
It is becoming increasingly evident that the embattled receiver is in need of a change in scenery, at best. Two years ago we were shown the possibilities of what Gordon could bring to the Browns, and there was a time he was one of (if not the) most explosive receivers in the game. However, it has become obvious that there are more important things to Gordon than football and that is clearly leaving an impact on his game.
Of the three “troubled” players, Gordon seems like the most likely to go. Time and time again, the Browns have given Gordon second chances, yet he continues to ruin his career. Even after returning from suspension late during the 2014 season, Gordon was never the same. He often seemed disinterested, running lackluster routes and failing to beat cornerbacks at the line of scrimmage.
Gordon’s talent is worth trying to overcome troubled issues, but the Browns and Gordon have run their course. For an organization trying to instill a winning mindset within an immature clubhouse, severing ties with Gordon once and for all seems like the inevitable way to go.
Gilbert is going nowhere, and luckily for the Browns they have Joe Haden to ease the burden on the rookie cornerback. Unfortunately, Gilbert seemed in over his head for the majority of the 2014 season. Starting just two of fourteen games this season and being “essentially suspended” for the season finale, one could easily chalk up this season to being a lost cause for Gilbert.
While most rookies experience struggles their first year in the league, it is the lack of growth from Gilbert that is giving many in the Cleveland organization second thoughts. The former Oklahoma State standout has been guilty of poor mechanics and a lack of physicality at the line of scrimmage, just to mention a few.
Gilbert was drafted with the hopes of creating one of the best cornerback duos in the game alongside Haden. Instead, the Browns are now hoping to find a way to at least turn Gilbert into a viable nickle or third down cornerback. His mighty struggles created a liability in the passing game, and his inability to make it to meetings on time have done very little to warrant sympathy from the Browns’ front office and coaching staff.
Like Gordon, Gilbert has all of the intangibles to become a very successful cornerback, making it all that more infuriating when his struggles continue to accumulate. Of the three players, Gilbert is the least likely to to be moved. He possesses great upside and the Browns can hide him behind Haden and others in the secondary. In fact, the emergence of Tashaun Gipson has allowed the Browns to absorb Gilbert’s struggles and given the team more time to develop the young corner.
Who knows what to make of the rumors of the Browns looking at possibilities to move Manziel, but the chances of that happening are slim to none. You don’t spend a first round pick on a quarterback only to jettison him after just 35 pass attempts (although, this is the same ownership that fired Rob Chudzinski after less than a year on the job). However, with that being said, Manziel is unlikely to receive the third and fourth chances Gordon has been give from the Browns. Not only is Manziel a far more inferior talent, but the Browns have likely learned from their mistakes with Gordon (or at least let’s hope they have).
“Words don’t mean anything.” That is what Farmer said in response to Manziel continuing to talk his way out of recent poor decision-making. Even though he would beg to differ, Farmer’s words mean everything and this shows that the Browns organization is already growing quite tired of Manziel’s antics – and rightfully so.
Many of the concerns surrounding Manziel leading up to the 2014 draft resided around his off the field lifestyle – partying, drinking, etc. Many assumed Manziel was more infatuated with the lifestyle of a NFL star than actually putting forth the work to be said star. And a year into his professional career, he has done nothing to prove otherwise.
In years past, we would say that the Browns “desperately need Manziel to be the quarterback they had hoped for when they drafted him”. But really, that is no longer the case. These Browns have created a very strong roster, especially on the defensive side of the football. Not to mention, the offense has plenty of weapons to be a threat (as Brian Hoyer showed a few times this season). The Browns don’t necessarily need Manziel in order to be relevant once again. What they need is a competent quarterback who can lead them without being a distraction.
If a team is willing to ship Cleveland a third round pick in exchange for Manziel, a deal could be made. Though, admittedly, a third rounder for the type of play we have seen from Manziel in seven quarters as quarterback is a bit ludicrous. Right now he is worth a fifth rounder at best.
What becomes interesting now is how the Browns proceed. They have burnt the Hoyer bridge, so forget about him coming back to Cleveland. And since going “all in” with Manziel at the end of the season, they have to give him another shot, assuming he is still on the roster (which is almost a sure bet).
A name to keep an eye on is quarterback Mark Sanchez. Filling in for the injured Nick Foles in Philadelphia, Sanchez had moments in which he looked like the guy Rex Ryan had thought he drafted back in 2009. He still had his ups and downs, but Sanchez would give the Browns something to work with in 2015, and a solid “Plan B” to Manziel.
Another quarterback to consider in case of a Manziel implosion would be Sam Bradford. Bradford could be on his way out in St. Louis after failing to find a way to stay healthy during his tenure there, and a change of scenery to Cleveland could be in order. It would be a low-risk move for the Browns. Very little can be expected of Bradford these days, but he has the potential to be a serviceable quarterback when healthy.
With all of that being said, it feels as though something is about to give with this Manziel situation. His attitude seems to be exactly what the Browns are attempting to move away from, yet their quarterback of the future perfectly exemplifies all that the Cleveland Browns once were – a joke.
If owner Jimmy Haslam has shown us anything since taking over the team it is that he is unafraid of quickly cutting his loses and moving on (sorry, Chud). If Farmer and Pettine do not believe any of these three players will help the Browns in 2015, Haslam will move on in order to find a way of improving the team.
As ESPN‘s Chris Mortensen and SBNation pointed out, “[Haslam] is determined to find a ‘top-15′ quarterback for the team and recognizes Manziel might not be that player after only one season”.
The Browns have a great deal of talent on their roster, and Haslam knows he cannot allow the immaturity of three players risk the true potential of Pettine’s team. That is why this offseason will be the most crucial for the Browns since their return to Cleveland.
We are about to find out if the times really are a-changin’ in Cleveland.
Cover Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images
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