“Just wait till next year,” has been a common mantra for Cleveland Browns faithful, usually starting around week 4 or 5 of the NFL season. Once the season ends, we set our eyes upon that magical ‘next year’, while mock draft season gets in full swing. Almost all fans of the brown and burnt-orange are guilty of exuding this type of optimism in the months leading up to the NFL draft, where the newest top 10 pick is gonna be ‘the guy’. It’s undoubtedly needed to get through the constant 4 or 5 win seasons that have become as expected as a new head-coach introductory press conference in Berea. With that said, I believe in earnest that this year is ‘the year before next year’.
When I say ‘The year’ I mean seeing those beautiful (to the dawgpound faithful at least) orange helmets in playoff football. Not since Derek Anderson brought the season right down to the wire in ’07 has optimism in Cleveland been so high for any meaningful football. Now though, it appears those days could be just over the horizon, with plenty of reasons for Browns fans to get excited for Sundays once again.
Existing Young Talent
The amount of young talent already on the roster has been overlooked nationally, but as the Kansas City Chiefs showed this year, just a few pieces can help jump start a big turnaround. Of the teams last year with at least five pro-bowlers (49ers, Chiefs, Seattle, Denver, New Orleans and Cleveland) only the Browns did not make the playoffs. Josh Gordon, Joe Haden and Jordan Cameron provide a steady base of youth for new GM Ray Farmer to build upon, while veterans Joe Thomas and Alex Mack (presumably; still waiting on him to officially sign the one year transition tag) plus new comers Karlos Dansby and Donte Whitner will be counted on to provide the type of proven leadership needed to push a young and inexperienced roster to new heights.Johnny Cleveland has a nice ring, don’t you agree?
Deep Draft Class
Perhaps the biggest reason to be optimistic is the NFL draft approaching in May. This particular draft class is being lauded as one of the deepest in years at many key positions. The Browns are in arguably the best position of any team, with 3 selections in the top 35 and seven picks scattered throughout the first four rounds. While many national pundits focus on the Bridgewaters, Clowneys and Manziels expected at the top of the draft, it is these additional picks later in the opening rounds that could yield a great influx of talent for the Browns. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if a heavy dose of rookies make the final roster out of camp.
All of this leads me to believe the Browns are really going to set themselves up well for years to come by taking this next season to stabilize the roster and build an even bigger core of young and hungry players. Even if the font office doesn’t believe that the ever-elusive ‘franchise quarterback’ is there this year, they have a ton of options with the first few picks to set up the rest of the offense (namely an interior guard and a wideout opposite Flash Gordon), while complementing the already imposing defense that head coach Mike Pettine is itching to get his hands on. It also shouldn’t be overlooked that even after some big splashes in free agency, Cleveland is sitting pretty in terms of the salary cap. If they can sign Joe Haden to an extension (which all signs point towards) and hit on a few of their draft picks, the Dawg Pound is going to start showing a lot more bite in the years to come.