I had to check Pro Football Reference, but I did confirm that the Browns are not a new expansion team. They have been back in the league for over a dozen seasons. Of course, since the Sports Gods hate Cleveland, the team has seemed to run in place for years. They have not solved their quarterback problems for any length of time since Tim Couch got hurt over 9 years ago. They have not found a consistent head coach, either. Both Butch Davis (3+ years) and Romeo Crennel (4 years) lead the team with 24 coaching wins since the Browns re-entered the NFL. Sadly, 2012 felt like another season where the Browns were running in place. There is good news, but we will get to that later.
After another messy season at quarterback, running back and wide receiver in 2011, management decided to try to change that. It should be noted that a complete lack of offense has been a trend as well. Since 1999, the Browns have finished higher than 24th in points scored in just two seasons (2007, 2002). Coincidentally, the Browns drafted a quarterback who was selected by the Yankees in 2002. After giving up on minor league baseball and going to school at Oklahoma State, Cleveland hoped that Brandon Weeden would show a heightened development level than younger quarterbacks in the draft. Earlier, the Browns traded up one spot to make sure they got Trent Richardson, the best running back available. After that, they gave up their 2nd round pick in 2013 to get Josh Gordon, a talented receiver who had some issues at Utah and Baylor before being suspended for the 2011 season. They also selected Travis Benjamin in the 4th round of the draft. After that, they helped their defensive line depth with John Hughes and Billy Winn a year after getting Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor.
Other than late draft picks, the Browns left themselves a hole at linebacker while Scott Fujita's situation got figured out in New Orleans (he also was hurt), but the plan seemed sound. Unfortunately, the 2012 season was undermined by some typical Browns luck as well as obvious ineptitude at head coach.
First, the bad luck. Brandon Weeden ended up to be the fifth or fourth ranked quarterback of the five big names from the 2012 NFL Draft, depending on how you rank Ryan Tannehill. Due to age, it is easy to rank Weeden 5th. He did complete over 57% of his passes, but threw 17 interceptions compared with 14 touchdowns. Tannehill was a tick higher with his completion rate and had 12 touchdows matched with 13 interceptions. Either way, I will not spew out the stats of Andrew Luck or RGIII or Russell Wilson simply because I'd like Browns fans to finish this article before throwing something.
Then, Trent Richardson broke some ribs during the second game of the season, robbing him of much of his explosiveness. The injury, along with some questionable play calling, did not allow Richardson to get 300 carries or 1,000 yards, but he did have one of the better rookie seasons by a running back in team history. His 11 touchdowns on the ground broke a rookie record and his yardage (950) broke Jim Brown's rookie rushing record.
Still, the offense was better. They scored 85 more points than 2011 while Greg Little played better with some help around him. Gordon and Benjamin (when healthy) were both deep threats while Gordon showed some all around game. In 2011, Josh Cribbs "led" the team with a 12.6 yards per catch while Gordon (16.1) and Benjamin (16.6) easily eclipsed that mark this last season. Greg Little reduced his drops and got his average to over 12 yards a catch.
Defensively, the Browns lost Phil Taylor early in camp, but the injury allowed Hughes and Winn prove that they could be valuable commodities. Sheard paced the Browns with 7 sacks as the team finished with respectable performances in certain games, but the problem was with the Browns secondary. Joe Haden was suspended for the use of a banned substance and never seemed to find his groove during the season. There was age problems, whether the player was still too young (Buster Skine) or too old (Sheldon Brown). The hole at linebacker was obvious as far too many tackles were made by the secondary. D'Qell Jackson led the team with a paltry 63 tackles.
While the team forced five turnovers in week one against Philadelphia and then forced 8 against the Steelers, they had 12 total games where they forced one or zero turnovers. That stat alone could be a microcosm that could describe the inconsistency with the 2012 version of the defense that fell from 5th in points allowed to 19th.
By the end of the season, the Browns looked like a better football team than the one that began 2-8. The results showed on the field with a 3-3 finish.
The last theme on the field was the poor decision-making by a head coach who often seemed overwelmed by his job. Although hindsight is 20/20, it is hard to find more legitimate head-scratching by any fan base other than the Browns in 2012. Shurmur had an instance where he had nine 3rd and 1 or 4th and 1 opportunities in a game and never attempted one rushing play despite the historical conversion rate being higher with a run than a pass. Despite obvious injury, Richardson was still out on the field plenty, but did not receive the football more than 14 times in 6 of his 15 starts. If Shurmur was concerned with his on-going injuries, why wasn't another back on the field more often? Shurmur also had times where he would pass up an obvious 4th down try only to go for it in a worse situation later. He tried challenges that gained little advantage and used up timeouts. His clock management skills seemed to be from the AP class at the Andy Reid School of Bad Clock Management. Bill Barnwell wrote about him a lot; never a good sign.
Of course, the biggest news of the year was the relief most Browns felt when Jimmy Haslam III was announced as the new majority owner of the Cleveland Browns. As expected, ownership change did bring plenty of off-season change to the Browns regime.
WHAT CAN BE DONE:
A lot already has been done. There is a completely new regime in town and some of the hires have drawn plenty of scrutiny. Mike Lombardi has a history in Cleveland that many people still do not have fond memories of. Because Tom Heckert's draft record seems to be a good one, it will take time for Lombardi to endear himself with Cleveland fans. Ray Horton has been brought in after he transformed the Cardinals defense in Arizona. Despite his track record, there still is question marks around that move because the players went to management lauding Dick Jauron for the job he did in just keeping the team together last season. Also, the team's talent does not seem to fit Horton's preferred 3-4 scheme.
Still, all of the moves have to give hope to Browns fans. The best one is probably that Rob Chudzinski brought in one of his mentors, Norv Turner, to be OC. No matter how I felt about Turner as a HC in San Diego, bringing him in as OC is a smart move that should lead to results. Also, Chudzinski has some experience with getting value out of his quarterbacks.
Of course, quarterback is still the biggest question on the Browns roster. People who do not believe in Weeden see a quarterback with a strong arm who has no mobility and has a bad habit of not setting his feet when he throws, leading to inaccurracy. In other words, a slightly better version of Derek Anderson. People who believe in Weeden think that he still needs development like any young quarterback and the Browns can hope for a 5-7 year solid career instead of 10-15 seasons. They also think that Shurmur was so bad that no one could have run an offense that never seemed to know what to do next.
Despite a history of trading down that makes Browns fans cringe, this might be a good year to do it. Remember, one of those moves had the Browns "miss out" on Mark Sanchez, a decision that seems better in hindsight even if the extra picks never panned out. Also, who was going to throw Julio Jones the deep ball? Anyway, the Browns need linebackers like Stuart Smalley needs his morning intervention. They need corners. They need a tight end. Going out to get somebody like Brandon Myers while attempting moves for some of the big names forcibly coming off of the books in the coming days would help. They could even go after someone like Greg Jennnings. Trading down in a draft where the 8th pick is similar to the 28th pick is also a smart thing. Perhaps they can get their 2nd round pick back. The Browns are a candidate to turn around quickly. Last season they were a 7-9 or 8-8 team that happened to go 5-11.