BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – The release of Joe Haden last Wednesday stunned the Browns’ locker room.
It was another harsh reminder of the business of the NFL, and the direction of the Cleveland Browns.
Gone was another experienced veteran to make way for a younger, more inexperienced player.
“It was crazy to say the least, but he handled it well,” cornerback Jamar Taylor, acquired during the 2016 draft from Miami, said of Haden’s release
It also called into question once again, what exactly are the Browns trying to accomplish this season? Are they really trying to win? Or are they once again content with gathering a bunch of high draft picks courtesy of another miserable football season?
“Honestly, this is always about winning,” head coach Hue Jackson said Monday when asked that very question. “I don’t know any other way to do it. I think our players see it that way, too.
“I understand where you are coming from and what it looks like, but I think every day everything we do is built towards winning.”
Jackson preached the same “winning” mantra a year ago as they limped through the worst season in franchise history finishing 1-15.
The release of versatile but 32-year old offensive lineman John Greco was another punch to the gut, at least on the offensive side of the ball.
“It’s [lousy],” left guard Joel Bitonio, who signed a 5-year, $51 million extension in the offseason, said. “Anytime you see a guy like that leave – he’s been here for six years – it was tough for me. That was one of the tougher cuts. But you understand it’s a business. We’re working in a different direction right now.
“It’s part of the game, but it isn’t one of the ones you look forward to.”
There’s little doubt that Jackson and his players want to win, but do they really have the tools and players to do it?
It doesn’t appear that they do.
Simply put, the release of Haden and Greco reinforce the draft and develop mantra of the front office. The weekend didn’t get better for the Browns who swallowed $15.225 million of quarterback Brock Osweiler’s salary. They’re perfectly content with that second-round pick they also got from Houston in that trade.
Haden wasn’t the only first-round pick jettisoned. Cameron Erving was shipped off to Kansas City after being a miserable failure at guard, center and tackle over 2 seasons.
Then kicker Cody Parkey, who bounced back from missing 3 of 6 field goals in his debut last September in Miami to make 17 of his final 19 attempts on the season, was replaced with 2016 Lou Groza award winner and seventh round-pick Zane Gonzalez.
Cleveland also rebuilt half their receiving corps over the weekend including acquiring Sammie Coates, who developed a reputation for dropped passes, injuries and lack of mental toughness, from the Steelers.
As of Monday night they had 4 quarterbacks on the roster because they wanted to take a “look-see” at former Ravens QB Josh Woodrum, who is on his 6th team since going undrafted in 2016 while going with just 4 cornerbacks.
They’re also the youngest roster in the league with an average age of 25.
Of the Browns’ 53-man roster, 26 have been added through the draft – 18 in the last 2 years – 43 players have been added since 2016 and 25 of those this year alone. That’s how drastic has this gut to the studs rebuild has been.
And why it sure looks on paper like winning isn’t exactly the top priority of the front office.
“I don’t think that they have any other agenda,” Jackson said in defense of executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta. “I know sometimes when you look at transactions and all those things… But I think there is a plan and a purpose to what we are doing and I think we are getting there. I think you guys can see the team has improved, and I think we will improve. We have to go do it when it counts in these games that are coming up now.”
To Jackson’s point, the Browns went 4-0 in the preseason after going winless a year ago and the defense didn’t allow a touchdown in the final 3 preseason games. That is a major plus.
First-round picks Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers have consistently shown their potential in practice and during the preseason, a sight rarely seen in Cleveland when it comes to top draft picks. Another plus for the Browns.
Combine those 2 additions with the $120-plus million invested in a rebuilt offensive line this offseason and maybe things are finally looking up for the perennial doormat and laughingstock of the NFL.
For Jackson, the glass definitely looks half full.
“When I look at our roster, it is better. I think it is stronger,” Jackson said. “I think there is more talent on our football team. When I watch our defense play, I see a defense that has a chance to be really good. I see a young, promising quarterback.
“I think that is how you start to build a team. I have watched what we have done in free agency with the offensive line and defensive line. Those things are positives for our football team.”
Bitnio is just one of several players who not only see, but believe in the plan, even if those outside the building – fans and media – do not.
“We’re going to deal with the guys we have here,” Bitonio said. “It’s unfortunate you can’t keep everybody. To lose a couple guys who have been in the program a while is tough, but we know Coach Jackson and Sashi have a plan and we’re trying to go 1-0 this week.”