- The Cleveland Browns were expected to take a big leap in 2019, but the season turned into a disaster, with the team going 6-10.
- After the season, they fired head coach Freddie Kitchens and GM John Dorsey.
- Reports have since shown that things were a mess all along, with assistants expressing scepticism about Kitchens, and players telling other teams to trade for them.
- The Browns ownership is now leading the search for a new coach and GM, but there is reason to be sceptical that they will get this hire right.
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Before the start of the 2019 NFL season, many predicted the Cleveland Browns to be among the league’s better teams, perhaps contending for the AFC North and a playoff berth.
Those predictions proved ill-fated. The Browns went 6-10, did not make the playoffs, and struggled in ways that have historically been typical of the Browns. Their first-year head coach seemed overwhelmed, their second-year star quarterback regressed, their star receiver wanted out, and their cornerstone defensive piece got suspended indefinitely. That is, to name just a few.
The result was the firing of head coach Freddie Kitchens after just one year and the removal of GM John Dorsey after only two years. Entering the 2020s, the most hapless team of the previous decade is once again looking for a GM and head coach and starting from scratch.
While the roster Dorsey helped assemble had plenty of on-field talent that led to the increased expectations, it seems as if, all along, there were red flags about what was to come.
Concerns about Kitchens’ hiring
According to multiple reports, during the Browns’ head-coaching search last year, Dorsey ultimately landed on Kitchens, the interim offensive coordinator who helped oversee Baker Mayfield’s strong finish to his rookie year. Executive Vice President John DePodesta, however, landed on Minnesota Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski. Dorsey got his way and hired Kitchens.
According to Doug Lesmerises of Cleveland.com, “some former assistants expressed sour grapes about Kitchens and questioned his influence on the offence in 2018.”
Questions about Kitchens’ play-calling proved to be justified. The Browns finished the season 20th in offensive DVOA and were 22nd in total offensive yards and points.
Things got so bad that Kitchens’ staff was actively undermining him. According to The Athletic’s Zac Jackson, late in the season, offensive coordinator Todd Monken would tell opponents before games that the offence was a “total mess” and that Kitchens’ play-calling veered away from what the team planned during the week.
After the fight between the Browns and Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 11, some blamed Kitchens for lack of accountability and discipline across the roster. The Browns were among the league leaders in penalties this season.
A larger mess
The trade for Odell Beckham Jr. was the highlight of the offseason and part of the optimism for the Browns’ 2019 season.
It’s important to note, however, that Beckham did not request a trade from the New York Giants and did not specifically request a move to the Browns.
During the 2019 season, Yahoo’s Charles Robinson and Fox’ Jay Glazer reported that Beckham told opposing players that he wanted to leave the Browns. Video then emerged in which Beckham appeared to tell 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo he wanted to play with him.
Other Browns players reportedly followed Beckham’s suit. NFL Network’s Mike Silver reported that during a Week 15 loss to the Arizona Cardinals, several Browns players were yelling to the Cardinals to trade for them.
It was revealed late in the season that Beckham was playing through a sports hernia. The ongoing injury led Mayfield to criticise the team’s training staff for how the handled it, comments that Mayfield later walked back.
None of it paints a flattering picture for the program that Dorsey built, even if he had acquired talent on the roster.
And it sounds as if things could have been different if Dorsey wasn’t there. According to Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels – currently a candidate for the Browns’ head coach job – would have been interested in the position if Dorsey wasn’t there. According to Cabot, McDaniels “knows how vital the coach-GM relationship is, and will likely want to work with his own guy.”
Scepticism about the next search for coach and GM
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam held a press conference on Thursday to discuss the team’s search for a new head coach and GM.
Haslam revealed that Browns ownership will lead the search for a next coach and that DePodesta will handle the actual process. That group could give Browns fans pause about the
While Dorsey and Kitchens deserve blame for the 2019 season, the Haslams are also a constant in the Browns’ woes. Since the Haslams bought the team in 2012, they have gone through five head coaches and five GMs.
“We realise we’ve had a tremendous amount of change since we bought the team. We accept responsibility,” Haslam told reporters. “At the same time, we’ll be more determined than ever to get it right for the Browns, the players, and the great fans of the Cleveland Browns.”
DePodesta has also been present for three head coaches and two GM changes. DePodesta got his start in baseball, joining the Browns in 2016, and lives in San Diego full-time, coming to Cleveland “a few days a week,” according to Cabot.
Haslam said that the Browns would hire a coach first, then a GM in concert with that coach. The move may be an attempt to persuade McDaniels, who reportedly would be interested in bringing one of the Patriots’ personnel employees with him.
How will a new coach and GM want to shape the roster? Will they try to acquire more talent to accommodate the players they have there, or will they want to move players in an attempt to reshape the culture? Those questions and answers are still down the road, but the Browns, the most promising team of 2019, appear to have taken several steps backward again.
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