The Browns have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, but the inexperience and volatility inside the organization make them a feast or famine team.
Fans in Cleveland have every right to be excited about the potential the Browns possess. That doesn’t mean this roster doesn’t carry a ton of risk heading into the regular season.
The argument for rabid optimism in Northeast Ohio is easy to follow. There’s a ton of big-name talent on this roster. In particular, the emergence of Baker Mayfield as a potential franchise quarterback drastically raises the team’s ceiling. His numbers during the second half of the 2018 campaign are particularly exciting for Browns fans. Once head coach Freddie Kitchens took over for Hue Jackson the offense skyrocketed. Most fans expect that trajectory to continue without a hitch into this season. It could happen.
The addition of Odell Beckham in the offseason also adds explosiveness to the Cleveland attack. He was able to put up All-Pro numbers with the New York Giants despite the rapid decline of Eli Manning. He’s one of the few players in football who can turn a two-yard gain into an 80-yard touchdown.
However, there’s also a possibility that Beckham’s acquisition proves to be a negative for the Browns.
It’s not the most likely outcome, but it’s possible. Beckham is an outspoken player who has a history of being a lightning rod in the media and within his locker room. His recent admission that he felt “disrespected” by the Giants organization sends a clear message of what can happen to the Browns franchise if they aren’t careful. At best, Beckham is a personality who needs to be managed very carefully. At worst, he can become a disruptive distraction capable of ruining the momentum the Browns have worked so hard to muster.
Beckham isn’t the only outspoken player on the Browns roster. The aforementioned gun-slinging quarterback also makes his share of headlines off the field. Getting involved in a war of words with University of Texas quarterback Sam Ehrlinger was a poor decision. As an NFL quarterback, he should have bigger issues on his mind than criticizing a collegiate signal caller. The rivalry between Texas and Oklahoma is intense, but Mayfield’s focus should be elsewhere.
At best, Mayfield’s decision to criticize his former rivals’ quarterback can be called foolish. At worst, they can be classified as a harbinger of things to come.
The line of distinction between these two characterizations is remarkably thin. Just like the difference between winning and losing in the NFL.
The risk of Beckham or Mayfield blowing the Browns off course in 2019 could be effectively minimized by the presence of an experienced head coach to guide them on their way. Unfortunately, that man doesn’t exist.
Freddie Kitchens may turn out to be a great hire for Cleveland, but he’s a complete unknown. Kitchens only has one year as an offensive coordinator at he NFL level under his belt. The learning curve for Kitchens on the sideline may be longer than the curve any of his players are facing this season.
Another way of keeping combustible personalities in line would be to surround them with grizzled veterans who understand what winning in the postseason is like. A quick glance at Cleveland’s roster reveals a serious lack of those types of players. That’s less of a criticism at the team’s roster construction than a basic observation. Very few guys who will be playing prominent roles for the Browns this season are blessed with a lot of quality, playoff experience. It’s not impossible for talent to trump experience in the NFL, but history tells us that’s the exception as opposed to the rule.
None of the risks mean that the Browns are destined to crash and burn. On the contrary, the sheer talent they’ve assembled on their roster make it much more likely that the beleaguered franchise will finally break their ugly playoff drought. There’s no substitute for difference-makers on the field, and Cleveland has enough of those to overcome a host of regular-season challenges.
Still, the Browns are still positioned as a significant risk. Cleveland’s front office has done a good job of positioning this team to enjoy a breakout campaign, but it’s impossible to eliminate the thought of distractions and inexperience showing up to spoil the party.
Browns fans can be excited about their favorite team’s prospects at the moment, but they shouldn’t sleep on the potential warning sirens that are blaring on the periphery of the team’s placid exterior at the moment. Doing so could set some of the most tortured fans in the NFL up for another epic disappointment.