Monday, August 15, 2011

Quiet offseason a risky business for Browns' front office

Heckert, Shurmur and Holmgren...Cleveland's new hope.
The Browns' workmanlike performance during the first quarter Saturday night was nice to see, even if the preseason is a dull and virtually meaningless exercise that the NFL has the gall to charge good money for.

But if you were looking for progress I guess we saw some in the small sample size of a couple of possessions. The offense, led by Colt McCoy and his much-maligned receiving corps, looked crisp in scoring two touchdowns, albeit against a vanilla Packers' defense without the services of cornerback Charles Woodson. The Browns' defensive first-team, meanwhile, forced a punt on one possession and got burned by Aaron Rodgers on another.

There were unsurprisingly no clear answers to be gleaned from this first bit of post-lockout competitive football. It was fun seeing the guys on the field again. Even the predictable tedium of the preseason has a certain feeling of well-worn comfort to it. After all, people don't watch practice games to get stressed out. We save our sweaty palms and rapid heartbeats for the regular season, and hopefully for heights far beyond anything this town has seen since about 1989.

It's no great leap to say the Browns are probably not going to reach those heights this season. The front office's curious inactivity during an otherwise frenzied free agency period practically shouts the dreaded phrase that no Browns fan wants to hear, and that phrase is "developmental year."

That innocuous little expression means sticking with Brian Robiskie, Mo Massaquoi and Greg Little at wide receiver instead of making a play for a solid veteran like Lee Evans, whom the Ravens picked up for a fourth-round bag of chips this past weekend.

It's easy (and fun) to get annoyed by the Browns' quiet offseason. Fans look at this team on paper and see holes all over the field. But GM Tom Heckert apparently sees an opportunity for young draftees like Greg Little and Phil Taylor to become part of a core nucleus. For a team with dim playoff aspirations, why throw out a future draft pick on a guy like Evans, who is not going to make a marked post-season impact on this roster?

Such seems to the front office's logic, anyway, and I guess us fans are going to have to deal. The league's best teams are built through the draft, using free agency and trades to add complimentary pieces. Think about how much cheese Dan Snyder has dumped on the market's best free agents over the years, only to get minuscule returns on Sunday.

I'm not saying I necessarily like the direction the Browns have gone, but I do understand it. New coaching staff, new schemes, new quarterback - we've seen this movie before, a sweeping epic called "Franchise of the Perpetual Rebuild." Until the Browns are able to cultivate some stars of their own, they're going to be stuck making the same shitty straight-to-DVD sequels they've been releasing annually for the last decade.

Heckert and team president Mike Holmgren have A Plan in Place. But skipping free agency puts crosshairs directly on the 2011 draft class, meaning incremental or heaven forbid backwards progress and another five-win season will tighten the screws considerably, Plan or no Plan.

Next year has to be a playoff year for this front office. Gone are the days of the Belichickean five-year rebuild. Another draft class coupled with an active free agency period, and the pudding will have its proof.

Because it's just beyond boring rehashing the same storylines with this team. It's not enough to have football back from the precipice of lockout hell. We've had it back since 1999. We want good football, damn it, and we want it soon. To Holmgren and Heckert all I have to say is, You better be right.