For years three words spoke the words of the Cleveland Browns culture, “Same old Browns.” Those words spoke like the sports equivalent of Murphy’s Law. Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong. And those words almost spoke prophetically at any sign of success. On the field, it was ill-timed turnovers or a horrible call not going our way. Off the field, it has been a whole other unfortunate series of events.
The fact is the Browns have been bad for a long time. So how did a team that less than two years ago redefined rock bottom, suddenly become the most talked about teams in the NFL? It took an absolute culture change. It took an individual to run this team like an organization that believed in itself. It took John Dorsey.
A short time ago the world was convinced you couldn’t build a winner in Cleveland. That is why when Dorsey took over the reins as Browns General Manager many wondered how long it would be before he put his own stamp on the legacy of the same old Browns. But that wasn’t in Dorsey’s plan. Instead of laying down and becoming another side note of failure, Dorsey instantly laid the groundwork of a legit team. Let’s look at the steps he took to rewrite the Browns culture.
Bucking the trend – When it came to free agency the same old Browns were rarely players. For years the team lived by the mindset that Cleveland couldn’t be a desirable free agent location. Rarely were the Browns even linked to rumor involving anyone. So when Dorsey went out and acquired Jarvis Landry it was a little different. Landry, an elite possession receiver, seemed to be a name that the Browns wouldn’t make an effort for. At the time it was at least a statement to the fans that we were going to try this time around.
Finding the spark – Perhaps the biggest weakness of the same old Browns came on NFL Draft Day. There aren’t many success stories out of the young men who have been handed a Browns cap on the way to meeting the commissioner (Joe Thomas went fishing that day). But Dorsey came home with a class highlighted by Baker Mayfield, Denzel Ward, and Nick Chubb. I think we have enough information already to say his first draft went okay. But beyond that, his picks have consisted of players that have excelled on the football field. Instead of getting hung up on combine numbers, Dorsey prefers an old fashioned approach to scouting. It has served him well so far.
Fixing the hierarchy – What makes Dorsey’s dismantling of the same old Browns even more stunning was overcoming the final hurdle, Jimmy Haslam. Upon hiring Dorsey, Haslam insisted on keeping Hue Jackson. This created an incredibly strange situation where the Coach didn’t necessarily have to report to the GM. But also Jackson was stripped of play-calling duties and had assistants hired for him. This was an environment that the same old Browns seemed to thrive in. And it did for almost half a season. When Dorsey finally got his “I told you so,” moment with Haslam and was able to fire Jackson, the same old Browns left with him.
Time will tell, but perhaps Dorsey’s greatest move might not be finding a coach after all. Dorsey might be best remembered for letting a coach find him. Freddie Kitchens had an undeniable impact on the Browns offense the second he took charge of it. The improvement was instant, dramatic and best of all it was fun to watch. But Kitchens isn’t in that tight-knit NFL Head Coaching fraternity. The same old Browns would have let him walk away. But once again Dorsey hired someone who got things done on the field. Not the guy the analysts thought he should hire.
Rebranding the Browns – This offseason Dorsey did something that a bolder shade of orange couldn’t. He began the final steps of the rebrand of the same old Browns. Aggressively pursuing free agents is a brand new strategy for the Browns. Actually signing them is a game changer. But Dorsey wasn’t done as he became the architect of the biggest blockbuster move of the offseason. The deal that brought Odell Beckham Jr. and Oliver Vernon to the Browns sent shockwaves through the entire NFL. The perception of what kind of team Browns were going to be going forward was changed in an instant.
Obviously, to complete this final objective the Browns must prove their worth on the field come September. But it sure feels different this time around. Instead of Murphy’s Law, we can refer to Dorsey’s Law, “If it goes wrong, we have depth.” In fact, if Dorsey did make a mistake, it may have been turning it around so quickly. The Browns don’t even have a chance to be that feel good Rocky story for a year. They have been loud, they have been brash, and they aren’t sneaking up on anybody. The hype is real in Cleveland.
John Dorsey killed the same old Browns.