If you've been following the team the past year or so, you could easily be flipping around and bouncing off the walls like Daffy Duck. If that's the case, it's time to get a grip -- because the next six months promise to be fraught with even more roster changes and heightened drama.
Can Head Coach Eric Mangini and General Manager George Kokinis actually create a playoff-caliber team within our lifetimes? Or are the newest "changes" just more of the same-old-same-old? It's enough to drive you crazy.
(Nurse Ratched swears by Prozac.)
I don't pretend to be a Mr. Know-It-All, but I've been watching this team and closely following the NFL since the days of Jim Brown, and therefore my opinion's gotta count at least a little bit. So let's try to shove our emotions aside for now and rationally analyze the team as it's composed today. (All of these observations, of course, are subject to further roster changes.)
On the positive side:
* Talent-wise, this team is much better off than the team that Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage inherited four years ago. Joe Thomas, Eric Steinbach, D'qwell Jackson, Josh Cribbs, Rogers, Ryan Pontbriand and Phil Dawson can play for just about any team in the NFL.
* Based on past history, Mangini will instill more discipline and accountability, two attributes that the Browns of Romeo Crennel sadly lacked.
* Mangini is also a better game-day strategist than his predecessor. (He has to be, doesn't he?)
* Because the team is sorely lacking any experience at receiver beyond Braylon Edwards (who has plenty of experience -- dropping the ball), and with the addition of a couple new offensive linemen, Mangini seems to be favoring a strong, consistent running attack -- a perfect fit for the rough-and-tumble AFC North Division.
* The prospect of Cribbs being installed at defensive safety has been mentioned a few times. That personnel move would be intriguing at the very least. It also might indicate the open-mindedness and creativity that coaches and management seem to be embracing.
* If there is, indeed, a continuing turnover in personnel as the regular season's opening kickoff approaches, you would hope that the newbies (most of whom are from Mangini's New York Jets so far) will bring a better outlook and added commitment -- along with an overall talent upgrade.
* If both Quinn and Derek Anderson are on the roster to start the season, the Browns will have a leg up on many other NFL teams -- some of which don't even have one semi-credible quarterback. Last season, the team went through four QBs before the final gun in December, so the importance of depth at that position cannot be overstated.
* The early impasse between Rogers and Mangini may prove beneficial in the long run. At the very least, the lines of communication seem to be open.
* Quinn, Anderson, Ryan Tucker, Steve Heiden and Daven Holly are scheduled to come back from injuries. If nothing else, they will provide leadership, stability and roster depth -- providing they stay healthy.
* All that criticism about the new regime not communicating with the media and the fans is a lot of hooey. So the hell what?
* The pressure is off. No more Sunday night, Monday night or Thursday night games. No more national spotlight. No more high expectations. Coaches and players will be able to concentrate on just doing their jobs to the best of their ability rather than worrying about how they come across on national television.
On the other hand:
* Don't call this a "rebuild" or "reboot." A rebuild can only be undertaken when there's something substantial to build upon. Talent-wise, this team cannot come close to competing with the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens of the world.
* At the end of last season, the team was most deficient at linebacker. With the departure of Joe Jurevicius and KW2 and the impending departure of Donte Stallworth, they now have an even larger gaping hole at wide receiver. This will make it extremely difficult to run the ball when opponents shove eight or nine defenders into "the box."
* Since we've doubtless not seen the last of roster changes, we have to accept the fact that there could be as many misses as hits. (LeCharles Bentley anyone?) And getting a raft new players on the same page is a tremendous project that only the very best coaches seem able to pull off.
* Three, four, or even five or six good draft picks are not enough to boost a team from a 4-12 record into the playoffs in one year (especially if they are of the caliber of William Green, Gerard Warren and Ahtyba Rubin.)
* The Rogers-Mangini conflict could have a detrimental effect on how the new coach is perceived by the players. Though the conflict seems to be resolved now, there is a very real possibility that some lingering resentment might spill onto the field.
* How the team will indeed respond to Mangini's Captain Bligh-like coaching style is a big question mark. We're talking about a whole new culture from top to bottom, and management can only hope that the players don't pull an H.M.S. Bounty (after all, they're getting paid handsomely). But there are no guarantees.
* The Browns are not necessarily a better team without Winslow. He was a Pro Bowler who many think was the team's offensive MVP when he was healthy (which wasn't often). The true success of the trade cannot be determined until the two draft choices we received in the trade strap on their hardhats.
* Even though Mangini seems to think that Jamal Lewis still has some gas left in the tank, it still wouldn't hurt to beat the bushes for a suitable power-running backup. He might be strong as an ox, but he's taken a hell of a beating over the course of his career, and he's no Benjamin Button.
And to all Browns fans everywhere:
* Forget about the playoffs in 2009. The final judgment on Mangini and Kokinis will not be predicated on the team's won-loss record this coming season -- and they know it. So fasten your seatbelts, because it's going to be a long, bumpy ride. (And don't forget to take your meds.)