Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

Hue Jackson quickly running out of excuses

Browns most improved

There is little doubt that the Cleveland Browns have improved, at least on paper, since the end of the 2017 NFL season.

A cynic would point out that it would be hard not to improve, given that the Browns finished the season by becoming just the second team in league history to go 0-16. Anyone who has followed the team for more than a year or two could pile on by claiming that if a team could get worse, it would be the Browns.

While there is some truth in both of those viewpoints, it would take a special kind of fan to look at the work that general manager John Dorsey has done over the past few months and not realize the squad has gotten better. Sure, there are some individual moves that were questionable, but taken collectively, Dorsey and his crew of “football guys” has done an admirable job.

It is not just Browns fans who are noticing, either, as the club is getting some national love, starting with Pro Football Focus, which selected the Browns as the most improved team in the AFC North:

There’s no replacing future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas on the blind side and the peace of mind he afforded the smattering of quarterbacks he blocked for over his career. When you look at the sheer multitude of talent they brought in over the course of the offseason, it starts to look far less consequential.

The Browns brought in four different players who had grade of 80.0-plus in the NFL a season ago as well as four of the top 35 picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. The Browns arguably had a greater influx of talent than any team in the NFL this offseason. The cherry on the top is the addition of the No. 1 player on PFF’s big board – and owner of the two highest graded seasons we’ve ever given to a college quarterback – Baker Mayfield.

ESPN joined in on the Brown-and-Orange love fest, with three of the six NFL “insiders” polled predicting the Browns on their most improved list, most notably KC Joyner:

It’s incredible that the Browns were able to improve in as many ways as they did this offseason. They added two quality quarterbacks, have a logjam of good running backs with the additions of Hyde and Chubb, brought in three solid cornerbacks in free agency and acquired the best coverage cornerback in the draft (Ward). Three new offensive linemen give the Browns one of the deepest blocking walls in the NFL and they added Landry, arguably the best possession receiver in the league.

There are two quick takeaways from this.

The first is that, while it is nice to hear and read positive press about the team in the offseason, the reality is that the Browns don’t play a game that matters for another four months. And with a schedule that features the Pittsburgh Steelers, New Orleans Saints and Oakland Raiders in three of the first four weeks, a slow start to the 2018 campaign and much of the good feeling surrounding the team washes away.

The second one is that head coach Hue Jackson, one of the primary architects of the 1-31 debacle of the past two seasons, is now quickly running out of excuses.

The quarterback situation and the running game is the best it has been in years; the offensive line is stable on the inside and looks promising on the outside; the wide receivers and tight ends look sound; and given some better health, the defense should take another step forward this fall.

Now, after two years of pointing fingers, placing blame and continually undermining the front office, it is time for Jackson to step up his game and remind everyone why he was the hot head coaching candidate in 2016.

The players are better and now the head coach has to show that he is better as well.

If that happens, then all this promise of improvement may turn into reality come Sunday afternoons this fall.

If not? Well, it will just be the latest example of how little “winning” the offseason correlates to winning when it actually matters.

(Photo via clevelandbrowns.com)

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