Cleveland Browns fans can find inspiration in Oakland

Sep 27, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Oakland Raiders offensive line during the second quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 27, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Oakland Raiders offensive line during the second quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott R. Galvin-USA TODAY Sports /

If Cleveland Browns fans have any doubts about the team’s latest rebuilding plan, they only need to look west to the Oakland Raiders for inspiration.

As the Cleveland Browns undertake the opening stages of their latest and greatest rebuilding project it is easy to see why a weary (and wary) fanbase is casting a cynical eye toward Berea.

We’ve all been down this road many times since 1999, after all, and always with the same disappointing results. The Browns have tried just about every approach available to NFL teams, including:

  • The slow building of an expansion team, which pretty much ended at halftime of the team’s first regular season game in 1999.
  • The one man has all the power model, which ended when head coach Butch Davis had a panic attack on the sidelines during a game against the Cincinnati Bengals.
  • The New England approach, which was met with diminishing returns as the Browns first turned to Romeo Crennel and then Eric Mangini.
  • The let’s give someone a shot approach, which has resulted in mixed results with Pat Shurmur and Tom Heckert/Mike Holmgren, Rob Chudzinski with Joe Banner/Mike Lombardi, and Mike Pettine with Ray Farmer.

Every group has one thing in common (outside of the continued losing): they all came to town with a plan, only to see things ultimately fall apart.

So what makes the plan put together by the new regime of chief strategy office Paul DePodesta, executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and head coach Hue Jackson any different?

The biggest thing the Browns have going for them is that the strategy to completely tear a team down to its core and then rebuild it is a sound one as other teams have successfully pulled it off.

“I can’t wait until everybody jumps on the bandwagon when things are going good.” – Head coach Hue Jackson

Browns fans need to look no further than Oakland as the Raiders are emerging from their own dark period and putting the finishing touches on their own massive renovation project.

The Browns and the Raiders both enjoyed their last moment of glory in 2002. For the Browns it was a loss in the Wild Card playoff game against Pittsburgh; for the Raiders it was a Super Bowl loss to Tampa Bay. Since then, the Raiders have been every bit as bad as the Browns (don’t let Raiders fans try to tell you any differently) as both teams suffered seasons with double-digit losses 10 times between 2003 and 2014.

The Raiders’ fortunes started to change in 2012, however, when general manager Reggie McKenzie undertook the same burn-it-to-the-ground philosophy that the Browns are now embarking on. McKenzie rid the team of over-paid veterans that bloated the team’s payroll, focused on building the team’s core through the draft and waited for the right time to enter into free agency.

Now, four years later, the Raiders are considered a team on the rise, one that is ready to challenge for the AFC West Division crown. They still have to put it together on the field, of course, but there is real hope in Oakland now that the hardest part is done.

So can the Browns pull off the same plan?

Maybe, although there are three important differences between the two rebuilding plans, and only one of them favors the Browns.

Luckily for the new regime in Cleveland, they did not inherit a salary-cap mess. Rather than walking into a situation where the team was $25 million over the salary cap (like what McKenzie faced in Oakland), Brown and company are actually sitting on about $41 million in cap space, a number that should only go up in the next few years as the team focuses on the draft and takes some time off from big-money free agents.

“We know exactly what this is that we’re trying to accomplish and what we’re trying to do and I think we’re headed in the right direction.” – Hue Jackson

That’s the good news for the Browns.

A key turning point for the Raiders came during the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Oakland came out of the evening with a dominant player on defense in linebacker Khalil Mack and a possible franchise quarterback in Derek Carr. The Browns, on the other hand, squandered their pair of first-round picks by selecting Justin Gilbert, a failed cornerback turned reluctant kick returner, and a circus clown for a quarterback in Johnny Manziel. Things couldn’t have turned out any worse for the Browns or any better for the Raiders.

The most important difference is that McKenzie had one asset that has been lacking in Cleveland – the support and patience of his owner to see the plan through to the end. Patience has not been anything close to a virtue for owner Jimmy Haslam since he bought the team and, unless that changes immediately, the current plan will fail without question.

Patience is a topic that DePodesta touched on in a recent interview with Baseball America.

More from Dawg Pound Daily

“When I was going to the Browns,” DePodesta said, “I had met with the ownership, Jimmy and Dee Haslam, and they asked me, ‘What do you want out of an owner?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ll tell you what I don’t want.’ I said, ‘If you ever take your kids to an amusement park at Disneyland or whatever, they beg you to go on the big daddy roller coaster. They beg you. You say, ‘Are you sure?’ They say, ‘Absolutely, I want to go on this thing.’ So you wait in line for 45 minutes, it takes up a good chunk of your day, you finally get to the front of the line, they eyeball it, and they say, ‘Uh, I’m not getting on that thing. Not at all.’ And that’s what happens to a lot of owners.

“When it comes time to making that hard decision, they say, ‘I don’t want any part of this.’ I said, ‘I need someone who’s going to want to get on the roller coaster with me knowing that it’s not always going to be fun. There are going to be parts of the roller coaster that are going to be scary, that are going to be uncomfortable, but hopefully at the end of the ride when we get off, you’re going to want to say, let’s do that again.’ But I think that’s how we always got through it, was having that shared vision from the beginning and giving you the conviction to actually go through with it.”

If the Haslams are telling the truth and truly have the stomach to see the plan through to the end, then this thing has a chance to work out. If not, then the next couple of years are going to be even rougher as rather than representing the end of the beginning, they will just be the beginning of the end of another regime.

It has taken four years, but the Raiders are currently where the Browns hope to be. It would be nice if it didn’t take Cleveland that long to turn things around, but after waiting 17 years for things to get better, what’s a couple of more if they truly do get it right.

Everyone has a plan to fix the problem when they arrive in town. But not everyone has the patience to pull it off.

This might be the Browns last best chance to get it right. All they need is the patience to see it through.

No matter how difficult that may be.

Next: Jared Goff survives his Pro Day

The NFL Draft will take place April 28-30 in Chicago. Be sure to follow Dawg Pound Daily to keep up with everything the Browns are trying to do while they go through their latest biennial rebuilding project.