When the Cleveland Browns decided to make several changes to the offensive staff, there were some raised eyebrows. Sure, they just lost to the Houston Texans in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs but this season was far from a failure.
Not only did the Browns win 11 games but they did so without Nick Chubb, without Deshaun Watson, and without their top two offensive linemen. In fact, they were down to their fourth starter when Joe Flacco took over as the quarterback and had their fifth and sixth options at tackle in the game against Houston.
Still, offensive coordinator Alex Van Pelt, running backs coach Stump Mitchell, and tight ends coach T.C. McCartney were all let go. It was assumed the decision to move on from Van Pelt was made with the goal of helping Watson take his next step — and it appears Albert Breer has verified just that.
Breer also added another interesting detail. He says the decision didn't come from Kevin Stefanski but instead was made by owner Jimmy Haslam and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta.
"The reason he was let go in Cleveland was because ownership and Paul DePodesta, not Kevin Stefanski, were frustrated with the progress Deshaun Watson has made. I don’t think the people who made that decision [to fire Van Pelt] really knew his value to that staff. Other people on that staff — not so much Kevin, but the people below him — were floored when they fired him for two reasons." — Breer via Chris Pokorny, Dawgs by Nature
Those two reasons Breer went into include the fact that the team was winning despite all the aformentioned injuries. The second was simply what AVP meant to this team. Breer states that Kevin Stefanski isn't exactly an outgoing guy, which is true. He's very smart but he also plays everything close to the vest.
Van Pelt, on the other hand, was the one who played intermediary. Players loved AVP and he communicated well with the coaching staff. Breer called him "the glue" that held it all together. That's not a job you replace easily.
Browns could be in trouble if things go south
Paul DePodesta is someone who knows how to get fans riled up — all he has to do is exist. His background isn't in football and he doesn't work out of Cleveland, so fans feel like he shouldn't have the control that he does. And for the past four seasons, it's felt as if his control — and Jimmy Haslam's meddling — have been held at bay by Stefanski and general manager Andrew Berry.
This is the first time in a while that reports have surfaced where DePodesta and Haslam start throwing their weight around. Of course, Haslam is the one signing the checks, and paying $235 million for a quarterback would be a reason to expect results. But if they made this move to help Watson without realizing the loss of Van Pelt could hurt the entire team, that could be dangerous.
Of course, winning cures all in the NFL. So if Ken Dorsey, who was hired to replace AVP, can help Watson step up his game, and the Browns win, then no one will care. If not, we might hear a lot more about this decision as the 2024 season rolls along.