The Super Bowl has ended, and that means the season of the Cleveland Browns officially has begun.
"Browns Season" annually takes place from February through June. Yes, it’s the opposite of the usual team’s season, but that’s just the way things have evolved in Cleveland.
Typically called the offseason, in Cleveland it's time for the annual orgy of excitement and expectation, aka Browns Season.
This time typically revolves around three events/beliefs:
Relentless discussion about the draft, an event that in Cleveland has become known as the “Browns' Super Bowl.”
Excitement and chatter over free agency, a time when fans believe every player will join the Browns and all who do will soon be Pro Bowlers.
The resolute belief that every player drafted or signed will in the end be the best player ever to play for the Browns at his position.
There is no shortage of optimism and excitement during Browns Season and no shortage of belief that these are the moves that will change the team's fortunes.
This offseason promises to be especially momentous. The Browns have nowhere to go but up. An 0-16 team can’t get worse, though if ever a team were to challenge that truth, it would be the Browns.
But there are several major events on the horizon -- and not all of them have to be calamitous. This truly could be the Browns Season of Browns Seasons.
Offensive tackleJoe Thomas will make a decision on his future. Thomas has been the Browns’ rock the past 11 seasons, starting every game, playing every down and displaying a sense of professionalism through losing season after losing season.Thomas said he will give the team plenty of notice on his future, and logically that notice would have to come in February so the team can plan accordingly in free agency.
Thomas, whose consecutive snap streak ended at 10,363 when he tore a triceps last season, has been noncommittal. But he has become extremely active as a media personality, including spending two days on various ESPN shows, writing for SI.com to defend not firing coach Hue Jackson and working on his ThomaHawk Podcast with former Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins.
Thomas has been too good to the Browns and Cleveland for anyone to speculate on what that means.
In March, the Browns will enter free agency with an estimated $110 million in salary-cap room, thanks to the work of former general manager Sashi Brown.That amount of money is a bankroll and means the Browns could conceivably sign five $10 million players and still have room for five more. New general manager John Dorsey has said the Browns will be “prudent” in their spending, but that’s a common theme in Cleveland. The Browns promised to be wise in their spending last season and led the league by committing via free agency, trade or contract extension to $272 million in contracts.
How “prudent” the Browns are will show in whether they try to sign quarterback Kirk Cousins, and what they offer.
In April, attention will turn to the draft, where the Browns have the first and fourth picks, three of the top 33, four of the top 35 and five in the first and second rounds. Dorsey is set up for maximum impact, again thanks to the work of Brown, whose deals led to this glut of picks. The Browns had 14 draft picks in 2016, 10 in 2017 and have 12 in ’18.The goal through Brown’s tenure was to swallow tough seasons and point to 2018 and '19 as turnaround years. An 0-16 record in 2017 after 1-15 a season earlier overwhelmed the long-term plans, so Dorsey benefits.
He has quickly built a much-respected personnel group that includes Alonzo Highsmith as assistant general manager and Eliot Wolf as vice president of player personnel. Both were with the Packers last season; both grew under Hall of Fame GM Ron Wolf; and both worked with Dorsey previously in Green Bay. Also added was former Redskins general manager Scot MccLoughan as a personnel consultant. They team with holdover Andrew Berry in a football-focused personnel department.
One factor to consider: The first event in the Browns Season will affect the last. If Thomas retires, the Browns will have to look at left tackle with the fourth pick. That could bring Orlando Brown Jr., a former Oklahoma Sooner and son of the former Browns tackle, into the discussion.
Once the draft ends, there will be the usual excitement with all the new folks speaking at minicamps and offseason practices.
The optimism will be on slow brew.
There’s nothing quite like it.