This will be the most important off-season of the Jim Mora era at UCLA.
It’s hard to believe that the Cleveland Browns were once the class of the National Football League. Including the Browns time in the All-American Conference, they played in a championship game in each year from 1946-1955, while they were also one of the better teams in the NFL in the 1960′s. The Browns were also a perennial playoff team in the 1980′s before things came to a screeching halt in the mid-1990′s when former team owner Art Modell decided to move the team to Baltimore, Maryland. Modell had to leave behind the team history of the Browns as his team became the Baltimore Ravens. The City of Cleveland did not have an NFL franchise from 1996-1998, but they would receive an expansion team in 1999 as they were the “new” Browns. However the Browns reincarnation into the NFL has been less than stellar.
Since 1999, the Browns have only been able to produce one trip to the postseason and two winning seasons. The Browns last winning season came in 2007, while all but one year since then has seen them lost at least 11 games. Upon returning to the National Football League, the Browns have had three different owners, eight general managers, nine head coaches, and a whopping 26 different starting quarterbacks which gives you a clear understanding in regards to their futility. Hue Jackson is the latest man to have his chance to be the Browns head coach, and he could not have envisioned how 2016 would unfold for him.
As bad as the Browns have been since returning to the National Football League, 2016 is as bad as it has been. Through 12 games the Browns are without a victory, and they are flirting with being the first team since the 2008 Detroit Lions to go an entire season without winning a game. The Browns were competitive in the first half of the season as they lost four games by five points or less. But since the calendar has shifted to November, the level of competition has improved as the Dallas Cowboys, Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, and New York Giants have all taken turns having their way with the Browns. Cleveland has lost their last four games by at least 14 points with this past Sunday’s home loss to the Giants sounding more like MetLife Stadium as it is difficult for a fan to stay loyal to this team.
Jackson began his tenure with the Browns by trading the second overall pick of the 2016 National Football League Draft to the Philadelphia Eagles. The Browns decided on trading this selection due to the fact that they weren’t sold on picking either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz who were the top two quarterback prospects in the draft. The Browns would continue wheeling and dealing as they moved out of the eighth overall selection after they made a deal with the Tennessee Titans. The Browns would not make a selection until midway through the first round when they tabbed wide receiver Corey Coleman, but they did succeed in obtaining multiple draft picks, which also includes multiple selections in the first, three rounds of next year’s draft. Jackson went for depth and future options for the Browns instead of opting for an immediate impact player. And although that the Browns have potential on their young squad as Jackson has attempted to change the culture in Cleveland, they still don’t know how to win.
This is best summed up by the fact that the Browns have been outscored in the second half by their opponents this season 180-67. The Browns have also squandered a pair of fourth quarter leads as they have become the poster boys for ineptitude.
In spite of the fact that the Browns have not won a game while using four different quarterbacks, they are 16th in the National Football League in total offense which is primarily due to the fact that they are attempting to pad their stats when the final outcome has already been decided.
Heading into this season Jackson announced that Robert Griffin III would be the Browns starting quarterback, but he hasn’t seen the field since the first game of the season after he suffered a shoulder injury. It was then up to veteran quarterback Josh McCown to lead the way for the Browns, but like Griffin, he suffered a shoulder injury which put him on the sideline. Jackson would then rely on a pair of rookie quarterbacks in Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan. In eight starts for the Browns, Kessler did show potential as he has completed 65.6% of his passes, but he took a beating in the process as a concussion currently has him out of action.
Going forward it will be important to provide some protection for Kessler as he appears to be their future at quarterback, while they have hit on converting Terrelle Pryor Sr., from a quarterback to a wide receiver as he provides some explosion for them at the position as he so far has 62 receptions for 855 yards and 4 touchdown grabs.
The Browns are last in the National Football League in total defense, while they are also minus-9 in the turnover margin as they don’t have any play makers on that side of the football which reflects in their record. And even though that the Browns did acquire outside linebacker Jamie Collins from the New England Patriots earlier this season, it is highly unlikely that he’ll re-sign there when he becomes a free agent in March as he’ll more than likely opt for collecting a paycheck from a team that will give him a chance to win.
The Browns enter this week guaranteed of not losing this Sunday due to the fact that it is their bye week. And with just four games left for Cleveland here in 2016, their best chance to win a game will come in Week 14 when they host the Cincinnati Bengals who are currently an injury riddled team.
But the off-season will be very important for the Browns as owner Jimmy Haslam must decide if Jackson is the right guy to run his team going forward. This season has been a struggle for Jackson, but Haslam cannot afford to start over again as the organization is already on their fifth different head coach since 2009. And to give you an idea of how astonishing that this fact is, only the Oakland Raiders and Buffalo Bills have made as many head coaching changes since then which is illustrated by none of these teams making the postseason over this stretch; although the Bills and Raiders are in contention this year.
The Browns must give Jackson an opportunity to develop his young players as the issues within this organization are bigger than him which is reflected in their record since 1999. The Browns must decide if Kessler is their long-term answer at quarterback, while also hitting on all of their draft picks in 2017 if they want any shot at turning things. But this is the elephant in the room for the Browns as they’ve been two years from being two years away since returning to the National Football League. And at this point the only way that you know the Browns are even in the NFL is when the draft rolls around, or when the league force feeds Thursday Night Football down our throats with their mandatory participation for each team.
But for now the paper bags are out in Cleveland in droves for anyone who still thinks that it is important to show up for a Browns home game as this organization still hasn’t figured it out. And as bad as it seems, it cannot get that much worse for the Browns than it already is.
For anyone that follows the New York Jets knows that this is a team that can toy with a fan’s emotions. After winning the Super Bowl in January 1969 as a member of the American Football League, the Jets have never been able to get back to the big game as they’ve been an organization that has lacked consistency. Recent history has seen that trend continue for the Jets as they began the 2015 National Football League season with a record of 10-5 and they only needed to defeat the Buffalo Bills in Week 17 to advance to the playoffs. But the Jets would lose to the Bills as the game was marred by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing 5 interceptions as New York was so close, yet so far from the postseason.
Heading into the 2016 National Football League season the Jets were looking to build off of their close call from 2015, but that has not been the case. The Jets lost their season opener to the Cincinnati Bengals 23-22 in a game that was mired by their miscues. Overall the Jets began this season with a record of 1-5 which included Fitzpatrick throwing 6 interceptions in a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs. Right now the Jets are 3-8 and although that they are an extreme long shot to make the playoffs this season, they haven’t decided to waive the white flag yet which is rather alarming.
For some absurd reason Jets head coach Todd Bowles is sticking with Fitzpatrick as the team’s starting quarterback. The Jets signed Fitzpatrick in 2015 and he would go on to have the best season of his National Football League career as he passed for 3,905 yards, while he threw 31 touchdown passes. After the season Fitzpatrick would become a free agent as he was seeking a big payday. But the Jets nor any other team was interested in giving Fitzpatrick a long-term deal and just prior to the start of training camp, he and New York agreed on a one-year deal for $12 million.
However the magic that Fitzpatrick had displayed in 2015 is gone as he has thrown 13 interceptions in nine starts compared to throwing 15 last season. Fitzpatrick was benched against the Arizona Cardinals, but he would return to being the Jets starting quarterback when his replacement Geno Smith was lost for the season with an ACL injury. Fitzpatrick himself would suffer a knee injury during the Jets loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 9 and he would miss the Jets next game. In Fitzpatrick’s absence, Bowles used quarterback Bryce Petty the following week against the Los Angeles Rams, but he quickly decided to go back to Fitzpatrick.
The Jets aren’t going anywhere with Fitzpatrick under center this year or any other season. And the time is now for Bowles to give a serious look at Petty, or rookie quarterback Christian Hackenburg who was the Jets second-round pick this past April.
Fitzpatrick was quick to voice his displeasure when the Jets benched him earlier this season in favor of Smith. I understand that Fitzpatrick is a competitor, but he hasn’t done anything during his 12-year National Football League career to warrant him being a franchise quarterback as he is a journeyman which is evident by the six different teams that he has played for. The Jets don’t owe Fitzpatrick anything in regards to coddling his ego, and once their season end’s on New Year’s Day against the Bills, both parties will go their separate ways as he’ll be the latest quarterback that has fallen into the abyss while playing for Gang Green.
Petty was selected by the Jets in the fourth round in 2015 and he didn’t see the field as a rookie. In Petty’s one start he was 19-of-32 passing for 163 yards with a touchdown pass and an interception as the Jets lost to the Rams 9-6. Petty was able to display some potential, but Bowles decided to stunt his growth. Petty isn’t going to get any better on the sideline with a clipboard in his hand, and he cannot do any worse than Fitzpatrick has already done. The same can be said for Hackenburg as it’s time for the Jets to take the kid gloves off of their young quarterbacks and see what they can do.
The Jets struck fool’s gold last year with Fitzpatrick and they cannot afford to have him lose anymore games for them as they have one of the best defensive lines in football that includes the likes of Sheldon Richardson, Leonard Williams, and Muhammad Wilkerson. Darrelle Revis’ days as a starting cornerback in the National Football League appear to be numbered, and if the Jets don’t decide to move him to safety in 2017, his time with the team could be coming to an end as well.
With the exception of a road game against the San Francisco 49ers who are 1-10 in Week 14, the Jets don’t have too many winnable games left on their schedule as they are facing the possibility of selecting in the the top five of the National Football League Draft for the first time since 2006 when they selected offensive tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson fourth overall. Under Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan, the Jets will need to have a solid draft and off-season overall as this team that has not made the postseason on their watch which should give them ample motivation to begin planning towards the future now. But unfortunately for the Jets fan base, Bowles is sticking with guys like Fitzpatrick who’ll see their time with the team come to an end in about a month.
It was recently announced that the Detroit Pistons had a deal in place to relocate to the downtown area in the Motor City. The Pistons have not played regularly in the city limits of Detroit since 1978 when they called the Cobo Arena home. From 1979-1988, the Pistons played their home games at the Pontiac Silverdome in Pontiac, Michigan before settling into the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills, Michigan which has been their home ever since. Since being in Auburn Hills, the Pistons have won three NBA Championships and they’ve become one of the better NBA franchises, but the allure of Downtown Detroit was too much for them to pass up on.
The distance between Detroit and Auburn Hills is roughly 33.5 miles as it has never been an issue for fans from Detroit to make the trek to the suburbs which also saw the Lions play in Pontiac from 1975-2001. But just as it always is with any business move, money is talking the loudest in Detroit City.
The 1970′s saw teams moving to the suburbs as the result of more citizens living in suburbia. But since 2000 we’ve seen a push by sports franchises to relocate to downtown areas as there has been a revitalization of metropolises. The Lions moved back to Detroit in 2002 which has seen their new home of Ford Field host the Super Bowl in February 2006. The Tigers have always played within Detroit’s city limits, but they began playing at Comerica Pack in 2000 which is adjacent to Ford Field. The Tigers have enjoyed success at Comerica which has seen them win a pair of American League Pennants in five playoff appearances since 2006, along with hosting the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in 2005. The Red Wings have called the Joe Louis Arena home since 1979, but they will be leaving next year in favor of the new Little Ceasers Arena, and they’ll have company there with the Pistons.
But the Pistons return to Detroit isn’t without controversy. In recent years Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has spoken to Pistons owner Tom Gores multiple times about moving his team back to Detroit. Gilbert suggested this primarily due to the fact that he owns property in Downtown Detroit where he could benefit from having the Pistons move there. Gilbert went as far to suggest that the Pistons should “remove” Detroit from their name being that they play in Auburn Hills. Gilbert’s words drew the ire of Pistons president of basketball operations/head coach Stan Van Gundy who felt that the Cavaliers owner “should worry about his own team”. And whereas Van Gundy’s stance was strong, he doesn’t have the final say on the business matters for the Pistons which is an honor that goes to Gores as free enterprise and capitalism have won out as Gilbert is on a roll.
Gilbert found a superstar player in small forward LeBron James that was somehow willing to put the disparaging words of the Cavs owner from 2010 behind him and return to Cleveland in 2014 as the Cavaliers gave him the best chance to win an NBA Championship. And last June saw James bring a title to Cleveland, while Gilbert reaped all of the rewards. The economic collapse of 2007-2008 hit Detroit hard as the automotive industry was on life support which saw property value in and around Detroit drastically decline. Gilbert was quick to pounce on that opportunity and secure numerous properties in Downtown Detroit which now finds itself in the middle of a rebirth.
So the story will be that once again that the rich will get richer as he who owns the property and money will typically dictate how things are run. Regardless of what happens with the Cavaliers and Quicken Loans Inc., which are just two of Gilbert’s businesses, he will continue to make money hand over fist due to the multiple properties that he owns in Downtown Detroit. And now with the Lions, Pistons, Red Wings, and Tigers all set to be within a stone’s throw of one another, the downtown area will be booming as the result of sports revenue there.
The only loser’s in this deal will be the folks who work at the Palace of Auburn Hills, or those that live close to the arena as those workers will more than likely be out of job now, while fans in the suburbs will have to commute to Detroit for games. But it is very difficult to stand in the way of progress, and Detroit’s economy should be set to really take off with the return of the Pistons; especially since they are once again becoming a perennial playoff team after missing the NBA Playoffs in six consecutive seasons.