Post OTA/Minicamp Thoughts: Why 2012 is Different for the Cleveland Browns from Other Years:
1) – Higher probability to see multiple changes within the NFL in 2012:
The heated debates surrounding concussions and players’ health have become more apparent compared to those in previous seasons. There have been rumors that in order to reduce concussions, the NFL may eliminate kickoffs entirely – an important aspect of the game of football. The commissioner, Roger Goodell, has continued his cracking down on any possible actions that could cause physical harm for players. An example of this occurred a few weeks ago, when the Seattle Seahawks were mandated to forfeit team practices as a result of players coming in contact and colliding during the non-contact OTA sessions. Had this occurred a few years earlier, only a possible warning may have been given by the league.
When referring to the franchises within the AFC North, there appears to a possible transformation between the two franchises who have won consistently as of late and the two who have not. Cleveland and Cincinnati have the third and second most salary cap space, respectively, for the 2013 season (per ESPN.com). This will give them the flexibility to sign their own free agents, as well as the ability to pick up a few solid veterans next spring. Couple this with the fact that the two Ohio franchises will have younger rosters (25.5 years old per player for Cincinnati, 25.7 years old per player for Cleveland in 2011 – “Browns By the Numbers Part II of II” blog), and it appears that the future looks brighter than the past has been. The opposite can be said for Baltimore and Pittsburgh in terms of their financial situations going forward – the two franchises will (currently) be eighth in cap space in 2013 and over the 2013 salary cap, respectively. Also, having older rosters forces the front offices to make shrewd moves to remain competitive in the future – Baltimore had an average roster age of 26.5 years old per player in 2011 and Pittsburgh had an average roster age of 27.0 years old per player in 2011 (“Browns By the Numbers Part II of II” blog).
2) – Media (both locally and nationally) have been more positive now than I can remember:
The local outlets that have daily and weekly coverage of the Cleveland Browns, (i.e. Plain Dealer, Canton Repository, WKNR, WKRK, etc.) for better or worse, see improvement with this team both in terms of more talented individuals and the team overall (cohesion, speed, etc). Granted, this is the time of the year when hope springs eternal, but in past years the coverage typically had positive vibes with exceptions (i.e. lack of depth, few highly touted players, slower and/or older personnel, etc). It appears that the 2012 roster does not include (as many of) these shortcomings – obviously the team still has to go out and perform, but at this point those who watch the team regularly envision the Browns finally being a better football team in 2012.
Those who have been skeptical regarding the local media’s unjust favoritism can scour the internet to find national pundits who also agree the Cleveland Browns are presently a better team. ESPN.com writers John Clayton and Jamison Hensley have written several articles during and following the OTA/minicamp sessions stating the team is looking better and on the rise. Obviously, they both state the franchise is not a finished product or a Super Bowl contender by any means, but they seem confident the tide is turning in 2012. NFL.com analyst and former potential NFL Hall-of-Famer Warren Sapp sees the Browns as the most improved team in the league. Regardless of whether all of these experts are right or wrong, the of positive level in the media is stronger currently than I’ve notice in a long, long time.
3) – The shift in the Browns fan base’s beliefs in the last few months is unprecedented:
During the middle and towards the end of the 2007 NFL season, Cleveland Browns fans were happy and excited about their team – they finally had a winning record and a shot at the playoffs. Ultimately, the Browns finished just short of the postseason while going 10-6; despite this, the 2008 campaign included increased expectations by the fans. This change of attitude felt pretty large from the 2007 opener (a 34-7 loss to the Steelers), but noticing many fans seemingly going from one extreme to the other during in the past few months has become more prevalent.
During the end of the 2011 season and the months following, many Browns fans were upset and vocal against the franchise and front office. Before the draft, a majority felt there was little hope for the near or distant future and those in charge had no idea how to improve the football team. After free agency came and went with only signing two defensive lineman, the fans’ negative sentiments seemed to intensify. An example of this is the Mike Polk Jr. video where the Browns fan was debating whether to send his money to the team for season tickets (he basically felt the franchise has not been good enough to warrant paying full price to watch the games). This changed after the 2012 draft, which included several offensive talents that can improve the team immediately. Fans (for the most part) have changed their tune – they tend to believe the selections will improve upon a few of their deficiencies from the 2011 campaign; likewise they see a team who can finally compete on a weekly basis. Expecting to win a couple more games this season as well as being more successful in the future is extremely rare for Browns fans in the offseason, but it seems to have occurred since late April.