If there’s one word Cleveland Browns fans are tired of hearing, it’s expectations.
They were high going into last season, no question about it.
Was the Super Bowl talk justified?
Still, those conversations happened.
The Browns' updated odds after getting OBJ:
➡️ To win conference title: 7-1 (entered today at 12-1); only New England and Kansas City have better odds (both at 3-1)
➡️ To win Super Bowl title: 14-1 (entered today at 25-1) pic.twitter.com/cyYKZCDNNx
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) March 13, 2019
As opposed to a Lombardi Trophy at the end of 2019, the Browns instead held a nice, shiny 6-10 season.
With a new regime and tweaked roster now in place, those expectations are starting to rise once again.
This time, however, most fans seem to be a bit more tempered with their excitement.
Owner Jimmy Haslam is among those in the organization trying to stay realistic.
As eager as many are to see the Browns succeed, a lot of work goes into a rebuild, especially one drenched in a losing culture.
Rome was not built in a night, and that’s something Haslam expressed during a Zoom conference call on Sunday evening.
“I think we probably all of us, including ownership, learned a lesson last year about tempering expectations. I don’t think we managed that as well as we should have. I think you have to be realistic. This team has not been to the playoffs since 2002, and we’re in a tough division. Baltimore and Pittsburgh are arguably two of the best teams and best franchises. I think you have to be realistic there.”
Haslam is spot-on here.
There are obstacles for this team to overcome before they can get to where they want to go.
Two of those obstacles lie within the AFC North.
The Steelers will return Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback, who has given the Browns fits since entering the league (25-3-1 vs. Cleveland).
The Browns throttled the Ravens in Baltimore in week 4 last year, but the Ravens quickly figured things out and were the best in the division by season’s end.
Plus, Lamar Jackson is just 22-years old and looks to be a threat within the division for years to come.
Lamar Jackson in 2019:
➤ 1st in touchdown passes – 36
➤ 26th in pass attempts – 401 pic.twitter.com/K9gTcBR3qc
— PFF (@PFF) August 9, 2020
Of course there are other teams at the top of the AFC, such as the Chiefs, who have already tasted postseason success and know what it takes.
As talented as this Browns roster is, there’s plenty of fine-tuning that needs done before Super Bowl talks can become legitimate.
Starts at the Top
Freddie Kitchens has been picked on plenty since being fired, but some of that’s justified.
He was a poor leader last season, with miscommunication and a lack of preparation plaguing the team weekly.
The conflicting interests of John Dorsey and other front office members certainly didn’t help.
Now, Andrew Berry and Kevin Stefanski are running the show. Jimmy Haslam is confident they can turn things around, as stated in their Zoom call.
“We’re still a young team. On the other hand, we feel really good about Andrew [Berry] and Kevin [Stefanski], our coaching staff, our personnel group and the talent that we’ve been able to assemble. We’re excited going into the year but realistic.”
Jimmy and Dee, later in that same Zoom call, mentioned both Odell Beckham Jr. and Baker Mayfield.
Jimmy was complimentary of the shape he feels Mayfield has worked himself into.
Dee, interestingly enough, has talked closely with OBJ over the offseason and feels he has a renewed sense of energy about playing in Cleveland.
“I had a great conversation with him today. Excited to be back in his house, and that has made a big difference to him.”
Even with tempered expectations, it’s hard to convince Browns fans not to be excited about this season.