BEREA, Ohio -- There are days when the Cleveland Browns seem light years from being competitive.
As ridiculous as it sounds, though, there is a way to look at the Browns as one offseason away. Yes, that's a tired old refrain in Cleveland, where the football team has been one offseason away for ... oh ... 18 years.
But this offseason, the Browns actually are positioned for dramatic work -- if they want to do it, and have the gumption to do it. They even could do it if the owner wants to retain the same front office and coaching staff -- if they are willing to make a tectonic shift in how players are evaluated.
The Browns at present have $61 million in salary-cap space and are projected to top $100 million in cap space for 2018, according to overthecap.com.
That number will shrink, dramatically, but even if it shrinks by only half, the Browns will have a lot of room to work with in free agency.
Their needs are evident: Another quarterback, another running back to replace Isaiah Crowell, who appears headed to free agency, another receiver (or two), a cornerback and a safety.
Five picks in the first two rounds of the draft will address some of those needs.
But free agency can as well.
There are concerns about this. Cousins will demand the kind of money that will make the Terminal Tower tilt. And he'd get it from the Browns. Given the state of the team, the Browns can't afford to skimp.
Cousins also might not make free agency. The Redskins may make him their franchise player, again. Cousins also is seeking an organization he can believe in, where he can win without drama. That doesn't seem to fit Cleveland.
Money. It talks, and everything else walks in these situations. Players over and over say this and that about free agency, but as a veteran coach once said, "It's always about the money." The Browns showed that last offseason when they spent freely. This offseason, they are positioned to spend enormous amounts of money on a player like Cousins. If he gets to free agency and the possibility exists he'd consider the Browns, then the Browns need to do it. The team is in that state. They simply need to do it.
Needed credibility. He has played, he has played well, he has won, and he has been in playoff games. He's second in the league this season in passing yards with 3,038, and he has 19 touchdowns and six interceptions. His rating of 101.1 is seventh. In terms of Total QBR, he's eighth, between Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson.
In his career, he has completed 65.9 percent of his throws, has 91 touchdowns to 48 interceptions and a rating of 95.1.
What does this say about DeShone Kizer? Nothing. Kizer is improving. If he's good enough and up to the competition, he'll keep the job.
2) Draft Saquon Barkley, Penn State running back.
Isaiah Crowell is more or less gone, though lately with more opportunities, he has been showing the skills he displayed a year ago. If Crowell leaves, the Browns could add a dynamic back in Barkley.
His evaluations will fluctuate as the draft approaches, but the decreased importance of the running back in today's era is silly. Leonard Fournette has helped the Jaguars. Todd Gurley looks good with the Rams. Barkley runs hard, is quick and can catch the ball too. He has averaged more than 5 yards per carry three years in a row.
3) Light a lot of candles that Josh Gordon really is back for good.
Gordon has climbed a mountain to get to this point. His daily struggle now begins. If he's back whole and healthy and even 75 percent of what he was, the Browns have their No. 1 receiver. Time will answer whether he is.
4) Re-sign Terrelle Pryor.
Pryor made a mistake leaving the Browns, a place where he had a spot and was comfortable and where he had a good relationship with the coach. Assuming Hue Jackson is back, Pryor would be more productive in Cleveland than in D.C.
Pryor and Cousins may not have had great success this season, but the two will have a year's experience together, and Pryor is familiar with the Browns' system. The combination of Pryor and Gordon with perhaps Corey Coleman or a drafted player (Calvin Ridley, Courtland Sutton) in the slot (yes, the slot for Coleman) and David Njoku at tight end ... suddenly the Browns seem to have something in the passing game.
5) Draft the right guys.
Get a cornerback. Get a safety. Get a receiver, or two.
More important, forget algorithms, forget projections, forget the fact that a guy looks like a future player even though he couldn't catch in college. Draft football players. Repeat: Draft football players. Make the input of the coaching staff matter more than computer printouts from the second floor. If it takes giving Jackson final say over personnel, then give him final say. Let the football folks make the decisions.
It's not complicated, really.
Line up Cousins at quarterback with Barkley at running back, Gordon, Pryor and a to-be-determined at receiver, and Njoku at tight end with a defense that has shown signs, and 2018 might just be the year of the real turnaround.
Yes, this kind of pie-in-the-sky scenario has been written before. Too many times.
But this scenario might just work.