Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
‘Tis the season: What will Dee and Jimmy Haslam do and when will they do it?
That’s the question on everyone’s mind while the Browns reach depths thought unfathomable after last season’s 1-15 debacle.
As the Pit of Misery deepens – we are now at 0-12 this year and 1-27 in the New Browns Order – the thrill of a lone victory no longer can relieve the agony of so many defeats.
Can the Browns triumph one measly time to avoid the historic ignominy of winlessness? A year ago, it mattered. Now? What’s the point?
To instill hope? In what? The systems and processes that result in more trades of high draft picks, more salary cap space rolled into the future, more in-fighting between the analytics nerds and the coaches?
Think of this: Under the current plan, a team too young to win now will be even younger next year.
How insane would it be for the Haslams -- owners of the Browns and overseers of the systematic demise of one of professional sports' greatest brands -- to keep the status quo after two seasons of breath-taking losing? After a second year that not only showed no progress but actual regress?
How is it possible that after selecting 24 draft picks, making 17 trades and swimming in gobs of salary cap space, an NFL team can produce but one win while creating more soft spots in its roster than it inherited?
After all those transactions, the Browns haven’t identified their franchise quarterback. They haven’t found their go-to receiver. They have new needs at left tackle and running back. Defensively, a ball-hawk safety, cornerbacks to cover and tackle, and a linebacker to run with a tight end are still missing.
It’s broke. Will the Haslams fix it? And how?
Option 1: Blow up the front office, keep the coaching staff and empower it with more authority.
If you believe that poor Hue Jackson has been handcuffed and undermined by the influential analytics nerds – that not even Paul Brown could win with this cockamamie roster mix – this option may make the most sense.
Flipping offensive and defensive systems yet again after a two-year run – as miserable as it’s been -- is the least digestible alternative to many.
Despite his historic coaching mark, his spotty record in developing the quarterback position and his offense, and some highly questionable in-game decisions, Jackson’s power of persuasion over the Haslams remains strong.
With four games to go, some believe that this option is the most likely. How else to explain Jackson’s recent cheery demeanor?
Option 2: Hand the keys to Peyton Manning and have him build a new culture and football organization.
Everyone who knows Manning believes he would be instantly successful in the role of Hall of Fame quarterback-turned-football czar. They also believe the Haslams’ long-time relationship with the Mannings gives the Browns more than a fighting chance when Manning decides to fulfill his inevitable post-playing career destiny.
So what’s the holdup? Manning can’t be enticed or forced to take this step before he wants to take it.
At 41, he reportedly is enjoying life too much as a stay-at-home dad and CEO of Manning, Inc., to rush into the 365/24/7 rat race of NFL czarship.
I believe Manning has an open invitation from the Haslams to hop aboard and rescue this train wreck. Despite recurrent rumors of a representative of Manning purchasing a lavish property in Bratenahl near the Haslam’s residence, there is no evidence Manning has tipped his hand.
Option 3: Appoint an NFL-seasoned administrator as club president and allow that person to construct the football organization.
This would take the searches for general manager and coach out of the hands of the Haslams, which would be good since they have failed repeatedly at making the key hires.
To Jimmy, this might seem like a repeat of the Joe Banner experience. That ended badly because of dysfunction between Banner and poisonous GM Mike Lombardi after one season. But the organization structure of GM and coach reporting directly to a president – and not the Haslams – has a lot of merit.
There is some chatter that a very interested candidate for the position has been sizing up the Browns’ situation and considers it a golden opportunity, ripe for an immediate turnaround. The potential candidate has developed a respectable working relationship with Dee Haslam through interaction on an NFL ownership committee.
The interested candidate reportedly has an in-hand choice for general manager, and the two of them would then conduct the search for a coach – or might be agreeable to giving Jackson another season to turn things around.
Option 4: Tap a proven, winning coach and give him full authority as a football czar.
The obvious choice under this option is Alabama’s Nick Saban, who has been the apple of Haslam’s eye since he purchased the Browns in 2012.
But Saban and agent Jimmy Sexton previously resisted Haslam’s indirect overtures. And if Saban decided to return to the NFL, it has been assumed it would be for the New York Giants – and nobody else.
Now, there is some scuttlebutt that another superstar coach could be an out-of-the-blue free agent after this season. I’ve heard that Sean Payton wants to leave the New Orleans Saints despite their resurgence as a Super Bowl contender.
I’ve also heard that while that may be true, there is no possibility of Payton ending up with the Browns.
Option 5: Hire a general manager and a coach – not necessarily in that order.
Given the Haslams’ track record, this is not a favorable option.
There are a couple of ready-made GM-coach combinations being mentioned – New England’s combo of former John Carroll University teammates Nick Caserio and Josh McDaniels is at the top of the list. Another gaining steam is former Patriots associates Scott Pioli, now the Atlanta Falcons assistant GM, and Mike Vrabel, the Belichick-trained defensive coordinator of the Houston Texans.
The other possibilities under this option is for the Haslams to conduct their own search of GM and coach and try to match a pair that can work together in peaceful harmony – something the Haslams have been remarkably unable to do in five years of ownership.
With the Haslams’ minds consumed with the trial of Pilot Flying J executives in Chattanooga, TN, on white-collar crime charges of federal fraud, and with Haslam indirectly involved in cleaning up the coaching mess at his beloved University of Tennessee, you wonder how much desire and energy they have in blowing up a three-year Browns rebuilding plan after two years.
It’s possible that fixing the Browns is no higher than No. 3 on their to-do list.