PITTSBURGH -- Tension on the Cleveland Browns' coaching staff could lead to changes, including the possible firing of offensive coordinator Todd Haley and/or head coach Hue Jackson, if the team continues to lose games, sources told ESPN.
NFL Network was the first to report the possible moves, saying they are caused by dysfunction within the team on offense.
Jackson and Haley have been at odds, and their respect for each other is not good enough for the team to be successful, a source said.
The biggest concern for the team is that any ongoing drama between the two may affect or even impair the development of first overall draft pick Baker Mayfield.
It's hard to know which way Browns ownership would lean if it had to choose between Jackson and Haley. What's certain, according to one source, is that any decision the team makes would be with Mayfield and his development as the highest priority.
"It's hard to make the case that changing the offense six games into the quarterback's career is the best thing for him," an NFL source said.
Winning would be the surest way to change the situation and stop the internal drama, but it's tough for a team to unite and win if in-fighting happens.
After the Browns lost to the Bucs on Oct. 21, Jackson said that he had to be all-in to "help" solve offensive problems because that is his forte, but his comments were not received well by the team. Mayfield said the team needed to refine what it did and not "reinvent the wheel." Haley attributed Jackson's remarks to the emotion a coach feels after losing but did not mention Jackson once in his Thursday media gathering.
"I don't even want to talk about or give legs to anything I said last week," Jackson said Sunday after a 33-18 loss to the Steelers. "I said what I said out of frustration. That's over and done with."
When asked about his relationship with Haley, Jackson added, "There's nothing wrong with my relationship with Haley.
"I said what I said last week and obviously it had legs, but I've never said I wanted to take over play-calling. I said I wanted to help. That's it. So today, now all of a sudden it's a big old thing. Sure, everybody's going to look and say, 'Well what's going on?' The only thing that's going on is we need to get better. We need to coach better. We need to get better."
"I try not to pay attention to that stuff," Mayfield said of any tension between Haley and Jackson. "I'm invested in the game plan and invested in trying to learn and grow with some of these receivers, try to get the timing down, try and get the trust. That's above my pay grade. I'm not worried about that.
"When it comes down to it, we come out here and we have to play the game to win."
Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam ultimately would be the ones to decide whether Haley is fired, and Jackson has not yet brought it up, the source said. The owners could side with Jackson or Haley, or let the situation play out and change staffs after the season.
Jackson knows that his record from his first two seasons is 1-31, but he was given a third year with the team based on the belief that the problems with the first two seasons were more about personnel than coaching. There is thinking around the NFL that as the head coach, he takes the brunt of struggles, so if he's going to struggle, he might as well do things the way he wants.
The hiring of John Dorsey as general manager late last season was supposed to ease the struggles, and Dorsey overhauled the roster -- especially with the additions of quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor via trade and Mayfield.
But the Browns have lost two games in a row after a 2-2-1 start, and struggled with just three first downs in the first half against Tampa Bay. (Haley pointed out that the second half was much better.) Before Sunday's game against the Steelers, the Browns had scored a league-low eight points in the first quarter, and in three of four overtime periods they failed to get a first down against the Steelers, Raiders and Bucs.
Haley had a successful six seasons in Pittsburgh with Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell, but when his contract expired after last season, he was not retained. The Steelers instead promoted quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner.
Jackson hired Haley and gave him autonomy over the offense, including playcalling.
But there have been differences between the two as the season has progressed.
Jackson regularly said that Duke Johnson (1,041 total yards in 2017) and Nick Chubb needed to get the ball more, but Haley relied on Carlos Hyde. Hyde was traded on Oct. 19, two days before the Bucs game.
The slow starts have bothered Jackson, but one of the bigger issues has been the way Mayfield has been used. Jackson believes Mayfield needs to play fast, with more no-huddle or hurry-up mixed in with quick throws like slants and even some occasional read-option plays. That, the thinking goes, would make deep throws more effective.
Haley has relied on more of a traditional dropback system for Mayfield, which has led to him holding the ball and taking 18 sacks, including 15 in the past three games.