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Browns owner Jimmy Haslam 'cautiously optimistic' but 'realistic'

BEREA, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam heads into the 2016 season with realistic expectations.

"We’re realistic that last year we were 3-13," Haslam said Sunday in his annual early training camp meeting with the media. "This is a franchise that has not drafted well over the years, and that of course is how you build a good football team. We are cautiously optimistic about the draft we had last year. We have a lot of picks coming up next year, lot of picks in '18.

"So I think the takeaway should be we’re very excited, we’re cautiously optimistic, but at the same time realistic about where we stand."

The words "cautiously" and "optimistic" were noteworthy. One year removed from his promise not to "blow it up" if the Browns had a tough season, Haslam was not overselling anything aside from his belief in his new head coach and new front office -- and that the Browns will work like mad to provide Cleveland with what the Cavaliers provided: a championship.

Haslam called it a "gotcha" question when he was asked what would make 2016 a successful season.

"Listen, we could win four or five games and feel good about things and we could win eight," Haslam said. "We'll all know, and I've said [this] every year, that when we stand here on -- I think our last game is January 1st -- if we're improving as a football team."

Haslam touched on several topics Sunday, which is typical. He supported the return of receiver Josh Gordon from a yearlong suspension, saying Gordon deserved "a restart." The owner also said running back Isaiah Crowell has done as well as anyone could expect since posting an "inexcusable" image on social media related to police killings and young black men.

"I’m not sure he could have done anything better since he did that terrible incident, whatever it was, two or three weeks ago," Haslam said. "And we’re proud of how Isaiah’s responded."

Crowell has promised his first game check to the Dallas Fallen Officer Foundation. He also attended the funeral of one of the Dallas police officers killed July 7, and while there he spent time with police officers and officials. Crowell has apologized and said he will continue to try to make amends by promoting dialogue with the police and community.

Haslam said the decision to bring Gordon back from a yearlong suspension was made by the Browns' football people, but he said given Gordon's history, he and fellow owner Dee Haslam were brought into the discussion.

"I think (coach) Hue (Jackson) said it well: Josh deserves a restart," Haslam said. "And he knows ... I'm going to reiterate again, he understands very, very clearly what the expectations are here, what he can and can't do. Time will tell whether he can live up to them. We're going to do everything we can to support him, and hopefully things will work out well."

Haslam said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell spent 90 minutes talking with Gordon before reinstating him, then talked for 20 to 25 minutes with Haslam the day the decision was announced. Haslam praised Goodell's decision to allow Gordon to be with the Browns in preseason and around the team during his four-game suspension to start the season.

"(Goodell) understands the need for structure, and certainly Roger knows how we feel on that, that we think it's helpful for these young men to be in the building," Haslam said. "We think we can help them as much as anybody. Not by being easy on them but by ... listen, there's something to be said for having to be here at 7:30 until 5:30 and eating well and if nothing else, knowing you're going to work out and be in the team meetings. I don't think any of us would argue."

Allowing Gordon to be in the building during the suspension was unprecedented. Browns defensive lineman Armonty Bryant will serve a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, but he is not allowed to be with the team during that time.

Haslam started Sunday's media session in similar ways to past sessions at this time of year. He praised the people he hired and said he felt good about the direction the team is going. However, he does so as he works with his fourth coach and fourth general manager. This coach, Jackson, asked the Haslams to talk to the team when camp opened.

"There were two basic messages," Haslam said. "One was preparation. And two, this is our expectation of you as a Cleveland Brown both on and off the field. We listed three or four things that were important in preparation, and one of them is eliminate all the distractions from your life. That can run the gamut, we all know and understand that. But eliminate the distractions from your life."

The impact of the NBA title won by the Cavs seemed strong. Cavs owner Dan Gilbert had dinner at the Haslams' home a couple of weeks ago, and Jimmy Haslam said the first two texts he received when Game 7 ended were from his father and Jackson. Haslam noticed and marveled at the attendance for the Cavs' downtown Cleveland parade (estimated at 1.3 million) and the behavior of the fans.

"When you see the love of sports that the fans -- and you all appreciate this much more than I do because you've lived here longer -- have, it makes us want to win even more for these great fans," Haslam said.

Haslam expressed strong support for the team's emphasis on building through the draft, even if it takes time.

"I can't guarantee that we're going to have a winning season after going from 3-13," Haslam said. "I do think we'll be a better football team. I know we'll be a better football team. And I think as I said at the first, we're directionally correct."