Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR
CLEVELAND - These season-ending Browns funerals don’t get any easier to experience.
Jobs are lost, families are displaced, old acquaintances are forgotten.
Sunday’s 28-12 loss to the Steelers left the Browns with a 3-13 record – their worst in the four-year ownership of Jimmy Haslam. Another round of firings is in the offing. Coach Mike Pettine said after the game he would like to learn his fate Sunday night, but had no idea if Haslam would personally confirm to him what was widely reported before the game.
ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Haslam is planning to meet with Pettine Sunday evening where he is expected to relieve him of his duties.
Thomas, 31, repeatedly has said he wants to be part of the turnaround of the Browns. But in the grimness of the finality of an eighth losing season in nine years, he admitted he was unsure if he would be back in 2016, or if he even wants to be back.
“It’s really sad,” Thomas said. “As you get older, the tomorrows get fewer and farther between. Who knows who’s going to be back in this locker room.
“It’s tough. It becomes harder every time it happens because you realize you’re closer to your end and every time there is a reset it puts you further away from reaching the playoffs and making that push for a Super Bowl.”
Thomas said he found himself wondering if Sunday’s was his last game for the Browns.
“No doubt,” he said. “When there’s turnover in the coaching staff, a lot of good players end up leaving, a lot of good coaches leave. There’s a lot of uncertainty when there’s turnover in the coaching staff. Certainly I could be one of them not here next year.”
Asked directly if he wanted to be back, Thomas said, “I’ll have to wait and see what happens with everything next week.”
Like many other teammates who came forward and publicly supported Pettine over the last two weeks, Thomas said he would have liked to have seen Pettine make it to a third season.
“The most important thing in this business is finding a quarterback,” Thomas said. “Coaches have a year of two to find a quarterback and when they don’t, they’re sent out the door.”
Like so many of his fired predecessors, Pettine had to play his final game with a third quarterback. Austin Davis, filling in for the concussed but mysteriously AWOL Johnny Manziel, had little chance against a Steelers team needing the win to make the playoffs. They backed in when Buffalo beat the Jets just as the Browns’ game was ending.
Davis was sacked seven times, intercepted twice and lost one fumble in leading the Browns to four field goals.
Reports of Manziel fleeing the auspices of the club while in concussion protocol to a casino in Las Vegas on Saturday night were not disputed by the club.
“I don’t know,” Pettine said if Manziel was in Las Vegas. “I wasn’t.”
Pettine said players are not permitted on the sideline while in concussion protocol. He hedged about the reports of Manziel abandoning the team for gambling in Las Vegas.
“Let me gather the information on it,” Pettine said. “It would be disappointing – I’ll leave it at that.”
Thomas said, “I don’t know if it’s fact. I was catching some Zs Saturday night. He’s obviously come some way from where he was last year, but there’s a ways to go. If that’s a true report, obviously for him some things are more important than football. Being a starting quarterback, that’s a problem that probably needs to be addressed in the offseason.”
Thomas said it’s “surprising” the Browns haven’t been able to solve their franchise quarterback problem in 17 years since rebirth in expansion in 1999. Davis was the 24th quarterback to start a game for the Browns in that time.
“Certainly you’d think by now we would have found the guy,” Thomas said. “Look at Pittsburgh’s roster, without Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, who knows what kind of team they’d be. But they have them, they’re a playoff team and they might win another Super Bowl.”
Roethlisberger threw for 349 yards and three touchdowns in registering his 19th win over the Browns in 21 games. He was intercepted twice, and those turnovers helped keep the game close for three quarters.
Manziel was the second first-round pick of the Browns in 2014 – the first draft of the shotgun marriage regime set up by Haslam between Pettine and first-time GM Ray Farmer.
The Browns were 7-6 under Brian Hoyer last year when they replaced him with Manziel. Since then, they are 3-16. Hoyer left for Houston in free agency and will be the starting quarterback when the Texans play a wild-card playoff game next week.
Farmer is expected to receive the same fate as Pettine and be dismissed.
NFL.com's Ian Rapoport reported that Farmer was also relieved of his duties as general manager.
A club spokesman said before the game he did not know when Haslam would meet the media to discuss reparations of his latest regime blow-up.
The big question is whether Haslam executed this one – his third in four seasons – with replacements in mind. Or will he have to suffer another round of searches and public snubs from the obvious candidates.
Among the head coach candidates connected to the Browns are Adam Gase, Chicago offensive coordinator; Doug Marrone, Jacksonville assistant head coach/offensive line; Chip Kelly, fired as Philadelphia head coach; and Tom Cable, Seattle offensive line coach.
Green Bay personnel executive Eliot Wolf, son of retired Hall of Fame Packers GM Ron Wolf, has been reported as the leading GM candidate.