With the 2015 season coming to a close, we're happy to revisit NFL.com's Exit Interview series, checking out some of the worst teams of 2015 that could make the biggest noise this offseason.
2015 in a nutshell:
The draft began with enough promise. Despite rumors that Cleveland was looking to bundle their picks for Marcus Mariota, they did what was considered stable and took two of the best line prospects -- defensive tackle Danny Shelton and offensive lineman Cameron Erving -- available in the draft. This was after a season during which Cleveland was momentarily in first place under first-year head coach Mike Pettine. Everything was getting better at that point, and even if the quarterback position was in some turmoil, Josh McCown seemed good enough to win eight games with dominant lines. Fast forward down the road, and Erving was benched multiple times. Shelton needs more time to develop with the speed and physicality of the game. Johnny Manziel played one of the worst-quarterbacked games of the season in Week 16 and Justin Gilbert, the team's top-10 pick from 2014, has just 51 defensive snaps to his name.
What went right:
Like the Browns do every year, they managed to produce a few unheralded stars who ended up signing contract extensions. The team inked 30-year-old tight end Gary Barnidge to a four-year extension at the beginning of the month and, if nothing else, he managed to be the receiving target that general manager Ray Farmer hoped Dwayne Bowe would be. Then again, listing Barnidge as your bright spot produces more questions about a lack of a true bright spot. Rookie running back Duke Johnson has paired well with Isaiah Crowell and assuming the offensive line can return to form next year, they will provide a nice safety blanket for whomever is under center.
What went wrong:
For the second straight year, the Browns ended up benching at least one of their four first-round picks. Johnny Manziel was benched for partying, and Erving and Gilbert were also benched. Some other unfortunate happenings? The team gave Dwayne Bowe$9 million in guaranteed money and played him in just seven games -- six of which were losses. Bowe has five catches on the season for 53 yards. Other than that, the general manager and coach seem to be at odds and the defense is struggling to put its best players on the field. The battle between coach and GM is not foreign to bad teams, but it is destructive. Imagine trying to build something -- anything -- with two entirely different sets of principals and egos. Diverging forces can sometimes produce brilliance, but more often than not, it crushes a franchise and forces ownership to pick sides.
Offseason Crystal Ball:
The Browns will inevitably make a staff change, and while reports seem to indicate that it could come in the front office, don't be surprised if the team makes another clean sweep. At some point, Cleveland will get this right, but it will take patience and, on some levels, a concession on the part of whoever comes in hoping to save the franchise. The Browns need time and care and patience, but ownership is not always willing to provide it. If the team decides to stay put with both Mike Pettine and Ray Farmer, Farmer will have to answer to the selections of Gilbert and Manziel before he can be trusted with a top-five pick. Pettine will have to answer to the holes on his defense.
Team needs and draft:
There is an immediate tendency to say quarterback, but there is also a very real possibility that Manziel starts the season next year if he is not traded. He played well in stretches, but a punishment levied by head coach Mike Pettine robbed the team of any true evaluation period. Manziel also spent a large portion of the past offseason in rehab. So that leaves Cleveland with two options: Pray they get it right with one of the talented defensive ends, rush linebackers and cornerbacks who will stack the top 10 of the draft this year or get (insert your top-rated quarterback here) and pray that he is the future of the franchise that the others could not be.