Any other year, Browns veterans might pack it in.
That behavior goes against the nature of high-character, stand-up guys like Phil Dawson, D’Qwell Jackson, Joe Thomas, Sheldon Brown, Benjamin Watson, Ahtyba Rubin and Josh Cribbs.
But at some point you have to wonder how much can one good Cleveland Brown stand?
How many coaches who should have remained coordinators does he have to play for?
How many opening day starting quarterbacks does he have to follow?
How many seasons does he have to endure where Dawson, the kicker long slighted for the Pro Bowl because of the team’s mediocrity, is the only legitimate scoring threat?
But this is not any other year. Jimmy Haslam has seen to that.
The Browns have $1 billion reasons to prove to their new owner and CEO Joe Banner they should be part of the team’s future. If they fear they aren’t, they must demonstrate why they belong in the league. For far too long, Browns have ridden off into the Berea sunset never to set foot on an NFL field again. (David Veikune, where are you?)
More than in 2009, when they inexplicably won their final four games in a 5-11 season, perhaps playing for each other instead of for coach Eric Mangini, they have motivation to finish strong.
Before he left town Tuesday for last weekend’s bye, Browns cornerback Joe Haden brought up the Haslam factor before his name was mentioned.
“We have new management, so you’ve got to put your best foot forward,” Haden said. “Even though our record hasn’t been that good, we still have a lot to play for. We still haven’t played Pittsburgh. We’ve still got seven more games to show we are a good team.”
Some, like rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, seemed beaten down by the negativity and the defeats, even though four of their losses have come by a touchdown or less.
“I think it’s the perfect time for everybody in the locker room to get a breath of fresh air and regroup and regain that hunger and get back on track,” Weeden said after a 25-15 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.
If his tone was any indication, Weeden sounded like he’d lost his appetite.
Going into Sunday’s game at the Dallas Cowboys, the Browns are 2-7. Coach Pat Shurmur, General Manager Tom Heckert and everyone else in the building except for president Mike Holmgren, his departure already set, are fighting for their jobs.
Banner said in a Thursday interview with the Beacon Journal that the team’s record wouldn’t be the only determining factor in Shurmur’s and Heckert’s future. That’s not necessarily good news. Of the remaining six teams on the schedule (with the Steelers twice), only the Steelers and Broncos have a winning percentage above .375.
Weeden didn’t seem to be the only Brown struggling to cope with what could be more upheaval, both in the front office and in the locker room. Cribbs left on Tuesday lamenting the fact the Browns haven’t been able to build anything because of constant change, and that more is coming.
The offense’s captain, Thomas agreed with the notion that a team of old veterans would have had enough by now.
“Exactly. That’s a huge benefit to having rookies,” Thomas said Tuesday. Twenty-seven on the 53-man roster have two years or less of NFL experience, including 17 rookies.
When asked about the Browns not being the type of team to pack it in, Thomas said, “No, not at all. I think that says a lot about the character of the people on this team, but it also helps having young guys. This is their first time in the NFL, they don’t know any better. All they know is go out on Sunday and have fun, play as hard as you can, try to make an impression on the coaches and the scouts.”
Thomas likely meant other teams’ scouts. That kind of microscope was also on the mind of defensive captain Jackson.
“Oh, yeah, right now is the time where you’ve got to put your best tape out there. You’ve got to put your best foot forward,” Jackson said, the latter in regards to Haslam. “We don’t know how this thing may turn out. The one thing we can control is how well we play. The more guys who understand that and move with a sense of urgency, the better off they’ll be.”
Jackson sounded like he was trying to convince himself finishing strong was possible.
“We’re so close,” Jackson said. “I’m tired of saying that. You want to get over the hump. But it’s going to come.
“You don’t want to get discouraged. It’s not going to be easy. It falls on myself and the other leaders in this locker room to make sure we’re not slugging around, that we’re energized and still having fun because this thing can still turn around.”
“Slugging around” could have been 2011 or 2008, when the Browns lost their last six games. Or 2010 or 2006, when they lost their last four.
Since Cribbs arrived as an undrafted free agent in 2005, the Browns are 40-81. Since Jackson was drafted in the second round in 2006, the Browns are 34-71. Since Thomas was selected third overall in 2007, they’re 30-59.
Rather than getting consumed with such numbers, Thomas has found a coping mechanism — amnesia.
“It’s important to not focus on what your record is looking back because good or bad you can dwell on that and it can affect the job you have to do the next Sunday,” he said.
He meant their 2-7 record, but he could also have meant his 30-59.
Whatever tricks Browns veterans have devised over the years to handle the disappointment, they don’t need them this season. The tall, commanding presence of Haslam should provide all the motivation — or fear — they need.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.