BEREA: If the Browns are tempted to throw in the towel because their playoff hopes have been dashed, they can easily find another source of motivation by reminding themselves there’s a new regime in town.
Owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner are going to reveal who will stay and who will go shortly after the season ends Dec. 30. General Manager Tom Heckert, coach Pat Shurmur and other key members of the organization will learn their fates.
In the meantime, the players view the final two games of this season as their final auditions in front of the franchise’s new bigwigs. They’ll get their second-to-last chance to impress Sunday, when the Browns (5-9) visit the Denver Broncos (11-3).
“I think it’s obviously important no matter if you’re in the playoffs or not to go out and make a good impression for you, your teammates ’cause nothing’s given in the NFL,” said Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, the offense’s captain. “We don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of the season. There may be a new coaching staff. There may be new people around here. So anytime you go out there, you want to put your best foot forward, you want to put your best stuff on tape. You don’t know where you’re going to be at the end of the year.”
Middle linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, the defense’s captain, has been giving his younger teammates similar tips. The Browns were mathematically eliminated from qualifying for a wild-card berth when they fell to the Washington Redskins 38-21 this past weekend, but there’s still plenty at stake in Jackson’s eyes.
“If a new [executive or coach] comes in and he doesn’t like you per se as a player, there’s other guys and other teams who would reward you with a job,” Jackson said. “So the best advice I’d give a guy is whatever you’ve done to this point, give it all you’ve got for the next two weeks, see where the chips fall and deal with it when that time comes.”
Although the veteran leaders of the Browns don’t want Haslam and Banner to hit the reset button by blowing up the front office and coaching staff, they won’t be caught off guard if it happens.
According to several reports, NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi will likely take control of the Browns’ personnel department if Heckert leaves. And the Boston Globe, citing two unnamed league sources, reported earlier this month that Alabama coach Nick Saban, Oregon coach Chip Kelly and New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, a Canton native, would be on the Browns’ radar to replace Shurmur if Lombardi is hired.
Banner has repeatedly declined to comment.
“It’s the nature of the beast right now,” defensive end Frostee Rucker, who signed with the Browns in March, said of the potential changes. “I’ve thought about it. I’ve gone over it at home. I’ve tried to put my best work out there to do what I could do to keep [Heckert and Shurmur] here, the guys that brought me here and believed in me. But regardless of what happens in the outcome, I have to protect my family and I have to go to work. That’s just being a true professional. I really hope those guys do end up sticking around here because what we’re building here is something very special. It didn’t happen this year, but why wouldn’t it happen next year?”
When asked if he has evidence the Browns are on the cusp of reversing their fortunes, Rucker quipped, “When I got here, I had a certain amount of gray hairs, and I didn’t get that many more.
“No, it’s the youth of the team, the morale. Everyone’s together. It’s a real team. It’s going to take time. You’ve just to look at it. Pat came in coaching a brand new team after a lockout [last year] and then coming in the first day of two-a-days [this year] getting a new owner. I don’t know if it played a part, but it could have at some point. So all we can do is be professionals, wish everyone the best and just keep working hard ’cause everyone wants to stick around.”
Jackson has been with the Browns since 2006 and has seen the franchise undergo many drastic changes. He conceded he hopes to avoid another makeover, though it might be an unrealistic wish.
“I think that if this staff and this organization can stay together, I think next year we’ll definitely move forward,” Jackson said. “But if I’m an owner, it’s your ship, and you have the right to do whatever you want to do. And what that is, we don’t know.”
Before they find out, the Browns want to finish strong.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com.browns.abj.