Head Coach: Hue Jackson
Hue Jackson enters his third season with the Browns. He’s totaled an astounding 1-31 record and yet still kept his job. Jackson was previously the offensive coordinator for the Bengals from 2014 until 2015. He retained control over the offense in Cleveland despite also being the head coach. Jackson called the plays for the last two years. In 2017, the Browns became the second team in NFL history to record a 0-16 season. Jackson’s prowess with offenses hasn’t translated so far.
Offensive Coordinator: Todd Haley
Todd Haley has been in the NFL for the last 22 years, serving as a scouting assistant for the Jets in 1995 and working his way up to being the Cardinals offensive coordinator in 2007 to 2008. That success led to the head coaching gig with the Chiefs in 2009 when he took over a 2-14 team and spent three seasons developing running back Jamaal Charles while trying to make do with Matt Cassel at quarterback. He was released after reaching 5-8 and Romeo Crennel assumed the position.
Haley spent the last six years helping the Steelers offense become one of the top units in the NFL. The Steelers made the playoffs in each of the last four years, while never ending with fewer than ten wins in a season. He was not renewed this year despite the offense ranking No. 3 in yards and No. 8 in scoring but this year’s unit was considered a disappointment. Losing to the Jaguars in the playoffs was no help. There was also growing dissension between Roethlisberger and Haley.
Ben Roethlisberger was the quarterback in all those years and even comes off one of his best seasons. Roethlisberger was already playing at a high level when Haley showed up but has only had injury issues to prevent him from top passing stats every year.
Haley’s first season in Pittsburgh contained a horde of bad backs but second-round pick Le’Veon Bell got his first NFL carries in Week 4 of 2013 and never looked back. Bell has never played for any other offensive coordinator while in the pros. Haley gets at least some credit for his development, particularly transitioning a team long noted for a power rushing attack and turning Bell into the premier pass-catching back as well.
In 2010, the Steelers drafted an under-sized six-round wide receiver from Central Michigan. Antonio Brown became a 65+ catch receiver over his first three years. Once Haley showed up, he’s caught at least 100 passes per year. There is no denying the talent of Brown but all of his successful seasons started in his fourth year when Haley showed up.
For the first time, Hue Jackson will not call the plays. This is a notoriously bad offense on a team that has lived in the league cellar for so long that a head coach going 1-31 still merits another chance. Haley turned around the offenses in Arizona and Pittsburgh. He leaves behind one of the top units in the NFL.
Roethlisberger, Bell, and Brown were key ingredients that are not mirrored on the Browns despite the annual high draft picks. But Corey Coleman was the top wideout selected in 2016. David Njoku carries promise at tight end though Haley has never featured the position much in any of his stops. Even his time in Kansas City started when Tony Gonzalez left. Josh Gordon adds more potential firepower to the passing game.
While Haley only had one starting quarterback for the last six years in Pittsburgh, the Browns have spun through 13. And are likely to make it 14 in the draft this year. Haley had marginal success with Matt Cassel in Kansas City. Kurt Warner was already the starter for the two seasons Haley spent in Arizona. He’s no quarterback guru and even clashed with Roethlisberger. But he has assembled inventive, powerful offenses that made the best use of what players were available.
The Browns will, once again, be limited by their quarterback barring a trade to get a veteran. And selecting a top rookie still means a major learning curve on a bad team installing an entirely new offense. That isn’t that attractive for this year. Coleman is promising. Assuming even a mediocre quarterback starting, he should benefit from Haley.
The winner in this lottery is the backfield. If the Browns select a top running back, particularly one with receiving skills, that should spell high volume use even as a rookie. Should they stand pat or take a later back who won’t be a Week 1 starter, then Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson will platoon again. At least Johnson should see his typical high volume of passes.
Haley has been successful in his previous jobs but this is a monumental task. On the plus side, the bar is so low in Cleveland that he is a lock to bring about improvement. But it all rides on who the quarterback will be for 2018.