BEREA — Owner Jimmy Haslam warned everyone at the start of training camp when he said the expectation wasn’t to win until 2018 or ’19.
The harsh reality came into even sharper focus with a series of head-scratching roster moves in the last week.
Head of football operations Sashi Brown cut cornerback Joe Haden over $4 million.
“It was crazy, to say the least,” cornerback Jamar Taylor said Monday. “Definitely didn’t see it coming. Joe Joe definitely can still play this game.”
“Just to see a guy like that of his caliber go, I think the whole building was surprised, actually,” cornerback Briean Boddy-Calhoun said.
Brown cut trusted and versatile offensive lineman John Greco because he’s 32 years old and was due to make $3 million.
“It’s (crappy),” left guard Joel Bitonio said. “Greco’s my guy. He’s sort of a mentor to me and a good friend.
“That was one of the tougher cuts. But you understand it’s a business. We’re working in a different direction right now.”
Brown stocked the roster with four quarterbacks 24 years old and younger and with no NFL wins, while paying veteran Brock Osweiler more than $15 million not to be here.
“We are taking a look-see at a guy,” coach Hue Jackson said of Josh Woodrum, who was claimed off waivers Sunday. “How it is all going to unfold, I don’t know.”
None of these moves was about winning in 2017.
The cuts can all be explained and rationalized as part of a long-term plan. Getting rid of veterans, especially backups, clears the way for the younger players to gain valuable experience. And if it saves cash now and salary cap space later, even better.
But Brown hurt Jackson’s chances to beat the Steelers, Ravens, Bengals and everyone else on this season’s schedule. Jackson can only coach whom he’s given.
The Browns have giant question marks at quarterback and receiver. Beyond the starters, they have little quality depth on the offensive line, at linebacker or in the secondary. After the slew of roster moves over the weekend, they had the youngest roster in the NFL with an average age of 25.0, according to Elias.
Jackson has continually stressed the importance of winning. He was devastated last year during the 1-15 embarrassment and celebrated the 4-0 preseason that just concluded.
He won’t concede the focus is on anything but winning now.
“I understand where you are coming from and what it looks like, but every day everything we do is built towards winning,” he said. “There is no other way you can do this.”
Jackson doesn’t control the roster, as he often reminds reporters. But he said the front office is pulling in the same direction as the coaches.
“I don’t think that they have any other agenda,” he said. “I know sometimes when you look at transactions and all those things … but there is a plan and a purpose to what we are doing and we are getting there. I think you guys can see the team has improved, and I think we will improve.”
Fans have reason to be excited for the start of another season. DeShone Kizer is Cleveland’s most promising young quarterback in years for all the right reasons — he’s physically gifted, smart and motivated. Fellow rookies Myles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers look like playmakers on a defense that will get the attention of opponents.
But any excitement is likely coupled with frustration over a slow rebuilding process that doesn’t have a completion date.
Former Raiders owner Al Davis was onto something when he coined “Just win, baby.” It was simple, to the point and sent a strong message.
“Build for the future while evaluating young players, keeping salary cap flexibility and accumulating future draft assets” doesn’t have the same ring to it. And its message requires trust and patience from a fan base that spent all its trust and patience during the string of failed regimes that preceded Brown and Co.
Jackson has too much on his plate to focus on a long-range plan. He’s got to prepare Kizer for his first NFL start, that just so happens to come against the Pittsburgh Steelers and their blitzing defense.
“I think it is about right now. I do,” Jackson said. “This is the situation we are in, and we are moving forward.
“I think things have gotten better, I really do. Now, is it happening as fast as maybe all of you want? Maybe not, but it is happening pretty fast in my mind, and we just have to continue to stick to it and get the rewards out of it that we know we can.”
Jackson admitted having so much youth is a “challenge” and he worries about how certain roster moves go over in the locker room. But he points to a stronger, more talented roster, an improving defense and a quality young quarterback as signs of progress.
“That is how you start to build a team,” he said. “Those things are positives for our football team.”
The Raiders had “Just win, baby.”
The Browns have baby steps.