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Year in review: Big hype, big disappointment for Browns in 2019

If the Browns need this much time to hire a general manager, we can take four weeks to complete the annual season wrapup.

One of these Januarys won’t be filled with exhausting coaching and general manager searches, but this isn’t the one. And while the focus needs to turn to the future under the latest next regime, we must take a final look back at the 2019 season.

It was similar to its predecessors in the results — a 6-10 record under first-time coach Freddie Kitchens. But it felt so much worse given the talented roster and huge expectations.

Baker Mayfield wasn’t the same, Odell Beckham Jr. wasn’t as advertised and Myles Garrett lost his mind for a moment.

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We review what went right and what went wrong, along with the numbers that tell the stories and a to-do list for the offseason.

TOP FIVE MOMENTS

  • Impressive victory: At the time, the 40-25 win over the Ravens in Week 4 looked like it would catapult the Browns to an AFC North title. Baker Mayfield threw for 342 yards, Nick Chubb rushed for 165 yards and three touchdowns, Jarvis Landry caught eight passes for 167 yards and the defense held Ravens MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson in check.
  • Going streaking: After a 2-6 start, the Browns gave themselves and the fans hope by winning three straight vs. the Bills, Steelers and Dolphins.
  • Talent show: Receiver Odell Beckham Jr. fell well short of expectations, but he made a couple of dazzling plays that reminded everyone of his tremendous skill set. Against the Jets in Week 2 he made a one-handed catch down the sideline near the goal line and later took a short pass and went 89 yards for a touchdown. And in the finale against the Bengals, he caught a jump ball in the end zone and got both feet inbounds.
  • Dynamic duo: Running back Kareem Hunt’s return from suspension coincided with the three-game win streak and provided a jolt to the offense. The Chubb-Hunt backfield was the best in the league and has the potential for greatness in 2020 if Hunt is re-signed.
  • Special night: The performance was overshadowed by what happened in the final eight seconds, but middle linebacker Joe Schobert’s outing vs. the Steelers in prime time should be remembered. He had 10 tackles, a sack, two interceptions and two more passes defensed in the 21-7 win Nov. 14.
  • Honorable mention: Jarvis Landry’s big games vs. the Ravens and Dolphins; center JC Tretter signing a three-year, $32.5 million contract extension; Chubb’s 88-yard touchdown run vs. the Ravens

BOTTOM FIVE MOMENTS

  • A swing and a suspension: Defensive end Myles Garrett’s life changed, and so did the team’s season, in an ugly instant. With eight seconds left in the win over the Steelers, Garrett got into a fight with quarterback Mason Rudolph, eventually ripping off Rudolph’s helmet and hitting him on top of the head with it. Garrett was indefinitely suspended, including for the final six games, and the defense didn’t recover.
  • Them again: The Browns were poised to win their fourth straight and become a real player in the playoff chase. Then they went to Pittsburgh, blew a 10-0 lead and lost 20-13 to undrafted rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges and the Steelers.
  • Gone so soon: The ouster of coach Freddie Kitchens was predictable after the talented roster failed to meet expectations. The parting of ways with general manager John Dorsey was a stunner and signaled another complete regime change.
  • Not ready: The buzz for the season was overwhelming. Then Kitchens’ first game was a 43-13 home loss to the Titans that included 18 accepted penalties for 182 yards against the Browns.
  • Sad ending: Nick Chubb was in position to win the NFL rushing title in his second season, leading Tennessee’s Derrick Henry by 124 yards with a game to play. But Chubb carried 13 times for 41 yards in a loss at Cincinnati, and Henry went for 211 yards on 32 rushes. Henry prevailed 1,540 to 1,494.
  • Honorable mention: Four missed chances — all passes — from the 4-yard line in the last minute vs. the Rams; a failed fourth-and-9 draw against the Rams; Arizona’s 226 rushing yards in Week 15

TOP FIVE PLAYERS

  • Nick Chubb, running back: He should’ve won the NFL rushing title but got only 28 carries the last two weeks. He still finished with 1,494 yards, the most in franchise history since Jim Brown in 1965, and made his first Pro Bowl. Chubb established himself as an elite back and a consummate pro.
  • Jarvis Landry, receiver: He was the best wideout on a team with Odell Beckham Jr., and that’s saying something. And he did it with a hip injury that affected him since May. He led the team with 83 catches for 1,174 yards and six touchdowns.
  • Joel Bitonio, left guard: After a few rough moments early vs. some elite competition — the Rams’ Aaron Donald, the entire 49ers front four — Bitonio found his groove and earned a second straight trip to the Pro Bowl.
  • Joe Schobert, middle linebacker: If the Browns don’t re-sign him, he’ll have no trouble finding a new team on the free agent market in March. Schobert was voted a second alternate to the Pro Bowl and registered 133 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions, nine passes defensed, two forced fumbles and a fumble recovery.
  • Sheldon Richardson, defensive tackle: He played well all season, showed versatility by playing some end late in the year and grew into a leadership role. A strong free agent acquisition by former general manager John Dorsey.
  • Honorable mention: Defensive end Myles Garrett, cornerback Denzel Ward, center JC Tretter, receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

BOTTOM FIVE PLAYERS

  • Antonio Callaway, receiver: That he’s on an XFL roster illustrates the speed and depth of his decline. He opened the year on a drug suspension, caught eight passes in four games, turned a touchdown into an interception vs. the 49ers and was cut as he was set to get suspended again. He wasted his talent.
  • David Njoku, tight end: He was the No. 29 pick in 2017 but may have played his final down for the Browns. He missed 10 games after breaking a wrist then was a healthy scratch for two games. He caught five passes for 41 yards and a touchdown.
  • Adarius Taylor, linebacker: He was signed to a two-year contract as a free agent with the hope he might be able to start. He had no impact, making one tackle on defense all season.
  • Chris Hubbard, right tackle: He showed his character and toughness by fighting through injuries early and late in the year, but his performance wasn’t good enough. The Browns will likely move on from him.
  • Rashard Higgins, receiver: He put himself in former coach Freddie Kitchens’ doghouse by reportedly refusing to enter a game and never escaped. He caught four passes for 55 yards and a touchdown.
  • Honorable mention: Defensive end Olivier Vernon, quarterback Baker Mayfield, left tackle Greg Robinson

OFFSEASON TO-DO LIST

  • Hire Andrew Berry: The Browns lost out on their top general manager candidate when Vikings assistant GM George Paton withdrew from consideration Friday. Berry, the Eagles’ vice president of football operations, is the only suitable option left. He worked for the Browns from 2016-18, made a strong impression and would work well with new coach Kevin Stefanski. If Berry says no, the Browns would be scrambling to find their top talent evaluator, which is an awful situation for late January.
  • Fix Baker Mayfield: The coach and general manager won’t matter if the quarterback isn’t good. Mayfield couldn’t build on his strong rookie season, regressing to 31st in the league with 21 interceptions, a 59.4 completion percentage and 78.8 passer rating. He looked flabby, struggled to lead the big personalities in the locker room and never clicked with receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Mayfield’s rebound must start with a sharper focus in the offseason.
  • Decide on OBJ: Beckham is under contract through 2023 and said he wants to return. It’s up to the new Browns regime — whoever the GM is and Stefanski — to determine if they want to keep him. The drama continued this month, as Beckham made a fool of himself at LSU’s national championship victory in New Orleans. But he’s still immensely talented, likable and should be 100 percent healthy after core muscle surgery. And his transgressions, while annoying, have all been minor.
  • Fresh evaluations: A new GM and coach means new decisions must be made on the impending free agents. Middle linebacker Joe Schobert, free safety Damarious Randall and receiver Rashard Higgins are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents, and running back Kareem Hunt will be restricted. The first order of business is to decide whether any are worth keeping. If the answer’s yes, they should be re-signed before hitting the market.
  • Identify needs: The roster is talented but far from complete. The new decision-makers must recognize the holes and develop a plan to fill them through free agency and the draft. A pair of tackles would be a good place to start, followed by safety, tight end and a fullback. Stefanski’s offense relies on a fullback, and the Browns didn’t have one on the roster in 2019.

BY THE NUMBERS

0
Winning seasons by the Brown in the 2010s

.266
Cleveland’s winning percentage in the 2010s

1
Time in team history with two receivers (Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr.) and a running back (Nick Chubb) reaching 1,000 yards in the same season — 2019

1
Person in the NFL — middle linebacker Joe Schobert — with 120 tackles, two sacks, four interceptions and two forced fumbles

2
Players in Browns history with 1,750 scrimmage yards in a season — Jim Brown four times and Chubb (1,772) in 2019

3
Pro Bowlers: Chubb, Landry and left guard Joel Bitonio

4
Touchdowns by Beckham, the fewest in a full season in his six-year career

5
Coaches fired by owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam since buying the team in 2012

5
General managers/heads of the football department fired by the Haslams

6
Games missed by defensive end Myles Garrett due to suspension

8
Double-digit-loss seasons in the 2010s

10
Sacks by Garrett, a team high

16
Games started by Baker Mayfield — the first Browns quarterback to accomplish the feat since Tim Couch in 2001

21
Interceptions thrown by Mayfield, second most in the league

41.6
Net yards per punt by rookie Jamie Gillan, a franchise season record

59.4
Mayfield’s completion percentage, 31st in the league

78.8
Mayfield’s passer rating, 31st in the league

95
Consecutive games with two catches for Landry, the longest active streak in the NFL

105
Points by kicker Austin Seibert, the most for a rookie in franchise history

122
Penalties enforced against the Browns, fourth most in the league

133
Tackles by Schobert, ranking 10th in the league

144.7
Yards rushing per game allowed by the Browns defense, 30th in the league

564
Career catches by Landry, the most in NFL history for a player through his first six seasons

1,494
Rushing yards for Chubb, second in the NFL

7,552
Passing yards for Mayfield, the most in team history through two seasons

Browns writer for The Chronicle-Telegram and The Medina Gazette. Proud graduate of Northwestern University. Husband and stepdad. Avid golfer who needs to hit the range to get down to a single-digit handicap. Right about Johnny Manziel, wrong about Brandon Weeden. Contact Scott at 440-329-7253, or email and follow him on and Twitter.

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