BEREA, Ohio -- If the Jets are looking for signs of hope amid their roster demolition and rebuilding project, they can find it here at 76 Lou Groza Boulevard.
It is an unlikely place to seek answers, given the heartbreak the occupants of this address have endured for most of the last two decades. It might be the last place you would think offers any clues about the potential for success.
But if the Browns can begin to recover from their own torturous transformation, then perhaps the Jets can heed some of the lessons.
“That was probably the hardest time of my life,” coach Hue Jackson said of last year’s 1-15 season, his first in Cleveland. “I’m not going to kid anybody about that. I’m just not used to that. But if that’s what it took to get where we are now, to see the upward climb, then it was well worth it.”
There’s no guarantee the Browns will pull out of a long tailspin that has tested the most loyal and patient fans in football. But if the carefully laid-out plan involving Jackson, executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta — a baseball executive with the Dodgers, Mets, A’s and Indians — begins to bear fruit this season, then the road map just might apply to the Jets.
Team owner Jimmy Haslam entrusted his football people, who also include personnel executives Andrew Berry and Ken Kovash, with a sweeping overhaul of the team starting last year. The housecleaning was similar to the Jets’, although without high-profile releases such as Darrelle Revis, Nick Mangold and David Harris. But it was a deconstruction nonetheless, with Brown collecting as many draft picks as possible in hopes of rebuilding a reliable, long-lasting roster.
The Browns gave up on Johnny Manziel after a spectacular flameout caused by poor play and off-field problems, and patched together the quarterback position last year with Robert Griffin III, holdover Josh McCown (now the Jets’ potential starter) and Cody Kessler. The plan was to get through last year and look to acquire a franchise-caliber quarterback in 2017 while solidifying as many other positions as possible.
The bad news: The Browns finished with the NFL’s worst record. The good news: They got the first overall draft pick. And while it may have been tempting to take a quarterback, none of the passers warranted it. So the Browns selected Myles Garrett of Texas A & M, a coveted pass rusher who certainly passes the “eye test” when you watch him on the practice field. The Browns also came away with Michigan safety Jabrill Peppers in the first round, then got their quarterback in the second round.
Now, let’s not call DeShone Kizer out of Notre Dame a can’t-miss prospect. Jackson and Brown acknowledge there are plenty of things Kizer must improve upon. But there is a conviction about him, and the Browns soon will find out whether he eventually can become the franchise quarterback.
“You see he has the potential to be that, but he has a long way to go,” Brown said. “He’s busting his butt out here every day, and we’re pleased with what we’ve seen. But again, it’s early.”
There’s no telling whether Kizer will turn into the answer or whether he’ll wind up on the gigantic scrap heap of quarterbacks that began with Cleveland’s 1999 return to the NFL. But if he does pan out, and if the Browns’ bold vision produces a team ready to turn the corner toward respectability, it can provide a glimmer of hope for a Jets team that is only at the beginning of the process.
It’s one that’s sure to be painful for GM Mike Maccagnan and coach Todd Bowles, with no guarantees either or both will be here next year to see it through.
“I know Todd and I empathize with him,” Jackson said. “We’re all competitive, and we do these jobs to win. I don’t know a coach that likes to lose. It’s tough on anybody. But at the same time, if your organization has a vision, has a plan, you have to work your plan. That’s what it’s all about.”