You can't eat dreams, I suppose. Still, there's something sad about Eric Mangini, one of my least favorite coaches thanks to his rigid approach to defensive schemes and a knack for avoiding big risks regardless of the context, taking over a team with the potential for greatness. Make no mistake about it: 2007 proved that the Browns had all the tools for an elite offense, one that attacked on all three levels. That dream is now dead. Certainly, some could argue it died last year (although personally I blame the stubborn refusal to put Quinn in earlier), but once Mangini came to town, you knew that at least one of the infamous trio of Braylon, Kellen, and Jamal would leave town. Oh, and color me completely unsurprised that the short straw went to Kellen Winslow, the most outspoken (never mind that he was also the most useful and generally the most reliable) of the three. That's the Mangini way; you come in with a lot of hype, make one big, splashy change, and then everyone smiles and talks about how it's a new era for their team.
Except addition by subtraction is almost always just subtraction with a good PR campaign. Winslow was the second leading receiver in both catches and yardage despite missing seven games and dealing with health issues all year. Can anyone make a case for why losing that kind of talent is a good thing? Couldn't Brady Quinn, in what will likely be his first year as a starter, use a reliable intermediate target? Yes, he thinks he's the greatest player to ever play on the field; so does every other elite receiver that doesn't play for the Colts in the league. Here's a problem that the Browns might want to deal with instead of the attitude issue that isn't an issue: Who's going to do the dirty work on offense with Winslow out of town? Jamal Lewis is pushing 30, has never been a pass catching back, and got to 1000 yards because if you carry the ball 1000 times that is what happens. Braylon Edwards has the yips, plain and simple. United with Winslow, these two were part of something bigger, an offensive machine that, with competent passing under center, was bigger than the sum of its parts by virtue of its ability to attack on all three levels. Now? Who's catching the ball over the middle? Who's the other target in the red zone? Hell, who is going to be Brady Quinn's clear favorite target? I appreciate peace and quiet as much as the next guy, Eric Mangini, but you don't get wins for being the tightest ship; you get wins because your guys function better than the other guys. Say whatever else you want to, but Winslow was all about proving he was better than whoever was lined up against him.
For the Browns, this means that we're left with now is a team that will undoubtedly tout the value of a system without any of the talent that makes teams worth watching (both because they are interesting and because they win). The early rumors that Mangini was considering bypassing Quinn completely in favor of his NY pet project Brett Ratliff were nothing unexpected to anyone who watched the man gut the Jets for the sake of creating harmony under his vision for the team; aesthetic cohesion becoming an end in and of itself is the mark of any regime with underlying uncertainty. In the end, it's hard to predict anything but mediocrity for the Browns in the near future. Yes, the team will certainly do better than it was last year, but that's because any cohesive system is better than the anarchy that Romeo Crennel inspired. What's important is that improvement is not the same as justification, particularly for a team that stood on the verge of finally seeing its talent match its execution just two seasons ago. Even assuming Edwards and Lewis put together solid seasons, this is a 9-7 team at best, and while some may be satisfied with that, I'm going to continue to dream about what could have been if everyone had held onto their dreams just a little bit longer. Eric Mangini is a fine game manager, and he won't lose games with bad decisions, but he's not going to take anybody to the next level, and in that division, being dignified is a fun way to wind up with a third place finish, tops.
Hooray for progress.