With fan support waning, particularly for the men in the front office, president Joe Banner and general manager Michael Lombardi need to make a splash in the 2014 draft. Some fans have expressed the sentiment that continuing to purchase tickets and attend games shows support for the overall downward spiral the organization has been on since the return in 1999. It's hard to fault that logic, since spending money on floundering teams is indeed rewarding the owners for poor performances. Maybe Cleveland fans have earned the right to boycott the team. After displaying unwavering loyalty to a sub-.500 team for 14 years, perhaps the time to demonstrate all that pent-up frustration is now.
The evidence of fan discontent is certainly already there. Despite being able to boast consecutive seasons without a blackout since 1995, actual fan attendance was lackluster in 2013. It became clear to me after attending their Week 15 matchup against the Chicago Bears that either the Browns or corporate sponsors were buying up many of the unsold tickets to avoid a blackout - nearly the entire upper deck and much of the mid-level seating was empty.
If Cleveland fans have decided that now is the time to demand change, owner Jimmy Haslam's statement that 2014 is "the crucial offseason for the Cleveland Browns" could perhaps have more meaning than even he knew. Making it a crucial step toward revitalizing this historic franchise by finally getting that franchise quarterback would more than renew the enthusiasm these fans still have deep down. They want to be won back.
I have been a staunch advocate of the idea that if the Browns' chosen quarterback is off the board by the time they pick, they shouldn't draft another QB just to say they did. That doesn't mean I think they should sit and hope their guy falls into their lap, however. In the Browns' current position, with as many draft picks as they have, if they believe there is a significant threat of someone trading up or taking their choice first, I absolutely believe they should try to trade up to get him. I'd be surprised if they carry ten draftees into training camp, so putting those picks to use as trading material is the next best thing. It also shows the fans that this front office is willing to do what it takes to make the Browns relevant again. Watching their top choice get drafted ahead of them, à la 2012, would just be concession to the popular fan saying, "Same old Browns."
This outlook may seem pessimistic, but it shouldn't. With what appear to be solid hires at head coach and both coordinator roles, the Browns have a fantastic opportunity this offseason to get things headed in the right direction. What they do with that opportunity will likely determine whether the Browns remain the top dog in Cleveland over the resurgent Indians and the Cavaliers.
Ryan Hurley currently lives in Cincinnati and has been a fan of Cleveland sports for 23 years.
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