Alumni from 1980s weigh in on current Browns 2024 report card | Jeff Schudel's The Cleveland Beat

Mar. 2—The NFL Players Association recently released team-by-team report cards with the players from each team grading their own team. Think of it as the students sending a note home to the teacher instead of the other way around.

"For many years, our players brought up the idea of creating a 'Free Agency Guide' that would illuminate what the daily experience is for players and their families at each team," union president J.C. Tretter, the former Browns center, wrote on "Last year, we created the first version of that guide, and it was a success on several levels. Players were more informed about how their workplace compared to others across the NFL

"Some clubs made immediate improvements based on the information we published. It gave our union a platform to advocate for raising workplace standards across the NFL."

General Manager Andrew Berry might have difficulty attracting players to their training complex in Berea if the free agents use only the Browns' report card as their guide. The Browns ranked 23rd of 32 teams with the following grades for the specific categories surveyed: Treatment of families — D-minus; food/cafeteria — C-plus; nutritionist/dietician — C-plus; locker room — D; training room — C-plus; training staff — B-minus; weight room — D; strength coaches — B-plus; travel — D; head coach — B-minus and ownership — B.

The bad grades for treatment of families, the locker room, the weight room and travel could be turnoffs for prospective free agents. Contracts offered and the chance to play for a playoff contender, however, might weigh in the Browns' favor.

"I think every year, you have to be open to everything information-wise to get better," head coach Kevin Stefanski told reporters at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis. "I know in there, talking about the weight room was one thing. We're building a new weight room, so we know that that's an area that we want to get better.

"I take input from our players. I feel really strongly about our leaders, our leadership committee. My office downstairs, the door is always open. Even if it's closed, it's open. So I welcome input, and that will never change."

The team-by-team report card idea started last year. The Browns ranked 21st in 2023, so for the 2022 season. Tretter reported 60% of union membership responded for the first set of grades. Participation improved to 77% for the current report cards. Tretter did not offer a team-by-team participation report.

"We added new categories such as Head Coach, Owner, and Dietician/Nutritionist for a more comprehensive assessment of the player experience at each club," Tretter wrote. "Within all the categories, we added additional questions in order to get a deeper look into each category. The addition of new categories and detailed questions provided wider and deeper data, resulting in some variance in the scores from last year to this year."

The Dolphins, Vikings and Packers have the three best overall grades in the 2024 report card. The Chargers are 30th, the two-time Super Bowl champion Chiefs 31st and the Commanders 32nd.

For the fun of it, I contacted several players who played for the Browns in the 1980s when they practiced at Baldwin-Wallace in Berea. Some spoke on the condition of anonymity.

"How do you grade if you don't have something to compare it to?" wondered former left tackle Doug Dieken, who played for the Browns — and only the Browns — from 1971-84.

Dieken, by the way, started 194 consecutive games. That is an NFL record for left tackles. Save that info for the next time you're having a trivia contest with your friends.

The Browns practiced at Case Western Reserve when Dieken was a rookie and for part of 1972. They moved the B-W so they could practice at Finnie Stadium when the Browns' next opponent played on an Astroturf surface. They began training at their current site at 76 Lou Groza Boulevard in 1991. The Baldwin-Wallace locker room was cramped, but not nearly as cramped as at Case, Dieken said. The current locker room is about twice the size as the one at B-W.

The Browns did most of their weight lifting at a facility a few miles from Baldwin-Wallace.

Dieken had an amusing story when discussing the C-plus the current players gave the cafeteria. There was no cafeteria or dietician in the days the Browns practiced at Baldwin-Wallace. Players had to make do with a small players' lounge off the locker room. They were on their own for food.

"The offensive line, we would rotate," Dieken said. "Each week, one guy was in charge of the sandwiches for the week. But there was also this food truck guy that figured it out. We used to call him Ptomaine Tommy because the food (jokingly) would give you ptomaine (poisoning).

"You'd go out and buy a sandwich, and that was it. It wasn't real fancy."

Defensive tackle Dave Puzzuoli played for the Browns from 1983-87. A knee injury ended his season prematurely. He and Dieken still live in Northeast Ohio.

"In terms of facilities, we were aware there were a lot better in the league, but I don't think any of us cared too much about that to distract us from what we were trying to get done," Puzzuoli said. "We had what we needed in front of us. It was a no-excuses kind of thing."

Dieken and Puzzouli played in an era before free agency existed in the NFL. The Browns made the playoffs each of the last three years of Puzzuoli's career. They played the Broncos for the AFC championship in the 1986 and '87 season. They lost both times.

A player who asked not to be named had no problem with the way the Browns traveled when he was playing.

"I always thought it was first class," he said. "We had chartered flights most of the time. We had steak and eggs if we had time for a meal. We stayed at nice hotels.

"I could see why you're a little bewildered. I guess it's all about expectations. It definitely wasn't easy, but we were focused on winning. We didn't have a lot of whiners."

The current Browns also travel to road games on chartered flights with the exception of games in Pittsburgh when they travel by chartered buses. They also stay in top-notch hotels.

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