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PHOENIX — Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey peered down over his black-rimmed eyeglasses earlier this week, his eyes directed toward the ground as he listened intently. And as Dorsey, who stood in the lobby of the posh Arizona Biltmore hotel at the NFL owners meeting, began his response to the central question that many have posed about the suddenly star-laden team he has assembled — what makes you believe your team is equipped to withstand potential drama all these big personalities can bring? — Dorsey looked convinced as he explained the singular trait he expects to unify the Browns.
“Get guys that love the game of football, get guys that are passionate about it, get guys that are really good teammates … and you can get along with that,” Dorsey told Yahoo Sports.
“I’ve seen locker rooms with huge personalities [that won]. The San Francisco 49ers. The Dallas Cowboys back in the day, with Deion [Sanders] and Michael [Irvin] and all those guys. The Green Bay Packers with Reggie White and Brett Favre. You had some big personalities in those locker rooms.”
That’s why, in the pursuit of turning around a perpetually hapless franchise, Dorsey is OK with stacking the roster with players who draw lots of attention for their sometimes flammable personalities.
This offseason alone, Dorsey added running back Kareem Hunt — the NFL’s leading rusher in 2017 — who was cut by the Kansas City Chiefs last season after a video surfaced of him shoving and kicking a woman in a Cleveland hotel, and Odell Beckham Jr., a star receiver whose sideline tantrums and volatile personality made him a lightning rod for the New York tabloids. He also signed defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson, who made lots of headlines early in his career with the New York Jets.
Those three join a team that includes Antonio Callaway, a super-talented receiver who fell to the fourth round of the 2018 NFL draft after a string of incidents at Florida, and even outspoken quarterback Baker Mayfield, whose often-endearing brashness bubbled to the surface many times last season. Between that group, all it will take to provide a week’s worth of headlines is one on-field tantrum, one off-field rant or one non-team sanctioned interview.
Dorsey has never been afraid of drama, largely due to his unflinching belief in himself and the importance of stacking talent in a results-driven league.
“I think it gives you … a sense of belief [about winning] based off of individual talent,” Dorsey said.
If any franchise could use a sense of belief about victory, it’s the Browns, who haven’t had a winning season since 2007.
After last year’s 7-8-1 season — a breakthrough, as Mayfield emerged as one of the league’s best young quarterbacks as a rookie — Dorsey senses the Browns are on the precipice of being a perennial playoff contender, not unlike what he helped build in Kansas City, where he served as the general manager from the 2013 to 2016 seasons.
But while Kansas City saw a ton of success during Dorsey’s tenure — a run that included a 43-21 regular-season record, a slew of Pro Bowl draft picks and three playoff berths, a few of his acquisitions brought some accompanying headaches. The Chiefs dealt away Marcus Peters, a 2015 first-rounder, after a series of on- and off-field blowups in 2017, and were forced to cut Hunt — a 2017 third-rounder — last season after the video surfaced first on TMZ.
What’s more, receiver Tyreek Hill, whose selection in the fifth-round of the 2016 NFL draft was controversial in Kansas City, is back in the news after police began investigating an incident involving alleged battery of a juvenile at his home in March.
Yet, all three players were unequivocally serious about football, which is part of the drive that made them great players for the Chiefs.
Few can doubt how much the likes of Mayfield, Beckham, Richardson and several other of Dorsey’s additions — like star receiver Jarvis Landry, who dropped an emotional speech in “Hard Knocks” last summer that included 22 f-bombs — love the game just as much, too.
“They’ve been there, they know how to [win],” Dorsey said. “They’re true professionals.”
Besides, Dorsey accounted for the need to manage the character mix when he hired Freddie Kitchens to be the full-time head coach this offseason. Internally, Kitchens impressed many in the organization with his ability to command the respect of the room after his midseason promotion to offensive coordinator, and if Kitchens’ media session at the coaches breakfast Tuesday was any indication, he’ll continue to do so with a wit and confidence that makes him endearing and followable.
"Am I not a big personality? I mean hell, I think I'm a pretty big personality,” Kitchens joked, when asked how he’d handle his roster. “I'm just kidding. [But] you know what? I think sometimes people equate their personality with the passion they have for the game, and the passion they have for life. I'm going to treat Odell just like I treat everybody. He's got my trust and I'm going to have his. And then, if we all know that we're in this thing together, and we're doing it for the same goal, the same purpose, that will never be a problem.”
Dorsey is counting on that being the case, not only as it relates to Kitchens’ relationship with Beckham, but for the entire roster. After all, the ’90s three championship teams he mentioned as having loads of big personalities — the 49ers, Cowboys and Packers — were all guided by elite head coaches (George Seifert, Jimmy Johnson and Mike Holmgren).
“Anytime you can get a guy who lead men, who’s going to hold them accountable and be very honest and straight, who will be consistent, you do [that],” Dorsey said. “Then you go get guys that love the game of football and are talented.”
From there, Dorsey said, you simply have faith those players’ desire to win will overcome all — a potentially combustible mix, included.
“Collectively,” Dorsey said, “they’ll all have to come together as one.”
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