With six NFL head-coaching jobs open, one stands above the rest as the bunch.
And, no, it’s not the Lions.
In Cleveland, the Browns have five Pro Bowlers: left tackle Joe Thomas, center Alex Mack, wide receiver Josh Gordon, tight end Jordan Cameron and cornerback Joe Haden. They have a young roster — currently the second-youngest in the league.
They’ll likely get even younger in 2014, with 10 draft picks. Three of those come in the first 35 selections.
But they also have the ability to get older if they want, with nearly $40 million in cap space on the books for 2014.
The biggest attraction comes from the ability of the next coach to hand pick his next quarterback, subject to whatever the teams holding the first three picks in the draft choose to do (and the wishes of the front office). Given the existing talent, the draft picks, the cap space, and the void at quarterback, the Browns in 2014 may be an even better version of the Chiefs in 2013, who with the addition of Andy Reid and Alex Smith went from 2-14 to 11-5.
There’s one potential caveat, as there always is when things seem to be too good to be true. Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland believes that former coach Rob Chudzinski failed in part because he gave short shrift to quarterback Brian Hoyer, a favorite of G.M. Mike Lombardi who showed a high degree of ability when the third-stringer finally got a chance to play. If the powers-that-be in Cleveland want to roll with Hoyer, the new coach may have his hands tied.
Then again, the new coach may also have the ability to ignore Hoyer or any other players on whom the front office is high, because there’s no way the Browns could pull off a second straight one-and-done head coach. Though the next coach may not make it to a third year, there’s no way he’s getting fired after one.
While these circumstances position the Browns to get anyone they want, the prevailing belief in league circles is that they definitely want Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels — and that they wouldn’t have fired Chudzinski unless they knew they could get McDaniels.
So why all the other names and interviews, if McDaniels is the guy? Apart from ensuring compliance with the Rooney Rule, the Browns need to create the impression that they turned rocks and kicked tires before choosing a previously failed Belichick disciple who may fail a second time — just as Romeo Crennel and Eric Mangini have done.
Besides, the Browns need to have a good fallback plan in place (Plan B could be Jim Schwartz). Last year, Chudzinski became the candidate for whom the Browns settled. While the organization deserves credit for admitting quickly that they hired the wrong guy, the decision to fire him represents a clear admission that, last time around, they definitely hired the wrong guy.
If they don’t get it right this time, owner Jimmy Haslam could be firing more people than the coach.