As the Browns prepare, by all appearances and indications, to part ways with coach Freddie Kitchens as soon as tonight, the question becomes whether that will be the end or the beginning.
Questions have emerged regarding the status of G.M. John Dorsey. As one source with knowledge of the dynamics in Cleveland explained it to PFT on Sunday morning, Dorsey is “not completely safe.”
On one hand, the firing of Dorsey would be a surprise, and unwarranted. Dorsey arrived during the 2017 season, and he promptly began infusing talent into the organization. Remember the rash of trades in early 2018, which showed that the Browns were serious about turning things around? Then, Dorseys’ decision to pounce on quarterback Baker Mayfield with the first pick in the 2018 draft was viewed as a stroke of genius; Dorsey also added cornerback Denzel Ward four picks later and, one round later, likely 2019 rushing champion Nick Chubb.
Earlier this year, Dorsey finagled a trade for gamebreaking receiver Odell Beckham Jr., which created even more excitement in the aftermath of last year’s 7-8-1 record. Dorsey also rolled the dice on 2017 rushing champion Kareem Hunt, who became available after last year’s off-field ugliness prompted the Chiefs to cut him loose.
But with the good comes the not-so-good. Dorsey is believed to have been the driving force behind bringing offensive coordinator Todd Haley to town in 2018, over the objection of former head coach Hue Jackson, who wanted to continue to be his own offensive coordinator. It didn’t work out, spectacularly.
Then, Dorsey was the guy who wanted to make Kitchens the head coach, even though he hadn’t been groomed for the gig. It hasn’t worked out, somewhat spectacularly.
Despite Mayfield’s strong performance as a rookie, his regression in 2019 coincided with the rise of Lamar Jackson, a budding superstar whom the Browns easily could have had in 2018, given the cluster of picks in the first two rounds. It’s not a stretch to think that Jimmy or Dee Haslam have raised the question, subtly or otherwise, as to whether Dorsey considered Lamar Jackson instead of Mayfield, especially since Jackson has become the league MVP with the team that used to be the Browns. Dorsey was still the G.M. in Kansas City when the Chiefs traded up to get Patrick Mahomes; it’s natural to wonder what Dorsey saw, or didn’t see, in Jackson.
It’s also natural to wonder whether the 2018 or 2019 version of Baker Mayfield will be the version of Baker Mayfield in 2020, and beyond.
Then there’s the Beckham trade, which sold tickets and jerseys but didn’t produce results. The Beckham move ultimately calls into question Dorsey’s team-building skills. The Browns have talented players, but who are the leaders? Who are holding people accountable? How do the strong personalities fit together? Who is grooming Baker Mayfield, getting him to properly direct his intense competitiveness in the right direction, while avoiding some of the issues that arise from time to time?
The X factor in the final analysis could be chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta. At one point during the season, rumors were swirling that DePodesta could be bumped ahead of Dorsey on the pecking order. That didn’t happen. Recently, however, a league source suggested that, if DePodesta were willing to relocate on a full-time basis to Cleveland, DePodesta would have a much larger role in the organization.
DePodesta’s influence becomes a more significant consideration, for now. With two years’ worth of fodder for “I told you so,” the Haslams could decide that the next best thing to DePodesta calling the shots on a full-time basis would be hiring a G.M. that DePodesta hand selects.
Again, this doesn’t mean Dorsey will be out. He may get another year, or more. But as the source said there’s a chance that ownership will decide not only to change coaches but also to change General Managers when the dust soon settles on the 2019 season.