Cleveland Browns 2015 Year in Review: Cleveland's Struggles Continue

The Browns had another dreadful season. Is there hope for the immediate future?

An iconic album from the Smashing Pumpkins was released in 1995 named Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness.

That title also works for the Cleveland Browns' season in 2015.

The Browns have been the laughingstock of the NFL for a very long time. The offseason leading into training camp often gives teams and their fans hope that this will be the year that their team succeeds. But I don't think that was even possible for the Browns and their loyal supporters. 

In the summer of 2015, Bovada listed the Browns at 75-1 to win the Super Bowl. The Browns finished tied for the worst record in the NFL at 3-13. Before we get into everything that what went wrong this past season, let's briefly review where the Browns succeeded.

What Went Right?

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Offensive lineman Joe Thomas made his ninth Pro Bowl in his ninth career season. This is truly impressive. Only seven players have ever accomplished this feat, and the list includes Barry Sanders and Franco Harris. Those seven players are all members of the Hall of Fame. 

Center Alex Mack, who came from a  Secret World, was also elected to his third Pro Bowl. Super sleeper tight end Gary Barnidge, special teamer Johnson Bademosi, and wide receiver Travis Benjamin were selected as alternates.

Replacing tight end Jordan Cameron was going to be tough for Cleveland, but Barnidge quickly put those worries to rest. 

The tight end had 79 receptions for 1,043 yards and 9 touchdowns. He ranked in the top-four or better for tight ends in receptions, yards, and touchdowns. According to Fantasy Football Calculator, Barnidge had no ADP for the 2015 season because he was universally undrafted.

According to ESPN, Barnidge was responsible for many teams winning titles in fantasy football. 21.4% of the teams who owned Barnidge won their league title. Only four other players throughout the league helped win more championship games.

Here at numberFire, we use a metric called  Net Expected Points, or NEP for short. NEP measures the value of each play on the field based on how an average team or player would be expected to score in each scenario using historical data.

Barnidge ranked second among all tight ends in Reception NEP.

Player Targets Receptions Yards Touchdowns Reception NEP
Rob Gronkowski 120 72 1176 11 105.13
Gary Barnidge 125 79 1043 9 102.21
Greg Olsen 124 77 1104 7 93.12

Only Rob Gronkowski scored higher in Reception NEP with a score of 105.1. It is worth noting that Gronkowski missed one game due to injury. But this illustrates how impressive Barnidge was in 2015.

Only nine tight ends topped 100 targets this year, and only 19 saw at least 75, so we don't have many high-volume tight ends to compare him to. However, among those 19 tight ends with at least 75 targets, Barnidge ranked second in Reception NEP per target at 0.82. Gronkowski's 0.88 led the group, and Greg Olsen was a distant third at 0.75.

Barnidge also led the group in Reception Success Rate, the percentage of catches that actually led to NEP gains and weren't ultimately futile for the team's expected point total. His 89.87% placed him well above Gronkowski (86.11%, fourth) and Olsen (85.71%, fifth).

He also dated two WWE Divas. What a season.

Veteran quarterback, Josh McCown, was another bright spot in 2015. The 36-year-old quarterback had multiple weeks of impressive passing numbers earlier this season. 

Week Passing Yards Touchdowns Interceptions Weekly FanDuel Rank
Week 3 341 2 1 9th
Week 4 356 2 0 4th
Week 5 457 2 0 1st

Unfortunately for McCown, he ran into the Denver defense in Week 6. His season was shortened due to a broken collarbone.

Among the 31 quarterbacks with at least 300 drop backs (McCown tallied 315), he ranked 24th in Passing NEP at 31.83. On a per-drop back basis, his 0.10 ranked 17th. However, only 44.76% of his drop backs led to positive NEP gains, a mark that ranked him 22nd in the group. That suggests that some of his efficiency was created by big plays, making his per-play number look a little better than his consistency should have allowed.

I did not use his NEP ratings due to his lack of games started. But if there was an NEP rating for best hair in the NFL, he would probably outrank everyone.

What Went Wrong?


OK, apparently my editors are telling me I also have to write more detail in this section.

The year 2015 was off to a hot start for the Browns. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan  left the team. Their quarterbacks coach also left. Their troubled wide receiver Josh Gordon was hit with a year-long suspension. Ticket prices rose for the first time in years after a 7-9 season. All of that happened in January.

Cleveland signed two wide receivers to try and help the offense: Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe. In 2015, Bowe had five receptions.

Johnny Manziel remained in the news for all of the wrong reasons in 2015. We will not go over them here. Manziel was released by the Browns on March 11.

The regular season ended with head coach Mike Pettine being fired. They also fired their general manager Ray Farmer. The team went 3-13.

The Browns fired their fifth head coach in a row after a  season ending loss to the Steelers.

What's Next?

Let's move on from all of that doom and gloom. Is there reason to be excited about the 2016 Cleveland Browns? According to the  Westgate Superbook, no. The Browns are the least likely team in the NFL to win Super Bowl 51 at 200-1 odds.

I spoke fondly of Josh McCown above, but he is getting old. With Manziel gone, the Browns need to find a franchise quarterback. Will they go for a free agent like Ryan Fitzpatrick or Colin Kaepernick? They could also draft a signal caller. They have the 2nd and 32nd picks in the 2016 draft.

Josh Gordon applied for league reinstatement in January. He will be only 25 when the new season starts. He has not been officially reinstated at this time.

The Browns had a little over $42 million in cap space according to  Spotrac at the start of free agency. They had unrestricted free agents worth signing such as the aforementioned Pro Bowl players Travis Benjamin, Alex Mack and Johnson Bademosi. However, Travis Benjamin is heading to the Chargers. Alex Mack signed with the Atlanta Falcons. Bademosi signed with the Detroit Lions. Starting safety Tashaun Gipson also left in free agency to join the Jaguars.

They lost a slew of starters and have yet to make an impact free agent signing even though they were in a friendly cap situation. Hue Jackson is their new coach. Will ownership give Hue enough time to succeed with this roster? For the Browns and their fans, I sure hope so. 

Their odds of immediate success still seems slim. But with a few right moves in the coming years of free agency and the draft and a decent amount of luck, the Browns could realistically turn this around. On the contrary, they could also blow everything up at the end of each season and continue to be the Browns.