Waking up the giants
It didn’t take very long at all for John Dorsey to ingratiate himself to Browns Nation Friday at his introductory news conference as the new general manager of the team.
“You know what, let’s re-awake this sleeping giant, the Cleveland Browns,” he declared as he faced the assembled media at Browns headquarters in Berea for the first time. “I’m kind of excited about that.”
The exuberance Dorsey displayed was infectious as the enormity of the occasion hit him. “As we go along, the one thing I always love about this is this is one of those iconic franchises,” he said.
“This has one of the unique fan bases in all of the National Football League. To me, that’s exciting. I have always liked the history of the game of football. When you mention the Cleveland Browns to me, that brings back vast memories.”
He said things throughout the 36-minute news conference Browns fans have yearned to hear since the NFL allowed Cleveland back into the league in 1999. They want someone who knows how to quickly turn around a struggling franchise.
Dorsey, who helped transform the Kansas City Chiefs from a 2-14 team to an 11-5 team in his first season as general manager in 2013, is eager to get started with a specific goal in mind at the start.
“I can’t wait to try to build and establish this thing and move this thing forward because you know what we want to do?” he asked. “We want to be competitive every year. We want to be in the AFC North and we want to compete with these guys year in and year out. We’re going to do that, I can tell you that.”
He lays it all out there confidently because he believes not only in himself, but the philosophy he adheres to, one that made him one of the most sought after front office executives in the league.
He left the Chiefs in June in a dispute with coach Andy Reid over his role, which he declined to discuss, preferring instead to move on.
There appears to be no pessimistic bones in Dorsey’s body. The man, at least on the surface, brings an energy and unflagging optimism to his most of his answers. And he sure knows how to work a crowd.
Asked about the sensitive issue of accepting the job knowing Hue Jackson will be his head coach for at least the 2018 season, he answered candidly even after Jimmy Haslam III embellished the situation.
“We are planning on Hue Jackson being our football coach for a long time and he and John working closely together for a long time,” the owner said. And no, his fingers were not crossed.
Dorsey, who wasted no time in shaping his roster by cutting non-producing wide receiver Kenny Britt Friday, admitted he and his new coach “don’t know each other very well, but we have begun to establish a relationship and I know just being around him briefly . . . I’m excited.
“The people I know and he knows, all the people I talk to about Hue, they love Hue. They say, ‘You two guys are going to work wonderfully together.’ I’m excited. I can’t wait.”
Added Haslam, “I can’t tell you for sure these two guys will work well together, but . . . I am highly optimistic, given their backgrounds and skill sets, that John and Hue will work well together.”
But first Jackson must finish off the 2017 season and come up with at least one victory in order for the winless Browns to avoid becoming only the second team in NFL history to go 0-16, joining the 2008 Detroit Lions.
Dorsey pointed out he and Jackson share some similar philosophies. “I like his overall schematic stuff,” he said. “I think that’s kind of cool. And I like the way the team plays. They play hard. I like a team that plays hard. It symbolizes the AFC North.”
The new GM can’t wait to shape his roster through free agency and the college draft. No wonder he can’t with 13 picks in the next lottery, including five in the first two rounds and six selections in the top 65, not to mention nearly $100 million in salary cap space.
“Any personnel guy worth his weight would be excited,” said Dorsey, who paid tribute to his predecessor. “I’m not going to lie to you. I think Sashi (Brown) did a nice job of creating some draft picks and some cap space, but I’m excited. This is an opportunity not many personnel guys would pass up.”
Browns fans should feel a lot more comfortable with Dorsey calling the shots this time for the Browns in the draft room than Brown, whose knowledge of football is, trying to be kind here, marginal.
“We are going to roll up our sleeves, check our egos at the door and go to work every day to go back to the AFC North,” said the new GM.
Dorsey was more cautious when asked whether he could be a success in his new job. “I know I can do my job with the best of my peers in the National Football League,” he said. “Two, I know I’m going to sit here and work and do everything my God-given ability has given me and I will try to do it. It won’t be from lack of work and lack of preparation.”
Dorsey’s chief objective with what most likely will be the top pick in the draft again will be to once and for all identify and then select the club’s quarterback of the future.
Haslam made it clear that is what he expects from his new hire. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to find the quarterback we need to be successful,” he said. “That will be John’s No. 1 priority.”
Dorsey’s reputation as a sagacious drafter bodes well for the future of this franchise. “This is a quarterback-driven league,” he said. "We all know that and we all know to succeed and go a little bit further and further and further, you need one of those guys.” He declined to go into specifics, but acknowledged it “is not a bad class.”
He surprisingly complimented the current winless team. “I like the roster,” he said, “and I like that the roster will be developing more and more in ’18 and ’19. And I look forward to acquiring some other players as well to sustain that. The objective is to make the roster as competitive as you can from the bottom up.”
An interesting take on where he finds strength on the 53-man roster, figuring you’re only as strong as your weakest link, a philosophy not shared by his numerous predecessors.
He said he also “likes” Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer, having scouted him for last season’s draft when he was with the Chiefs. However, he later mentioned accuracy is one of the chief attributes he looks for in quarterbacks. Accuracy has never been one of Kizer’s major attributes.
Dorsey hedged and then dodged when asked where he thinks the Browns will be in five years. “I’m the eternal optimist,” he said. “I believe there’s a goal for everybody. I believe there’s good in every organization. I believe the Cleveland Browns this weekend are going to win (against Green Bay at home Sunday).”
He then hauled out the bromides. “All I can tell you is we’re going to give it our best effort,” he said. “We’re going to try to reestablish some position in the AFC North.”
Bottom line on Dorsey based on first impressions: He is exactly the kind of general;manager this team needs. He knows what it takes to transform a struggling franchise into one that is, at its worst, competitive.
The man knows the whys and wherefores of the NFL, having spent nearly a quarter century honing his craft. What he accomplished in Kansas City is merely a glimpse of what he can bring to what is currently the most wayward and dysfunctional franchise in the NFL.
There is nowhere to go but up. Dorsey has fallen into a great gig and he knows it. He is the correct hire, finally, by Haslam, whose track record in this area has been abysmal until now.
The necessary first step to eradicate the ongoing nightmare has been taken. Now it’s time for fans to sit back and watch Dorsey do what he does best. He’s already off to a good start.
“I’ve learned from the past, I live in the present, but I’m building for the future,” he said.