The Cleveland Browns are now 6-7 on the season, and all hopes of a deep playoff run have dissipated alongside their Super Bowl aspirations. They’re not mathematically eliminated from the postseason, but chances are slim. And with that comes consequences for some in the organization, including head coach Freddie Kitchens.
However, sources have told Pro Football Network Insiders Ben Allbright and Tony Pauline that there is a difference of opinion when it comes to Kitchens. On one side is general manager John Dorsey, who is believed to be in favor of keeping Kitchens beyond this season. On the other side is owner Jimmy Haslam, who is disappointed in the team’s performance and would consider a head coaching change, especially if Kitchens does not win the remainder of the Browns’ games.
To win out, it would mean that Cleveland would have defeated the Baltimore Ravens, Arizona Cardinals, and Cincinnati Bengals. Two of those games might seem attainable, but the divisional game against Baltimore could help push Haslam to make a change.
Some might wonder – with a team stacked with talent, how did we get to this point? For those in the building who are not big fans of Kitchens, they’ll point to the man himself. Although he was a running backs coach, tight ends coach, and even quarterbacks coach throughout his NFL coaching career, he never once held the position of offensive coordinator (with the exception of the interim tag in 2018) or head coach at any collegiate or professional level.
Thus, some felt he was not equipped to handle the wide array of responsibilities that a head coach is responsible for when he was given the position in 2019. Their beliefs were further strengthened by recent reports that the team has become dysfunctional and undisciplined.
For example, the Browns have had issues with numerous players this season, including cornerbacks Damarious Randall and Jermaine Whitehead, wide receiver Antonio Callaway, and defensive end Myles Garrett. They also have had issues on the field. This season, they are ranked within the top five in the league in penalties, which includes 105 infractions for nearly 960 yards.
But it also goes beyond that. On the most recent podcast episode of PFN Draft Insiders, Pauline and Andy Herman expand on this story. In fact, Pauline talks about how sources told him that there are simply “too many egos in the building” and how Dorsey and Kitchens are “two peas in a pod.”
The conversation around the Browns, including Pauline’s thoughts on QB Baker Mayfield, begins at the 14:25 mark and ends at 27:16. You can listen to the podcast via the player at the end of this article, or you can search PFN Draft Insiders on your favorite podcast player. If neither one of those work for you, you can check out the episode post with more details.
These same sources have told Pauline that they think Dorsey will ultimately be able to convince Haslam to keep Kitchens for at least another season. However, as Allbright has heard, losing the remaining games would become a very tough sell for Dorsey.
Early warning signs that trouble was brewing
Even before the regular season began, there were indications that this team was heading in the wrong direction. During a joint practice with the Indianapolis Colts, a number of fights broke out between the teams. Kitchens said that he had encouraged his players to be physical and to set the tone. Unfortunately, that led to four separate skirmishes throughout the second day of practice. One of the said skirmishes actually led to a bench-clearing brawl. When the day was over, Kitchens was asked about how he would handle the situation. His response to the media was quite nonchalant.
“We will see what caused it and what happened, then evaluate the situation. But we’re not going to take anything from anybody either.”
In the opening game of the season, the Cleveland Browns were blown out by the Tennessee Titans 43-13. During the game, the Browns were penalized an incredible 18 times for 182 yards. At some point in the days or weeks following that game, Garrett was interviewed by Yahoo Sports regarding the subject of discipline. He admitted the team had been struggling in that department.
“Discipline needs to improve, it wasn’t there for the first week, and we kind of fooled ourselves in the things that we were doing that will prepare us to win a game like that. So we’ll just have to do better with what we’re doing each week and every day so we don’t fall into those traps where there’s no unnecessary roughness penalties, or just alignment, assignment, and technique.”
A culmination of undisciplined and dysfunctional play
The peak of the Browns undisciplined season was on full display in the first of the teams two meetings with division rival Pittsburgh Steelers. During a Thursday night football game, near the end of a Browns 21-7 victory, a melee took place between the two teams. During the brawl, Garrett ripped off Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph’s helmet and swung it in his direction.
The incident ended with a total of 29 players being fined a total of $732,422. The game had been aggressive from the start, with a number of illegal hits from the Browns causing an additional $810,000 in fines. Three players were suspended for at least one game, with Garrett getting an indefinite suspension that could last throughout the offseason and training camp.
Is there a lack of accountability and leadership?
Kitchens has been asked about the culture of the Browns on a number of occasions. After the incident with Garrett, a reporter asked Kitchens about the fighting and if he condones it.
“I never okay fights,” Kitchens said. “Did I want them to get after their ass? Yes, I did. But that’s not fighting, that’s not after the whistle. Between the whistle, yes. I never condone fighting on the football field because that’s penalties. I don’t coach penalties. I don’t coach false starts. I don’t coach after the whistle grabbing somebody’s face mask. I don’t coach that.”
Even after he claimed to not condone fighting, Kitchens was once again in hot water the week before leading up to the rematch with Pittsburgh. A few days before the game, he was seen wearing “Pittsburgh started it” t-shirt and was criticized for making light of a serious situation. It certainly did not help with the narrative that he is fueling the fire of an undisciplined team.
It’s going to be an interesting few weeks for the Browns organization with Kitchens’ future in doubt. If the Browns lose out, it’s going to be hard for anyone to sell the fact that he should return for a second season. But if he is able to win at least two of the remaining three, Dorsey may just be able to get him another season in Cleveland. Will this turn into a power struggle behind the scenes? That remains to be seen.
We will continue to monitor the situation and update as more news becomes available. For more, make sure to follow Ben on Twitter: @AllbrightNFL along with Tony Pauline: @TonyPauline and Pro Football Network: @PFN365.