Then, on Tuesday, owner Jimmy Haslam swept the front office clean, firing CEO Joe Banner and general manager Michael Lombardi, replacing the latter with Ray Farmer.
Farmer and Pettine now steer the ship under Haslam's close watch. Off the field, the organization is completely remade.
On the field, while Cleveland's 3-4 defensive scheme won't be scrapped -- Pettine favors a multiple, flexible front -- the offense will look entirely different. Shifting from Norv Turner's aggressive, downfield air assault to a Kyle Shanahan-led attack, Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron and the rest of this roster will be asked to learn a new playbook for the third straight year. The quarterback position will dominate the conversation, with Brandon Weeden almost certainly on his way out and Brian Hoyer set to compete with whomever the Browns add in the draft.
» Center Alex Mack: A Pro Bowl-quality lineman who won't come cheap after toiling for years on subpar Browns squads. Cleveland is committed to building up both lines, but might not be willing to enter a bidding war for Mack.
» Safety T.J. Ward: Ranked by Pro Football Focus as the league's third best safety, Ward is a hard-hitting defender who played at a Pro Bowl level against the run in 2013. He's expressed interest in returning to the Browns and looms as an ideal fit for Pettine's scheme.
What they need
The answer remains unchanged since the team's return in 1999: The Browns need a quarterback. While a brief glimpse at Hoyer brought hope, Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown, a team employee, told Around The League last week: "I think we're gonna draft a quarterback. I don't think that that's even a question." Cleveland also needs to restock at the running back position after replacing Trent Richardson with the aged McGahee. Look for the team to tap the draft for help. More help at cornerback, inside linebacker and guard -- and center, if Mack leaves -- would help.
On the way out?
Hoyer will earn a long look under center, but Weeden and Jason Campbell are all but history. We don't expect the Browns to keep both Mack and Ward, so one of the two will walk. We've heard whispers that longtime veteran linebacker D'Qwell Jackson -- due a $4.1 million bonus in March and sporting a $9.43 million cap number -- could be sent packing or at least asked to restructure his deal. It's the loss of coordinators Turner and Ray Horton that raise the most pressing questions. Consistency at the coaching level is critical to avoid wasting the young talent on this roster.
Offseason crystal ball
From where I stand, cleaning up Cleveland's crowded front office is a long-term positive. Pettine is a well-respected leader whom players seem to adore. He brings distinct edginess to a team we expect to be one of the AFC's more physical squads next season. We knew that Lombardi adored Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, but all bets are off with the reshuffling upstairs. With more cap space than 90 percent of the league and a whopping 10 draft picks in May, look for a very busy -- and unpredictable -- offseason in C-Town.