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Joe Thomas defends Browns retaining Hue Jackson

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Despite winning just one game in two seasons at the helm, Hue Jackson officially has the support of Cleveland Browns players.

So says Joe Thomas in a Sports Illustrated op-ed, in which the All-Pro tackle details why Jackson, who was retained by owner Jimmy Haslam following only the second 0-16 season in NFL history, is not fully to blame for Cleveland's mega-woes and deserves a third shot.

"I'm more excited about the team's direction than I've ever been before in Cleveland," Thomas wrote, "because many people in the building understand what it means to truly tear down a football team and start over."

Thomas asserted that Jackson, upon being hired by a Cleveland experimental brain trust fronted by Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta, had "no understanding that management was going to trade all their good players and current draft picks for future picks." The tackle explained that it's hard to blame Jackson for their dismal performance "when everyone in the building knew the front office put us in the best position to lose."

"In spite of playing with half a deck of cards," Thomas suggested, "Hue kept the team together, kept the players focused, kept the coaches motivated and continued to develop players through two of the worst seasons ever. I don't think many coaches could do that."

Thomas, who missed nine games this season and who has admitted his future in football is up in the air, had a front-row seat to Jackson's coaching performance, so it's hard not to take him at his word when he says that "this team fought to the end," despite their anemic record suggesting otherwise. The future Hall of Famer anticipated that criticism as well, adding, "As a player who's been around more coaches and GMs than most players and seen different ways of operation, I can look beyond the record."

Turnover in Cleveland seems to come every offseason, and this one was no different. Brown was axed, in favor of former Chiefs GM John Dorsey, who hired Packers executives Eliot Wolf and Alonzo Highsmith to help transport Green Bay's winning culture eastward. The Browns hired former Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley to take play-calling duties away from Jackson and former Bengals OC Ken Zampese to come on as QB coach. With two picks in the first four in the upcoming draft, there is expected to be upheaval at the QB position too, with Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen or "insert prospect-of-the-month" usurping DeShone Kizer as Cleveland's starter next season.

Amidst all that, the head coach has stayed put. Jackson, in starting 2018 as Cleveland's H.B.C., will be the first Browns coach to enter a third season at the helm since Romeo Crennel (2005-08); there were four other coaches in between Crennel and Jackson (see if you can name them). That's the type of consistency Cleveland has been lacking at the head coaching position, and the type of consistency Thomas can't wait to see reflected in the Browns' play next season.

"And now we get to the fun part," Thomas concluded. "We got rid of everybody we had that was really good for two years because we knew that we would be ahead of all the other teams in year three or four. We have more than $100 million in cap space; we could sign three Kirk Cousins if we wanted to. We could legitimately add three Hall of Fame players in free agency if they're out there. We have an upcoming No. 1 pick who could transform the roster by himself. You throw an experienced quarterback in the mix and there's nothing that says the Browns can't make the playoffs next year."

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