Movie quote of the day:
“Smokey, this isn’t ‘Nam. this is bowling. There are rules.”
– Walter Sobchak, “The Big Lebowski” (1998)
Since 1973, the Cleveland Browns have been the laughing stock/dumpster fire/skid mark of the National Football League – take your pick on which analogy to go with because either one wouldn’t be wrong (sorry to be so harsh, Browns fans, but it’s true). They’ve made the playoffs just nine times in the last 43 years – and have had 26 different quarterbacks since the franchise resumed operations in 1999. I think I’ve made my point – Cleveland has had a terrible history since the Jim Brown era ended.
However, Browns fans, I’m here to tell you that I think the future is bright in Cleveland.
I’ve been developing this opinion after the 2015 regular season. After finishing 3-13, Cleveland decided to wipe the slate clean and start over (again). Like most football fans, I scoffed at the notion at first and poked fun at the Browns. However, the franchise has slowly made some moves that have impressed me and have me thinking Cleveland’s front office is finally doing something right.
It all began last offseason with the hiring of Paul DePodesta as the franchise’s new chief strategy officer – who is a young Ivy League grad that is known for bouncing around MLB front offices. More specifically, he was Billy Beane’s assistant general manager for the Oakland A’s that helped introduce the “Moneyball” concept to Major League Baseball. Then, the Browns named Sashi Brown as their new executive vice president of football operations – another young guy with plenty of front office experience in the NFL. Then to top it off, the Browns made an outstanding decision to name Hue Jackson as head coach – who was the offensive coordinator at Cincinnati and helped coach Andy Dalton to have the best season of his career in 2015. It doesn’t end there. I’ve been impressed with the player and roster decisions the Browns have made since last year as well.
Before I go any further, I want to say that it’s easy to criticize Cleveland for passing on Carson Wentz last year. However, I don’t hate the decision because the Browns got a ton of picks from Philadelphia and Wentz had a lot of question marks. He was coming off a shoulder injury and his collegiate team still won every game without him, and he played in a weak FCS conference. I liked Wentz, but I can understand the skepticism from Cleveland – and it’s hard to turn down 2016 first, third, and fourth round picks, a 2017 first round pick, and a 2018 second round pick.
Since that deal, I’ve been very impressed with the moves that Cleveland has made. The front office showed it had a plan by deciding to keep trading back in last year’s draft, acquiring more picks, and set out to improve the overall roster through the “Draft and Devlop” mentality. That’s not typical of Cleveland. Not only that, but the Browns drafted very well last year. Corey Coleman and Emmanuel Ogbah look like special players, and Carl Nassib and Derrick Kindred played well too. Also, the Browns traded just a third round pick to New England for All-Pro linebacker Jamie Collins – and have already extended him for four more years to lead that defense.
The impressive personnel moves have continued this offseason. Even though I’m not crazy about Kenny Britt as a player, he’s a solid veteran presence that can help lead a young wide receiver group. However, the main story is that the Browns have made some great improvements to their offensive line by adding guard Kevin Zeitler from Cincinnati, and center J. C. Tretter from Green Bay. Zeitler started 71 games for the Bengals and is a solid guard, and Tretter was buried on the depth chart in Green Bay but he played very well when he was in the game and finally has a chance to be a starter. Also, Cleveland extended Joel Bitonio’s contract keeping him there for another five years. With Bitonio, the Browns now have a very good interior offensive line, which will help in the run game – oh, and don’t forget about future Hall of Famer Joe Thomas at left tackle.
With the recent trade to acquire Brock Osweiler and a 2018 second round pick while only giving up a fourth round pick this year – by the way, I love that move – the Browns are now set for the next few years. They have 10 (!) picks in the first three rounds over the next two drafts – oh, and by the way, this year’s draft class is loaded with great players, and next year probably isn’t going to be half bad either. Cleveland, I want y’all to succeed. I’m begging you to take Myles Garrett with the No. 1 pick.
Browns fans, hang in there. I truly think Cleveland’s front office is making some fantastic decisions and has the franchise heading in the right direction. They’re not quite on the rise yet, they need to get a quality quarterback first, but they’re a team to keep an eye on the next few years.
Thanks for reading
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