We’ve all been there. Flipping through Netflix titles to find something new before settling on an older flick that looks interesting. About halfway through, there is a familiarity that cannot be shook during the opening act. All of a sudden, the memories come flooding back to ruin the ending because you had already seen the movie years ago. With 30 minutes invested, the rest of the movie is watched despite now remembering the flick was not enjoyable. The successive go-around does not net a better result.
The 2017 Cleveland Browns are a team which was expected to be bad. Any team attempting to rebound from a 1-15 season, who also have not had a winning record in the past 10 years- heck, have only won more than five games once during that decade- should be expected to be bad. They were expected to be bad. Somehow they have been worse, which is the same movie Browns fans have been watching year after year.
The warning signs were there throughout the opening act of the season. The Tennessee Titans were the only team not to have a two-score or more lead at some point during their game against the Browns. The supposedly soft early schedule has seen the Browns have the second-worst points per game1 and sixth-worst points against. The Browns have played two of the five teams below them in points against, which means their points per game mark is also inflated. The team has done this while being among the most penalized teams in the NFL and looking incompetent on special teams between penalties, turnovers, missed field goals (worst in NFL inside 40 yards), and without any dynamic returns.
A team whose veteran presence was removed to build a young corps should have foundational young stars to cheer. Unfortunately, the last two top picks for the team have spent more time missing games due to injury than playing (Corey Coleman and Myles Garrett). Other players have been improperly utilized. With Derrick Kindred and Ibraheim Campbell both as strong-safety-only on the roster, the Browns took strong safety Jabrill Peppers in the first-round of the draft. So, he has played 30 yards off the ball where he has shown himself to be completely uncomfortable.
David Njoku, the other first-round pick of this regime, has more targets than any receiver not named Ricardo Louis, but there has been precious little creativity in his usage. With the front office flailing at receiver from drafting four wide receivers in 2016 to signing Kenny Britt to trading for Sammie Coates to starting receivers off their own practice squad (Rashard Higgins) or others (Bryce Treggs); flexing Njoku out wide has not yet been a strategy employed. It’s not like having him run a few routes against smaller players and removing chip responsibilities is going to ruin his tight end development. Then again, the Browns won’t give Duke Johnson carries when they are even bothering to run the ball, so there are bigger issues to address.
The quarterbacks are a bigger issue. Carson “not a Top 20 quarterback” Wentz is a NFL MVP candidate. Deshaun “not my text partner” Watson might play himself into award conversations too if he keeps putting up five touchdown weeks. Both players were traded away by the Browns.2 Back on the Northcoast, head coach Hue Jackson has gone from stating he would “ride it out” with DeShone Kizer to benching him twice during games, starting Kevin Hogan, and using media contacts to put pressure on the front office to acquire Jimmy Garoppolo and A.J. McCarron.
Kirk Cousins or any other free agent quarterback with a pulse is not going to come save the Browns nor is a team with a functional quarterback- like the Buffalo Bills with Tyrod Taylor- going to bail out the team with a trade. The Browns will be left with the choice of attempting to resurrect another middling veteran, develop the quarterbacks on the roster, or invest a top pick in one of the quarterbacks coming out in the 2018 NFL Draft. None are the most appealing options.3
Somehow though, things are even worse.
In a Browns tradition that has continued through every front office and coaching staff, there is dysfunction afoot. As WFNY’s Scott Sargent laid out this morning, the Browns were either lying, incompetent, or incompetent and lying about what happened with the McCarron trade that wasn’t. Jimmy Haslam might have even forced the hand of the front office on the trade.
This occurrence happening the day after the front office didn’t even know Garoppolo was traded, which began the back-channel in-fighting as WFNY’s Craig Lyndall covered.
The smell of desperation, panic, and frustration is familiar. We have seen this movie before. Trading for Garoppolo might have been short-sighted and A.J. McCarron might be “just a guy” at quarterback, but the trenches being built for the upcoming power struggle are real.
Watching a successive go-around power struggle is not likely to net a better result than the last ones have. Feelings will get hurt. Ugliness will get leaked to the media. People will get fired. The flailing owner shall remain. Respectable football coaches and executives will forgo opportunities in Cleveland unless they are a last resort, and the entire mess will start anew with the promise that “it’ll be different this time.”
Too much time has been invested to not see how this is going to play out. Right?