Hope springs eternal, or at least it does for Cleveland Browns fans. Despite the fact that1 the Browns since returning have been the equivalent of an overmatched seventh-grader trying to block out the senior power forward, (some) fans continually think that the year-end win-loss total will look something close to the New England Patriots. It’s been hard being a semi-coherent fan: excited about the continual stream of high draft picks coming into camp, talking yourself into whatever league-wide discarded flotsam and jetsam the front office was able to bring in that will “change the culture” even though most of those free agents were cast off from their previous teams due to myriad reasonings. And I’m aware that some might see the rest of this piece as simply that as well, but I truly think that on March 10th, 2018, the future of the franchise and outlook for the 2018 season was changed. That was the day incoming general manager John Dorsey traded for quarterback Tyrod Taylor, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and free-safety-to-be Damarious Randall.
Sure, splashes had been made before. Paul Kruger, Jamie Collins, Jamal Lewis, Willis McGahee, Antonio Bryant, native son Terrelle Pryor…all were brought in from outside the organization but all failed to varying degrees to impact the win-loss record in such a way that would be remembered.2 The influx of veteran and actual, tangible, even just useful production in Taylor, Landry, and Randall should propel the roster to levels of respectability that fans haven’t seen since the 80’s. So let’s look at those players individually and break down their impact.
To say that the Browns quarterbacks since returning have been bad is akin to saying the BP oil spill was simply a smudge on their reputation. While Taylor is not on par with the Rodgers and Brady’s of the world, he comes into the year having thrown 3,000 yards in two of the last three seasons. While those totals don’t scream “franchise changer” consider the fact that only twice have Browns quarterbacks thrown for 3,000 or more yards in a season since 2007. The yardage isn’t even half the package when considering Taylor an upgrade, either. In the three seasons since he became the starter in Buffalo, he has thrown for a total of 14 interceptions and 17 total fumbles. in 2017 alone, the three-headed monstrosity of DeShone Kizer, Kevin Hogan, and Cody Kessler combined to throw 28 interceptions and lost grip of the ball 11 times. Taylor’s ball protection3 will make him appear god-like to fans in comparison to the human turnover machine that was Kizer. To see the front office make a move and get a player such as Taylor, giving up a third-round pick for the QB, enables the offense to work and string together drives, unlike last year’s.
Over the years, there have been good wide receiver seasons of Browns players, recent memory brings up the 2015 Josh Gordon leaguewide annihilation of cornerbacks, Pryor’s 2016, and Braylon Edwards’ 2007. But never has Cleveland had the type of talent that Landry brings to the table. A near 100 catch lock, Landry brings an attitude not only to the field of play but to the locker room as well.4 Landry allows for the quarterback to know he has a ready, willing, and more than anything, capable receiver across the middle on a 3rd-and-long that will get the first down. The tenacity of the former Dolphin will be something that changes the course of this season.
Much was made about the “angel” position played by miscast players last year. Jabrill Peppers made his name known in college for playing close to the line and blitzing, yet spent most of his rookie year appearing to field punts on first downs. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams admitted it was not the best use of personnel, claiming a lack of range in the defensive backfield. GM Dorsey made sure to rectify that mistake when trading for Randall. Though he played cornerback throughout his NFL career, Randall was used as a safety in college, a position he excelled at. A move back to free safety will allow for Peppers and Derrick Kindred to be the run-stuffing, quarterback-attacking safeties Williams is used to coaching. Finally deployed correctly, Randall and the rest of the defensive backfield will impact the defense.