For years Cleveland Browns fans have made jokes about the NFL Draft being the Browns’ Super Bowl. Sometimes there’s not much you can do other than make fun of yourself. The joke doesn’t apply this year, though.
Indeed, the Browns enter this Draft, which starts this Thursday, feeling good about their franchise QB situation. They don’t have a first-round pick, having traded theirs to the New York Giants to acquire Odell Beckham, Jr. and further bolster their offensive talent. The draft begins Thursday, but for once, this barely moves the needle for many Browns fans.
It’s been said multiple times across social media, though, that this year the Browns don’t have to care about the draft. I suppose that would be a comforting thought if true, but it honestly couldn’t be further from the truth. The Browns may not have a pick on Thursday, but they will be busy the rest of the weekend and this draft, like every draft, is hugely important to the franchise if they want to continue to build and to find sustained success.
The Browns have one second-round pick, one third-round, one fourth-round, three fifth-rounds, and a sixth and a seventh-round pick. While fans haven’t had to endlessly follow mock drafts and get into silly social media fights over who is more stupid because of the prospect they prefer, this doesn’t mean that this draft doesn’t matter to the Browns. On paper, the Browns have more top-end talent than the franchise has seen in quite some time, but this is also a team without a lot of depth outside of maybe WR and RB.
For every successful franchise, the NFL Draft is the lifeblood of sustained success. Heck, even short bursts of success can often be attributed in large part to a couple of quality drafts in a row. Even for the Browns, while bringing in guys like Jarvis Landry, Damarius Randall, Odell Beckham, and Kareem Hunt has raised the bar of expectations, it’s the core of young players like Baker Mayfield, Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward, Nick Chubb, Larry Ogunjobi, David Njoku, Joe Schobert, Rashard Higgins, Antonio Callaway, etc who make up the foundation of what the Browns are building.
The Browns are trying to aggressively pursue success right now while so many young players are still locked into rookie deals. But make no mistake, the Browns are headed for a day of reckoning when a lot of really good players are going to need to be paid. Many of them are going to need to be paid a lot of money. When Baker, Myles, Denzel, and Chubb all hit the point where their rookie deals are running out, the team will have to add them to the likes of Landry and OBJ, who are making a lot of money.
The Browns will not likely be able to keep all of these guys long term. They will try to keep as many as they can, but the time will come when hard choices have to be made. The one thing that can make that transition easier is if the Browns continue to have successful drafts, to have a new set of young players on rookie deals ready to step up. If you want to know why the New England Patriots have sustained their run of success for so long, well, sure, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady have a lot to do with that. But the one thing the Patriots have always done well is capitalizing on young players on rookie or team-friendly deals for as long as they can, and then move on and replace them with the next guy.
It can be a cold and harsh approach to business, but football has a salary cap. You just can’t afford to sign every single player you like. You have to have success in the draft to keep infusing new blood into the machine. This is why fans should be rolling their eyes when anyone suggests this year’s draft isn’t important to the Browns. Quite the opposite, actually. This draft could be part of making or breaking the team’s ability to keep competing at a high level once the young stars start collecting their big paydays that are coming.
The hard part for fans is that not having a first-round pick means missing out on the real fun of draft buildup. Not that there isn’t value in looking at prospects, as Joe Gilbert and John Colosimo have been doing for WFNY. And not that there aren’t multi-round mocks out there. It’s just hard because what the Browns do in this draft is somewhat out of their hands. They have to see what players are available when they pick.
There’s always the potential for trades, as well. The Browns could look to move around. They still have a lot of draft picks stockpiled that can be used to trade up. This is still going to be a fun weekend for Browns fans as the team tries to add some depth to the frontline talent already there.
It’s nice that the Browns don’t seem to have more needs than picks for once. From that perspective, perhaps this draft isn’t as life-or-death as some previous drafts have been. But again, that doesn’t mean this draft isn’t important to the team or that it doesn’t matter or that it’s something fans should ignore. This year’s draft may not be the Browns’ Super Bowl, but it just may be part of what helps them win the Super Bowl someday.