Since the the city of Cleveland got their football team back in 1999, they have consistently been one of the worst franchises in professional sports. Reporters constantly make fun of the entire organization for its ineptitude on and off the field, and Browns fans have to be tortured by watching their team finish at or near the bottom of the standings every year. There has been constant turnover throughout the organization from the roster to the coaching staff to the front office, and each time, the loyal fans think this will finally be the chance for the organization to figure things out and get the team on the right track.
Each year, the fan base tries to find positives and rally around the top draft picks, the new free agent acquisitions, and the hot-name coordinator that will be their new coach. Then things start to slowly unravel as we move through the summer and approach the start of the season. We find out the new head coach was the team’s fourth choice because no one else wanted to lead the team for such a dysfunctional organization. Key players go down with non-contact injuries or injuries from off-the-field activities like riding motorcycles. Word gets out that the team’s prized offseason acquisition has lost several steps and just joined the team for one final cash grab, or the team’s latest “franchise” quarterback is partying and hanging out in Las Vegas instead of studying his playbook and working on his mechanics.
Then the season starts, and the fans get to watch the team that was able to get their first choice as head coach start to turn things around and begin winning games and gaining momentum. The free agents they missed out on turn out to be the missing piece for a team on the verge of contention. Guys the Browns failed to re-sign are thriving in their new roles with other teams. The Browns’ rookies look like they aren’t going to make it in the league, and the players they passed on to move down for more picks are looking like perennial pro-bowlers. As the season progresses, the Browns’ fan base gets depressed, starts asking to see what we have in the new, young quarterback, and looks at the latest mock drafts to see what kind of talent infusion we can add to the roster to make another run at contention next year.
There are many examples of the Browns’ inability to evaluate talent and terrible luck when it comes to injuries. I will take a look at just a few. In the 2014 NFL Draft the Browns selected Justin Gilbert at #8 and traded up to grad Johnny Manziel at #22. They are the only two players from the first round of that draft that are currently out of the NFL, and that doesn’t even get into the talent the team missed out on by drafting them. Trading back before drafting Gilbert caused them to miss out on guys like Mike Evans and Khalil Mack, and there was obviously still tons of talent still left when they chose Gilbert. They also traded back up to get Manziel when they could’ve taken Teddy Bridgewater or selected Derek Carr with their second round pick.
The team flamed out two years before that with two first-round picks in 2012 by taking Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden who both turned out to be busts. The Browns also used three second round picks in 2009 on Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi, and David Veikune, and not one of them contributed much of anything to the team. These are just a few examples of an enormous list of terrible decisions in the draft.
There is also the plain bad luck that led to LeCharles Bentley never playing a down for the team. He was from Cleveland and played his college football at Ohio State. Bentley was drafted by the Saints in 2002 and developed into a pro-bowl center. He signed with the Browns in 2006 to come home and solidify the offensive line. In his first drill of training camp, he tore a tendon in his knee and was out for the season. He later contracted a staph infection and never played in the NFL again.
Then there was the number six overall pick of the Browns in 2004 draft, Kellen Winslow, Jr. He was a highly-touted, All-American tight-end out of Miami. He crashed while practicing to ride a motorcycle and missed an entire season. He came back from the injury but never lived up to his potential after that. These are the types of things that happen to the Browns, and their fans just now see it as par for the course.
Now we have just recently come across the latest chapter in the Browns’ fans saga. During the first rookie mini-camp, the Browns’ new fourth round pick, Howard Wilson, fractured his kneecap. I know he is not nearly as big of a prospect as Bentley or Winslow, but he was picked to help in the secondary this season. Experts actually thought the Browns may have gotten a steal by getting such a talented player in the fourth round, and the lack of depth in the secondary has been a major concern for the team heading into the coming season. This news has once again left Browns’ fans scratching their heads and asking when they can finally catch a break.
I know the Browns are not in a position to contend this season, and losing Wilson will probably not have a huge impact on their overall performance this season. However, you never know what will happen with injuries in the NFL, and cornerbacks normally take some time to develop. I do think the Browns are finally on the right track. Hue Jackson actually was their top coaching candidate, and he wanted to come to Cleveland. The analytics guys in the front office appear to maybe be adding some talent and getting this roster moving in the right direction. The team has also been able to add a boisterous and fiery new coordinator in Gregg Williams to lead the defense and given him some new, young talent to work with. However, when things like this happen, you just can’t help but think, “That’s so Browns.”