Reflections on a Revolution in Berea.

It may be unnecessary to inform the reader that the following Reflections had their origins in the decision by the Browns to fire Sashi Brown. Alright, History/Poli Sci nerddom aside, I think this is a terrible move by the team; in my opinion Sashi had the team moving in the right direction and deserved at least one more season in order to see his plan come to fruition. Here I aim to explain why.

When Sashi took over the team on January 3rd 2016, the team had just finished a terrible 3-13 season, a severe disappointment after going 7-9 the year before (and leading the division mid-season). The roster was full of bad draft picks and overpaid, under-performing FA veterans. The Manziel saga had made the team into even more a laughingstock. Years of poor leadership, drafting, constant turnover, and as a result, losing, made sure that many of what good players there were wanted out. Major changes were needed.

The goal was to build a foundation for future, long term success, not apply band-aids in order to try and look a little better in 2016. The roster Sashi inherited was not suited for a foundation of winning. In order to change this, Sashi had to acquire young talent, future draft resources, and carefully manage the cap. As there is only so many roster spots, acquiring young talent means cutting players already there (or letting them go). Carefully managing the cap means much the same thing, especially if many of your major "contributors" are older and will be well past their prime by the time you expect to be competitive. Time to look at the moves Sashi made.


The Free Agency period of the 2016 offseason would be the first real test for the new Front Office. Several high profile Browns were signed by other teams; 3 of which I do not believe were ever coming back: WR Travis Benjamin, C Alex Mack, and S Tashaun Gipson. There remains much debate over RT Mitchell Schwartz. The other players the Browns lost were backups or poor performers (LB Craig Robertson). The re-signings included contributors (or soon to be) like DL Jamie Meder, WR Terrelle Pryor and OL Austin Pasztor, along with other backups.

Sashi also released several players shortly afterward: WR Dwayne Bowe, LB Karlos Dansby, S Donte Whitner, and QB Johnny Manziel. Bowe and Manziel were disasters and needed to go. Whitner had slowed considerably in the previous year and was a liability, paid far more than his production warranted. The same was true of Dansby but to a lesser extent. The problem with Dansby was he was 34, and was expendable with the signing of the younger and cheaper Demario Davis. The Browns also signed Robert Griffin III, as wanted by the new coach, Hue Jackson.

After the FA period came the 2016 draft, almost certainly the most controversial part of Sashi's tenure. The Browns held the #2 overall selection in the draft and were hoping that QB Jared Goff would make it too them (relying on 'QB Guru' Hue Jackson). A few weeks before the draft though the Rams traded up to #1 and it seemed certain that Goff was the target. I'll let Mike Silver tell what happened next:

And while Jackson was hardly thrilled when, on the morning of April 14, he learned that the Los Angeles Rams had executed a bold trade with Tennessee to move up from 15th to first -- and correctly surmised that they'd done so with Goff as their target -- he and Brown quickly rebooted and changed course. The Browns were now open for business with the second overall pick, and on April 20, they swung a deal with the Philadelphia Eagles (who targeted Wentz) that netted a bounty of draft picks, including a first-round selection in 2017 and a second-rounder the following year.

Armed with extra picks in 2016, the Browns resumed wheeling and dealing once the draft began, moving down from eighth to 15th overall and still plucking the first receiver (Baylor's Corey Coleman) off the board, then making three additional trades. They ended up picking 14 players -- tying the record for most selections in a single draft since the seven-round format was adopted in 1994 -- including ex-USC quarterback Cody Kessler in the third round.

They (including Jackson) were not entirely sold on Wentz and saw an opportunity to get a large amount of resources for their ongoing rebuilding project. I still do not personally agree with the decision to pass on Wentz, but I can understand why a FO in their first year of their plan might not want to hitch their wagons to a rather risky QB prospect. Instead they were able to land a bunch of picks, that would allow them to bring in new talent and depth to a roster in desperate need of it. Sashi acquired so many resources in this trade (and in resulting moves using them), they still haven't all been used yet.

In his first draft Sashi drafted 4 WRs (neglected during the Farmer regime), including his first pick, Corey Coleman. The others were mid-late round picks. He also added two DLs (Ogbah, Nassib), two OL (Coleman, Drango), LB Schobert, TE DeValve and S Kindred. All of these players have been starters or major contributors since, and more importantly many of them (Ogbah, Schobert, DeValve, Kindred, Coleman and Coleman) have shown potential for the future, which remember, is what the goal is here. They also drafted QB Kessler and several other less notable players (no one bats 1.000). In addition, Sashi acquired CB Jamar Taylor in a trade with Miami, giving up only a 7th rounder.

The draft made further players expendable: WR Brian Hartline was released after the draft. He had slowed and no longer got much separation, and his roster spot was needed for the newly drafted WRs who might develop to be better than him. Ogbah and Nassib made Paul Kruger expendable. Kruger had only 2.5 sacks in 2015, but was about to enter the 4th year of his $40 million contract, so his release made sense in two ways (develop younger players, cap). Draft bust LB Barkevious Mingo was also now no longer needed; he was traded to New England. Another draft bust, CB Justin Gilbert, was also gotten rid of, he was traded to Pittsburgh. The next day CB Briean Boddy-Calhoun was signed to take his roster spot. Also at this time Sashi opted to keep WR Andrew Hawkins over WR Taylor Gabriel, a move inconsistent with the youth movement and one I disagreed with (and still do).

The 2016 Cleveland Browns were not a good team. They had taken a bad 2015 team and replaced a lot of the veterans with new players. Even if those veterans weren't very good, they didn't make as many mistakes as the rookies. Undoubtedly, Sashi and everyone involved hoped to win more than 1 game, but they all knew this was going to be a losing season from the start. Sashi continued to add to the team while the season played out; Mid-season, he was able to pull off a coup: for a 3rd round pick he was able to get LB Jamie Collins from New England. The Browns weren't ready yet though: Not enough talent had been acquired and that which had been was too young. The 2016 season was just the beginnings of the foundation: Cap space freed up, new players added, draft picks acquired, time for the new coaches to implement their scheme.


Sashi and the rest of the FO were much more active in Free Agency this time around. They resigned G Joel Bitonio and LBs Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey. Knowing the coaching staff had been unimpressed with the O-line during the 2016 season, they spent big money adding G Kevin Zeitler and C JC Tretter. He attempted to re-sign WR Terrelle Pryor but was rebuffed and instead signed WR Kenny Britt. Sashi also signed CB Jason McCourty.

The players that got let go included WR Andrew Hawkins and CB Tramon Williams, like last offseason, these were both players slowed by age and didn't have enough left in the tank to be part of the Browns future. QB Josh McCown was offered a coaching position by Jackson but he wanted to play still, so he too was released. QB Robert Griffin III was cut too.

During this FA period, Sashi pulled off a unique trade. Giving up a 4th round pick in exchange for QB Brock Osweiler and, much more importantly, a 2nd round pick from Houston. Here Sashi gave up some cap space in exchange for a high draft pick and a flier on a veteran QB.

The 2017 draft was pivotal as the Browns had a lot of picks, due to the Wentz trade in 2016. At #1 overall Sashi drafted DE Myles Garrett, the consensus top player in the draft and a position of need on the team. They (FO and Hue) wanted to trade up and draft QB Mitch Trubisky, but the Bears drafted him at #2 overall. Again, Mike Silver:

That became moot when the Chicago Bears, in a move that shocked the rest of the league, traded up from third to second while the San Francisco 49ers were on the clock and took Trubisky -- even though, it turned out, the Niners were not planning to take him, nor were any potential trade partners believed to have been interested in him at that spot. With the dream scenario off the table, the Browns waited to see what their options were at 12, and Brown already had created an enticing one.

After the Kansas City Chiefs traded up to 10th and selected Mahomes, the quarterback who Jackson felt had the biggest upside, that left Watson as the highest-ranked QB on Cleveland's board. Watson, in Jackson's eyes, was the passer best suited to play right away, but he was not the man he hoped the Browns would select with the 12th pick. Instead, he was looking to provide Williams with another potential star: Ohio State safety Malik Hooker. "To me, he has a chance to be another Ed Reed," Jackson would tell me later. "When I coached in Baltimore, I saw firsthand what kind of impact a great safety can have."

Yet Brown knew the Houston Texans, who had the 25th overall pick, were intent on finding a quarterback, and were willing to give up their 2018 first-round selection to move into position to snag Watson.

Of course, the main controversy is that Sashi passed on another QB, this time Deshaun Watson. Unlike with Wentz, I do agree with the decision not to draft Watson. I do not think his ceiling is all that high; I'll have to wait for him to comeback from his unfortunate injury to see if I was right or wrong. Here, I probably would have drafted Hooker at 12, but Sashi took the opportunity to add another 1st rounder to 2018's draft instead (which looked to be QB rich). Again Sashi is looking a few years forward, adding resources for his rebuild.

During the draft the other players added included S Jabrill Peppers (which I didn't like, by the way), TE David Njoku too bolster the receiving core, QB Deshone Kizer (a high ceiling player) and DTs Larry Ogunjobi and Caleb Brantley.

The D-line thus received a huge boost during the draft, much as the O-line during FA. Considering the team's struggles in stopping the run in 2016 this investment makes sense.

The major post draft moves were a dud of a trade sending LB Davis to New York for S Calvin Pryor, and also the surprising release of veteran CB Joe Haden. While this move is in the same vein as the others (a declining and expensive player cut) it was more surprising because Haden had been one of the marquee players for the franchise since he as drafted in 2010. Sashi also got rid of another draft bust in OL Cam Erving; trading him to Kansas City.

I am sure that Sashi and the rest of the FO thought that 2017 would be a better year than 2016; as the roster is better. While it may be true according to some metrics, that this Browns team is a little better, it hasn't taken a major step up in any truly meaningful sense, as the team is 0-12 as of this writing.

Again, like 2016, however they knew (as I did) that this was not going to be a winning football team, the pieces aren't all quite there just yet. Closer than 2016, but still not ready. Sashi had acquired all those assets in the 2018 draft for a reason: one last influx of talent to finish the foundation.


This little walk back through recent Browns history wasn't to test your reading stamina (or mine), but to show that the moves made by this FO were with a purpose in mind: to field a team that could start winning in 2018, competing in 2019 and keep competing for years thereafter.

Sashi purged the team of overpaid/underachieving veterans like Kruger, Whitner, Hartline, and Dansby, and draft busts like Manziel, Mingo, Gilbert, and Erving. All the while he built the team from the ground up, with the tried and true method of starting with the trenches (OL and DL) and moving out from there. He did not get rid of all the players he inherited, it should be noted. The ones with potential and with a future were kept: No Joe Thomas trade for instance; also Duke, Crowell, Shelton, Bitonio, Kirksey, Orchard, and even Gordon were kept around, some even extended.

The team that Sashi has built is still deficient at several positions: WR for instance, though it has been addressed just not adequately. Safety is another, Peppers isn't getting it done as of yet. Luckily he managed to stash a lot of draft assets to help fill these holes, and cap space too if we want to sign a veteran.

The big one is of course QB though, the white whale of this franchise since Kosar. His passing on Wentz I still think is a mistake, but not an unforgivable one if he was able to land us a QB in 2018. If Sashi could have drafted a good QB or signed Cousins, Wentz would no longer have been an issue for me.

On top of that, because of Sashi's work any QB would be entering a team with a good O-line, good defense, and some high ceiling pass catchers (DeValve, Njoku, Coleman, Gordon, Duke). And that's the funny/sad thing: every draft season for years, I've heard people say "we can't throw a rookie on the field with that team, it'll ruin him like Couch. We need to build the team first". Well, Sashi did just that and he was run out of town anyway.

We we're never going to win in 2016 and 2017, we might have been able to squeeze a couple of our 4-12 and 5-11 seasons out, but Sashi had something bigger in mind: he wanted to try something new to end the cycle of mediocrity and lay the groundwork for a team built for long term success. The side-effect of which may have been a couple years of awfulness, but the Browns would have been (and still might be) better off for it in the long run. It's a terrible shame Sashi will never get to see his plan come to fruition, a disgrace really; victim of a lack of patience and vision.

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