It is not possible for me to express too fully just how much I like and appreciate the job that has been done by the Cleveland Browns’ front-office headed by Sashi Brown, Paul Depodesta, and Analytics, over the course of the last seventeen months. To be sure, Joe Banner began the process of acquiring future assets for the Browns, but was not able to take advantage of his patience as he (and lackey Mike Lombardi) was ousted after one season. Ray Farmer then spent some of those assets and acquired a great deal more. He was also looking to defer to the future, but it would end up being a future he would not be a part of.
Sashi Brown, however, has taken this thing to the next level on steroids. In another post it would be worth enumerating all of his transactions since becoming GM. For now it suffices to say that what has been done so far, in my humble - if estimable, opinion, augers quite very well for our future. He has flooded the roster with a vast array of new, blue-chip talent, all the while collecting future assets.
The team is young, but there is talent seeping out of the pores of damn-near every position group. Operation Moneyball has netted us a fine collection of talented players on all three sides of the ball, with still a healthy over-supply of future draft capital to add even more talent in future years. While there has not been an aversion to spend money when necessary, there has also not been a hesitation to cut unnecessary contracts when the opportunity arises.
Of the 90 players listed to the right, a whopping’ fifty-one are playing on their rookie contract. It’s possible that I may have missed a few in there, but one even more impressive number that I am sure about is 34 (35 if you count Josh Gordon), and that is the number of players on the Browns’ roster that we drafted. That has to be the most, by a huge margin, we have had on the roster at any one time since very early days of expansion.
This is no small thing; over the years the front-office/Head-coaching turnover and corresponding roster churn has resulted in a perpetual state of flux. A regime would invest in a player, but in two years or less that regime would be replaced and a new one would be reviewing whether or not to continue investing in that player. That has been happening for over ten years, and it leads to a team made up of misfit, soon-to-be-castoffs from previous cycles, rookies, and a hodgepodge of free agent-types to help install the vision.
This state-of-being is an acceptable consequence of starting over, but our problem has been that we can’t stop ourselves from constantly starting over. What is supposed to be a transitional period has become our permanent reality, producing a winning percentage of .266 (34-94) since 2009 (Eric Mangini’s first year). Players brought in to perform a function see that role change (and thus, whatever development advancements made in the previous role are completely discarded). This arrests their development and causes an inevitable parting of ways, either because the player (if he has marketable value) does not feel like dealing with a group that didn’t draft him or our regime (at any given time) doesn’t feel like going hard after a player that isn’t one of “their” guys. Rinse, repeat.
There is certainly much more that could be said about that subject, but the way this roster has been constructed in just year two is a huge deviation from previous iterations. In every position group, the talent is young, and for the most part continuing to learn the same thing they have been learning since they entered the league. We haven’t gotten to that point in the life-cycle of a franchise in many years, and these guys have almost completely done it after only two offseasons. I’m crazy-excited to see them get a third year and feel very good right now about that happening.
Isaiah Crowell is entering a contract year, and combined with Duke Johnson provides a dynamic backfield (and there will be some young options behind them). Danny Vitale can do whatever we need at FB along with doing some H-back type stuff as well. At WR we have a 1st round selection from last year in Corey Coleman along with veteran Kenny Britt, coming off his best season as a pro. We have a bunch of young guys behind them and it’s not unreasonable to expect someone out of that group to stand out.
David Njoku is about as talented a rookie TE as you will ever see. I like him more than Kellen Winslow Jr (the University of Miami TE the Browns drafted in 2004 instead of Roethlisberger) and think he will have a better career (which is nothing to sneeze at). Seth DeValve had a solid rookie season and could serve to be a dual option/mismatch along with Njoku. The offensive line (despite some crowing from the peanut gallery) figures to be much improved, with the interior essentially rebuilt to go along with GOAT-Joe and an intriguing RT battle.
Myles Garrett and Emmanuel Ogbah are going to be a wrecking crew off the edges with Danny Shelton and a ton of options to round out a very, very talented (and young) defensive line. Jamie Collins and Christian Kirksey make a fine LB duo in what will likely be a 4-2-5 base defensive scheme. The secondary features a variety of options in terms of player alignment as has been discussed previously.
We even upgraded the kicker position, drafting Zane Gonzalez in the 7th round to compete with Cody Parkey. On balance, that is a pretty good looking roster that is not only young and talented but, with few exceptions, remarkably deep. Much of this could go awry of course, but I’m glass half-full on all of these position-groups being average-to-good-to-(potentially) VERY good, especially as the season goes by (barring injury, of course).
The Lobster In The Room
Conveniently left off my roster of optimistic assumptions is (not inconsequently) the toughest position in all of sports. The 2017 version of our beloved (r)orange helmets features three options which as of this writing, more or less all stand an equal chance of being the opening day starter. At this moment, it appears that 2016 third-round pick Cody Kessler is probably the favorite.
That it can change is nice, and not because I am averse to Kessler. I actually believe that this team quarterbacked by Cody Kessler for sixteen games would result in a playoff berth - particularly if we commit to the running game. However, while things can change I think it’s likely tfor Cody to hold onto the job, and be the opening day starter. He’ll look pretty good too, for a while.
The problem is idea of him lasting sixteen games seems pretty impossible given the injuries he suffered during his rookie season. I would love for that to be the case because I think he does a lot of things well that are necessary to for Quarterbacking at the NFL level. I just can’t get past the certainty that he’s going to get busted up and probably very early in the season, leading to us having year number 17/18 of not having the same QB start every game.
Enter in Brock Osweiler (affectionately by many and probably derisively by some) known around these parts as “Brock Lobster”. He at that point would be entering in after having not spent the entire offseason with the starting offense, and would have his struggles as a result. It’s not as if he doesn’t have deficiencies of his own considering we were essentially paid-off to take him away from Houston. In fact, what the Browns did to the Texans this year might be criminal.
Depending on how far into the season ‘The Lobster steps in after Kessler’s inevitable injury, we’ll start accumulating the losses fairly steadily. At some point, and definitely by the final week, we’ll see Kizer.
I’m not one of those that assumes that Kizer just ABSOLUTELY could not be successful starting his rookie year, but I would decrease the odds substantially if he doesn't spend the entire offseason getting the reps with the starting unit and deep into a bad season. At that point, it will be interesting to watch what he does, but I’d venture to guess most will instead be watching to see if any of the coveted underclassmen playing in college will declare for next year’s draft, and if we can get one. I don’t think we will, but that’s a separate issue.
So with still much of this roster, talented though it is, mostly young and still gelling, along with mediocre-to-bad QB play stemming from injury (as last year) you can see where I’m going with this. I suppose we could get lucky, but then how often does that happen? More likely is we’re in a few games despite the lackluster QB effort and end up losing due to some wacky bounces. It’s bound to happen.
The Good News
Whatever happens in 2017, the Browns are absolutely stacked with assets heading into the future. Already armed with 12 picks (including FIVE in the first two rounds) it will also figure for Sashi to continue to multiplying what he started with along with drafting a bunch more players. That number of drafted players existing on the team simultaneously might get up to 40 or so, which would be insanity.
We’ll figure to see improvements amongst all those position groups I mentioned earlier. The best part about all of them is there is tons of room for growth from a strong base. That talent will showcase itself and we will compete harder and overall be a better looking team. The quarterback dynamic will be the downfall in many close games, and that’s ok. We figure to be much improved, but not enough to be winners, not just yet.
So how then, can I be optimistic while expecting another terrible season? Well in the first place, 4-12 can be fun if we see that talent developing with the young guys. Moreover, what I’m actually optimistic about is that going 4-12 after going 1-15 will not result in what Sashi and team have been building being summarily dispatched, as usually happens. I really, really love what this team is doing, and I am more than happy with going through yet another bad year. However another tear-down/rebuild would be fairly devastating. Let’s hope we don’t have to deal with that again for a very, very long time.
One Last Thing
On Friday night the Cleveland Cavaliers played, in my opinion, the most impressive game in franchise history. They now find themselves in the exact same position they were in a year ago at this time, though the task certainly seems more daunting. Nevertheless, the defending champs did not allow a sweep and denied the Warriors their perfect offseason.
Game five is Monday night. I am hopeful/optimistic and all that, but I’m just going to watch and see what happens. Last year, when the Cavs won game seven, over at Fear The Sword they placed a banner on the top of their site, memorializing the Cavaliers’ first championship. The article that banner linked to is here. I would recommend that you take a look at it and enjoy that feeling again, either before or after game five. That championship meant so, so very much, and however these Finals play out, that never changes. Take it in again, you’ll be happy you did.
Have a wonderful Sunday.
What Are Your Expectations For 2017?
This poll is closed
Under 4 wins, same old same old
4 to 8 wins, solid to surprising improvement
A winning season, maybe even playoffs