As the caricatures fade and reality starts to set in, we can start to make prudential judgments about just what kind of general manager John Dorsey will be for the Cleveland Browns. We can start to evaluate what skills and positions he values, and what kind of players he’s drawn to. As the games continue to pass, we can feel more and more confident about evaluating the players he’s brought to the team.
We can also start to determine his timeline for improvement, and evaluate the steps he’s taking to get there. Hue Jackson’s place as a holdover head coach complicates how we view this—it is a common view that with a 3-34-1 record, he is coaching for his life. The team brought in veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor, presumably with the idea that he would be able to help the team win, and to win right away. Dorsey also made moves for veterans, notably bringing in wide receiver Jarvis Landry and right tackle Chris Hubbard. Fears seemed to involve Dorsey spending the Browns into salary cap hell, while jettisoning analytics and investing in old, past-their-prime players.
It’s worth noting, here, that Dorsey pushed back against this from the beginning. From The Ringer, in August:
I was halfway through my question when John Dorsey put up three fingers: “For a real rebuild, you’ve got to have patience, and it’s going to take about three years.”
Dorsey is the sixth Browns general manager since 2009. None of his predecessors lasted for more than three years.
Despite going 0-16 last season and 1-15 the year before, Cleveland might be in a better position than at any prior point during its near-decade-long rebuild. At the very least, the Browns are more interesting than they have been in years past. The Browns entered the spring with $110 million in cap space and a truckload of draft picks, and they pulled off a number of high-profile trades: Tyrod Taylor for a third-round pick, Jarvis Landry for fourth- and seventh-rounders, Damarious Randall for DeShone Kizer and a pair of pick swaps. They took Baker Mayfield, as exciting a quarterback prospect as there’s been in years, with the first overall pick. And even after all that, Dorsey was quick to point out, they still led the league in cap space.
The article goes on to mention that Dorsey is fascinated by the prospect of mastering the salary cap, and maintaining a roster that stays among the youngest in the NFL.
And indeed, John Dorsey has not managed this roster like a man dedicated to getting the Cleveland Browns immediate wins. He has not managed the roster like a man particularly interested in helping Hue Jackson save his job. First, the simple act of selecting a rookie quarterback with the top overall pick is not, generally speaking, a win-now move. It’s an important and necessary investment in your team’s future. Even taking into account Baker Mayfield’s age and college success, a head coach desperate for wins will be reluctant to hand over the keys to a guy who had never played in the NFL before. Of course, we know the team didn’t. But even beyond that, knowing the team had Tyrod Taylor in their back pocket, the Browns could have invested their first pick in a Saquon Barkley-type player that would have made an immediate impact. They didn’t do that. Even Denzel Ward, who had only one full season as a regular at Ohio State, was seen as a bit of a project pick. The Browns took him knowing full well they would throw him to the wolves and let him learn as he went.
But it’s Dorsey’s second round choices that stand out most of all. The Browns are fully content to let Carlos Hyde run into walls, even as Nick Chubb waits patiently in the wings. And Austin Corbett was drafted into the Browns offensive line without a clear position or role. In these picks—and with the Mayfield and Ward ones as well—it’s relatively obvious Dorsey simply chose guys he really liked. Perhaps these picks will pay off, because the Browns have a lot invested at the center and guard positions, and perhaps Dorsey believes Corbett will be a cheap alternative to J.C. Tretter or Kevin Zeitler in the future. In the case of Chubb, he’s demonstrated plenty of home-run potential. But the ultimate evaluation of all four of the first Browns picks will come later; for now, it’s worth noting that Dorsey didn’t seem to feel like he needed to draft immediate difference-makers. Perhaps it’s a three-year plan after all.
We’re now seeing this dynamic with the receiving corps. Dez Bryant and Rishard Matthews have worked out and not received or received acceptable contracts. Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman are gone. Dorsey determined that whatever they could help the team with now, he didn’t want them to be a part of the organization. Instead, Antonio Callaway is force-fed snaps and targets he isn’t prepared to handle. A mish-mash collection of fringe NFL wideouts and Jarvis Landry—while established receivers are on the market—doesn’t exactly sound like a team determined to challenge for a playoff spot.
None of this is to really even pass judgment on what’s happening; on the one hand, making win-now moves for an embattled coach seems shortsighted, but on the other hand, you’d probably want to give your rookie quarterback some real options to throw to. To go back to the Nick Chubb example, if you felt like you had drafted a real difference-maker at the running back position, but knew his rookie season wasn’t going to be one in which you seriously challenged for a division title, would you handle things any differently than Dorsey? It’s unlikely Hyde is back next season, and Chubb both got a taste for the NFL and kept his mileage down.
We’re still getting to know and evaluate Dorsey, but it seems as though he’s willing to take his time.