The Cleveland Browns were awful in 2015 under head coach Mike Pettine. After a 2-3-0 start, the club reeled off seven straight losses and finished 3-13-0.
36-year old Josh McCown was the starting quarterback in a long line of starting QB’s for the Browns. At season’s end, Pettine was fired just like every other head coach who had attempted to right the ship since 1999 called “the New Browns.”
In Pettine’s stead was a supposedly offensive guru. A quarterback whisperer - Hue Jackson. Whisked away from their division foe the Cincinnati Bengals. A former quarterback who could not only groom a young signalcaller, but had the knack to find the right one. Jackson also had head coaching experience as he was the head guy with Oakland in 2011 and came with 29-years of coaching experience.
The Bengals had gone from 15th in the league in total offense to 7th while Jackson was the offensive coordinator and posted the highest yards per game average (134.1) in the NFL. His quarterback, Andy Dalton, was the second-highest ranked QB in the league with a 106.3 rating.
And with that 3-13-0 finish, Cleveland tied the Tennessee Titans with the league’s worst records. One of the Browns only victories that season was a 28-14 win over the Titans. That placed Tennessee with the first overall pick with the Browns selecting second.
The quarterback class of 2015 was deemed very deep in able-bodies but not deep in overall talent with several players who would one day become can’t miss Pro Bowlers: Paxton Lynch, Jacoby Brissett, Carson Wentz, Christian Hackenberg, Cody Kessler, Jared Goff and Conner Cook were considered the top guys. And out of these, Goff and Wentz were the elite.
Here were the Browns needing a young stud at quarterback. Now in-house, was a QB guru to take control of the reins and groom a new guy to replace the old guy. The stars had finally aligned for Cleveland.
However, there were others who had the same dreams of finding that once in a generation field general that would lead their club to the promised land. Others who would bring gifts – lots of gifts – in order to move up from their own slot in the draft and pluck one of the two blessed saviors.
Traders of trades
Then on April 14, two weeks before the draft, Tennessee traded out of the first overall spot with the Los Angeles Rams. The Titans received the 15th slot in that year’s draft, plus two second-round picks and a third-round selection – plus the Rams’ first and third-round picks in the following year’s draft.
The deal sent shock waves through the league. Now the buzz was whether Los Angeles would take Goff or Wentz and the assumption was the Browns would get the QB not chosen first overall. It was divulged that the Rams coveted Goff who was an accurate passer, tall, had good feet, played in a tough conference and could make all the throws.
That decision on whether the Browns would take Wentz was given six days later.
On April 20, Cleveland also traded its high pick to the Philadelphia Eagles. In exchange for the second overall pick, the Browns received the eighth overall pick in the first-round, a third and a fourth-round pick, plus the Eagles’ first and second-round picks the following year. In addition to the second overall slot, Philadelphia also received a fourth-round pick in the 2017 draft.
And with that bounty, the Browns were saying they were not going to draft neither Goff nor Wentz. Even if they had stayed put and not taken a QB, the following talent was soon selected: DE Joey Bosa, RB Ezekiel Elliott, DE DeForest Buckner, OT Jack Conklin and LB Jaylon Smith.
Cleveland did indeed take a quarterback in that 2016 NFL draft. They selected Cody Kessler out of USC in the third-round – five slots from the beginning of Round 4.
What Wentz became, and what surfaced later
Early on, Wentz looked just like the second overall pick in the draft. He later became injured often and when the Eagles went to and won Super Bowl LII in 2017, Wentz was a mere bystander.
This past off-season, he was traded to Indianapolis which re-united him with head coach Frank Reich who had coached him in Philly as the offensive coordinator and who Wentz had the most success with.
But the real ingredient to the 2016 trade with the Eagles is not what Wentz became or what he is doing today, but what that trade ultimately produced for the Cleveland Browns of today.
Cleveland went 1-15-0 in 2016 with three starts from McCown, eight for the rookie Kessler and the balance under Robert Griffin, III. That disastrous season gave the Browns the first overall pick in the 2017 NFL draft where they took DE Myles Garrett. Plus, they had the Eagles’ first-round pick which ended up being #12 to which they traded to Houston for a first-round pick in 2018.
After going 0-16-0 in 2017, Cleveland was once again picking first overall. This time, it would be QB Baker Mayfield, the Heisman Trophy winner out of Oklahoma. Houston had the fourth worst record so now the Browns owned the fourth overall selection. They decided upon CB Denzel Ward from Ohio State.
Ultimately, the trade with Philly for the Wentz pick became Ward who is as valuable as Wentz despite playing in the defensive backfield.
If the Browns had taken Wentz, they would never had drafted Mayfield. What the Browns did with the Wentz trade was begin the process of stockpiling draft picks which helped them make maneuvers at different junctions in order to secure better talent.
This process began to show last year with a successful season going 11-5-0. Moreover, the decision to not take Wentz led them into the position to select Mayfield as their franchise QB.
Both Wentz and Mayfield head into the 2021 season with lots to prove. Mayfield had a coming-out year while Wentz was benched for QB Jalen Hurts. So far, Cleveland has been proven correct in their decision to not take Wentz.