The unofficial acknowledgment of a season spiraling out of control came on Monday, as reports surfaced that the Browns were listening to trade offers for Kareem Hunt and Greedy Williams. The Browns - losers of four in a row - could try to salvage future draft picks for veteran players who likely won’t return in 2023.
Common analytical sense suggests the Browns should cash in now, especially considering their depleted chest of draft picks resulting from the DeShaun Watson trade. While Hunt may not fetch more than a fourth-round pick, adding such a selection would at least bolster the team’s ability to make additional trades next April.
Ideally, the Browns could add a few mid to late round draft picks - possibly more if you include Jack Conklin, Taven Bryan and in a Madden world, Jadeveon Clowney. The returns wouldn’t be dramatic, but could be useful for a front office that values flexibility.
However, the question has to be asked: If the Browns add more draft picks, do you trust Andrew Berry to make the right selections?
A vital component of the Browns’ current collapse is the stunted growth and regression of several mid-round Berry picks, including Grant Delpit, Jacob Phillips, Tommy Togiai, Jordan Elliott and Harrison Bryant. Certainly, coaching is a factor in these players’ poor performance. Yet, these players are also a microcosm of the team’s overall culture and direction. To have so many young players regress is a warning sign moving forward.
Berry’s image of a “rock star GM” appears to be fading. There is a certain arrogance - or at least an aloofness - with his roster building. Until Richard LeCounte was recently released, all of Berry’s draft picks were on the roster. The same could be said for Kevin Stefanski, who until this point has retained Joe Woods and Mike Priefer, two coordinators who have struggled.
Either through blissful confidence or arrogance, Berry felt his 2022 roster only needed Watson to compete for the playoffs. At this point, the Browns are a bottom five team, with glaring holes in the defensive front seven, at safety and throughout the special teams units. Injuries at tight end and cornerback have weakened two areas of strength. The offense lacks playmakers beyond Nick Chubb and Amari Cooper.
The easy answer for an NFL franchise in this situation is to trade any salvageable parts and rest your remaining star players. Tanking for a higher first round draft pick is an acceptable strategy for smart teams. Of course, the Browns - who would hold the 5th overall pick - are only helping the Texans in this regard.
At the least, a tanking scenario could give the front office a longer look at potential starters in James Hudson, Jerome Ford, Hjalte Froholdt, Perrion Winfrey, Alex Wright, Martin Emerson and possibly even D’Anthony Bell. Placing Myles Garrett, Denzel Ward and Chubb in virtual bubble wrap could help prolong their careers.
Similarly, now could be the time for the Browns to target other young players around the league. In an ideal world, the Jets’ Elijah Moore could bolster the team’s lack of playmakers.
Of course, this all assumes that another organizational tear-down will not occur. Given Jimmy Haslam’s short-sighted nature and history of impatience, it’s more than probable someone other than Berry is making draft picks next April.
Also, Stefanski will be likely fighting for his coaching life over the next couple months. It’s hard to imagine he would endorse such a strategy - although it’s questionable how much say he would have in the decision. Stefanski’s only hope to return in 2023 rests on Watson’s ability to provide a late-season spark - if only to give a preview for the future.
Tanking presents a paradox. The strategy doesn’t replace the team’s first round pick and it’s questionable if the Browns have the right person in place to even make the picks. The answer is easy: the current season is lost, so it’s time to tank.
However, this being the Browns - nothing comes easy.
Dave Kolonich has written for Fox Sports Ohio, The Orange and Brown Report and created Cleveland Reboot.