Just a quick note: this post is in two sections. The first part, I wrote last night a couple of hours after the trade happened. I didn’t post it because I wanted to be able to add the second part after I had some time to think and see some more reactions. Some of the stuff I touch on here has been brought up in other places (like Bill Barnwell’s excellent piece on Grantland yesterday).
Well Browns fans, today is a day where our franchise stuck a fork in the middle of the road. The problem is, even though we all know the fork is there now, most of us can’t see it. One side of the fork is a familiar trail. It’s paved with 4 and 5 win seasons, draft picks in the 3-8 range, and the perpetual revolving door of suck that is the browns quarterback position. This side has no end. It continues forever on in perpetuity, with the Browns reputation at the bumbling, inept, sort-of lovable losers riding shotgun.
The other side of the fork is a (cliché coming!) winding, bumpy road with terrible scenery. It’s filled with players sitting out with bogus injuries, embarrassing losses, and losing what many people regard as your best offensive player. The good news about this side is that it has an end. A tangible destination. It’s a destination Browns fans haven’t seen since 1991.
That was the last year the Browns had what most of us would agree was a “franchise” QB. That man was Bernie Kosar. Now, that was 22 years ago. Our good quarterback death is old enough to drink. I’ll be 30 years old later this year. The last time the Browns had a good quarterback, I wasn’t old enough to know what a good quarterback was. That is a seriously depressing thought. It’s even worse to consider that we have never really been close. The Bengals had Carson Palmer for God’s sake. You know how much better Carson Palmer was than anyone the Browns have had (It’s a lot)?
See, winning in the NFL doesn’t happen by accident. You don’t luck into Super Bowl titles. Even when the Patriots managed to snag Tom Brady in the 6th round, they had to keep four QB’s on the roster all year because they knew something everyone else didn’t. The problem with always being bad, but not the worst, is that you will always be stuck trying to figure out who is the 3rd or 8th best person in the draft. Who is the 3rd or 4th best QB. We all know picking a quarterback first isn’t an exact science. There will always be the Tim Couch and David Carr’s to point to, but the draft is like blackjack, just try to always give yourself the best odds. The best odds are always going to be in taking the first guy because you’ve had a chance to scout every single guy for hundreds of hours. Then if you miss, and you didn’t take Ryan Leaf, it’s on you.
The NFL has changed over the last several years. We all know that. Gone are the days of the championship teams built around a workhorse running back. Sure, defenses still help win titles, but offenses have to be able to move the ball in chunks. The rules are even set up to give you free yards just for having a defender sneeze on your QB in the pocket, or by looking cross-eyed at WR while he runs down the field. The NFL in 2013 is a passing league, and many of you seem to want the Browns organization to build a team to win the 1993 Super Bowl. The fact is, the most important runner on the team in 2013 might be the QB himself. Kaepernick, Wilson, Griffin, Newton, Tannehill, Rodgers, Luck, Vick…all guys who range from “dangerous runner” to “capably mobile”. This isn’t just a fad. Defenses are getting faster. Protecting the QB is going to get harder and harder. Running the ball with a single running back 30 times a game might die when Adrian Peterson hangs up his cleats. You don’t want to be the last guy holding a torch when they come to see who set the fire.
So what about the success of guys like Brady, Manning(s), Brees, Ryan? Well, between the five of them, the most productive running backs they’ve played with are Corey Dillon, Edgerrin James, and Michael Turner. Good players, but not exactly a HOF class. You will also notice that three of those guys were first overall picks. The other two were successful college QB’s who fell in the draft because people felt they were just backups (and played in the Big Ten). They, and their teams, have been successful because they are elite QB’s with talented weapons on the outside for them to throw the ball to. They aren’t on teams built around a stud running back getting the ball 350+ times a season. Look at the teams that have been built that way in recent years: St. Louis, Minnesota, Buffalo for a time around Lynch, and San Francisco with Alex Smith at QB. Is that the level of success we, as Browns fans, are supposed to hope for?
Why not bottom out? The Browns are always a couple of wins from having the first overall pick. Is winning 4 or 5 games really that much better than winning 2 or 3? Why bother? Yes, it sucks losing a player like Trent Richardson. He was exciting and he showed flashes of talent the browns haven’t seen since Ernest Byner. But he also only averaged 3.5 YPA over his first 300 carries. He missed one game last year, but we all know about all the lingering health issues he had to play through. And these weren’t hand injuries or something minor. Most of them were leg issues. I don’t think we need a refresher course on what happens if a RB can’t shake lingering leg problems. Maybe the Browns front office knows something we don’t regarding his medical situation. Maybe they think he only has a couple of years left at full strength. We don’t have any way to know. I do know that I’m not the kind to gamble on the history of workhorse running backs having long careers.
So what happens now? The team will trot Brian Hoyer out there to do his best Stan Marsh impression. Several more guys will probably end up on IR with suspicious injuries. When we play Jacksonville in December, the whole defense will probably come down with Ricketts. They will lose. A lot. Hopefully enough. All our chips are on the table. We are going after (I assume) Teddy Bridgewater. Nothing, not even what we all thought was a cornerstone running back, will stand in the way of that. The Colts have a rough schedule, a bad offensive line, and a worse defense. They will likely win six or seven games, landing us a pick somewhere between 8 and 16. It’s number three overall, but running backs are like new cars in that way.17 games of NFL miles is like driving that new car to St. Louis and back. You can’t even try to ask for equal value back. Maybe we use that pick on a stud wide receiver, or another corner to compliment Haden. Either way, we took an asset that was really fun to have, but wasn’t necessarily something we needed, and turned it into a future bet for something we do need. It’s certainly the road less traveled, but maybe it’s the road we haven’t taken for so long that we’ve forgotten how great the destination can be.
• • • • •
D-Day Plus 1. It’s now been nearly 24 hours since the most divisive trade the Browns have ever pulled off. Probably the most divisive trade in the NFL since Herschel Walker was shipped to Minnesota. Now that I’ve had some time to think more about the trade and interact with fans of many different teams, I have some more thoughts to add. Seems to be a lot of talk of the team not having a plan. I’m not sure how people can say that with a straight face. While you may think what they did is completely idiot or misguided, it is most certainly a plan. They want to lose every game. Well, more likely all but one game. Don’t want to join that club. This would lead to the Browns having the top pick and their choice of QB’s, where it would seem pretty obvious they would take Teddy Bridgewater. Again, if you want to criticize the team, that is your right, but do it with some facts, and it is a fact that this team has a plan.
I have said many times before that the biggest problem the previous regimes faced in the rebuilding process was that they were afraid of the fans. They wanted to bottom out and get the player they wanted at the top of the draft, but they also didn’t want to be crucified for going 2-14. This group has made it very clear they don’t have that fear, and I respect them for that. Their job is to build a winning team, not cater to the large sect of Browns fans that would rather go 5-11 forever than suffer through a couple 3-13′s so they can get some 12-4′s. No half measures this time. No more seasons where they come up one or two losses short of getting the guy they want.
Let’s talk about this talking point everyone keeps using about how the Browns have always been losers, therefore, they always will be. This is 100% illogical. Yes, they haven’t been good for quite a while. All the people to blame for that are no longer associated with the franchise. So why are people insisting on blaming the current front office for mistakes they didn’t make? How is it Joe Banner’s fault that Mike Holmgren sucked at his job? If you go into work one day, and you’re shitty boss has been replaced with a new one, do you just assume he is shitty just because the last one was? All these guys can do is try to rectify whatever mistakes they think were made by Holmgren and company and move forward. That is what they are doing. Stop pushing the same old, tired narrative and realize that, success or fail, these aren’t the same Browns.
If you are a fan of a team that isn’t the Browns, and you’re teams successes have been built around defense and a good QB, maybe you should shut up about how big of morons the Browns execs are. Franchise quarterbacks don’t go into free agency. Miami didn’t exactly have an easy time replacing Dan Marino. Same goes for Elway, Kelly, Simms, Bradshaw, and Young. These guys don’t fall out of the sky. They have to be drafted.
I’m kind of curious what the fans who think the team should have held on to Trent and built around him think the plan should have been to land a QB. And what is their model for an offense centered around a RB? Maybe when Barry Sanders, Adrian Peterson, Steven Jackson, and Shaun Alexander get done polishing their Super Bowl rings, they can tell us.
Lastly, a lot of Browns fans declared they were done with the team, even going so far as to ask for suggestions for a new team. If you want to blow off steam in that way, go right ahead. People invest a lot of emotion in sports, so its understandable that you would get upset sometimes. But if you are going to go root for a team like the Packers or Bengals, while keeping the Browns in your back pocket so you can root for them again if this whole thing works out as planned, then you can just stay right on whatever bandwagon you jumped on. You don’t get to shit all over them, go root for a good team, then come back when things are better. The Browns aren’t a girl with abandonment issues. If you go, stay gone.