The Cleveland Browns‘ off-season has been one of the strangest and most eventful in recent NFL history. So far they’ve fired their head coach and GM, hired a baseball executive made famous in Moneyball, and somehow managed to grab a coveted head coach in Hue Jackson. What’s more, over the past few weeks the Browns have shed contracts like crazy, starting with Johnny Manziel and moving through centre Alex Mack, offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz, wide receiver Travis Benjamin, safety Tashaun Gipson and linebacker Karlos Dansby—essentially, the majority of above-replacement-level players on the roster.
That’s a house-cleaning. That’s a rebuilding project. That is definitely not a team concerned with winning now and one that would definitely not invite in a QB controversy that would come with someone like former Washington Redskins pivot Robert—
Oh, damn. The Browns already have Josh McCown under contract, not to mention Austin Davis and Connor Shaw, and all indications were they were very interested in—if not dead set on—drafting South Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz with the second-overall pick in the draft in April.
It’s possible this all works out well and there’s a plan here and that that plan will not blow up in the faces of everyone involved, but… this is the Browns. And in fact it seems like the order of the day is figuring out who loses most.
Robert Griffin III
No hyperbole: Cleveland is where NFL quarterbacks go to die. The team has started 24 quarterbacks since 1999, most in the NFL, and only one of them has had a winning record.
But this goes well beyond the apparent zombie virus that has afflicted past Cleveland signal callers. The team has Joe Thomas, who is a Hall of Famer, but just gave up its starting centre and right tackle. That offensive line is gutted. They have nothing left.
In other news, there is no one to throw to in Cleveland. Benjamin was a surprisingly productive option, but he’s fled the Cleve for sunny San Diego. In his absence the new No. 1 option is… Brian Hartline? Here’s the best thing you can say about the Browns' receiver corps: They might get Josh Gordon, a former teammate of RGIII’s from Baylor, back. But about that: 1) Gordon has missed 27 of a possible 32 games the last two seasons following two suspensions for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy; and 2) he will first have to be reinstated by Roger Goodell, who isn’t even sure he wants to meet with Gordon to discuss a potential reinstatement.
He also enters a large pool of quarterbacks without any guarantees he’ll start, though the herd could be thinning out very soon.
Silver lining: He gets another NFL contract with a guaranteed $6.75 million, according to sources. What's more, Hue Jackson has had success in the past with guys like Andy Dalton and Joe Flacco. As silver linings go, not bad.
No matter who's in charge, they just seem to have no idea what they’re doing. Are they trying to win now? Do they see RGIII as a stop-gap? As a final piece to an arcane puzzle? Is it possible they believe he’s still an upside play who may be an answer several years down the line when they have the potential to be good again? Because the 26-year-old has been injured, ineffectual or ill-thought-of enough by his coaching staff to sit third on the depth chart the last two seasons in Washington, starting only seven games in that stretch. He’s torn his right ACL twice and sprained it once, has been concussed twice and missed several weeks in 2014 with a dislocated ankle. His body is a bad bet, especially at $6.75 million guaranteed.
Honestly, barring an out-of-nowhere resurgence from Griffin, they’ve put themselves in a really awkward position so long as he's on the team. Either they’ll be seen as stringing him along in service of a ridiculous media stunt—like Chip Kelly’s Philadelphia Eagles did with Tim Tebow last summer—or they’ll actually have to trot him out in front of the NFL’s worst offensive line, practically guaranteeing a sad, injury-fuelled end to his career.
Silver lining: Well, at least they’ve guaranteed themselves the headlines they lost out on by waiving Manziel. The team social media director’s job just got a lot easier from a raw numbers standpoint.
Picture being lost in the woods. For days. You’re hungry, you’re tired, you’re cold. But you’ve finally chosen a direction—or, maybe more accurately, had it chosen for you through lack of other options—and before too much longer you exit the heavy darkness of the trees and you are free. You can see the sun! There’s a sun up there, and it’s bright, and oh god you can feel its warmth.
Then, however, it becomes clear you’re not out of the woods so much as you’ve found a small clearing, that the trees are just as thick and densely packed on the other side of the clearing as the ones behind you, that these woods are never-ending and you are stuck in them for as long as you live.
This is Browns fandom.
Silver lining: Maybe—I mean, it’s unlikely, but just maybe—this means the Browns will still draft Carson Wentz, but that they’ll use RGIII as a one- or at most two-year fill-in while Hue Jackson and staff patiently develop their future No. 1, focusing the entire time on acclimating him and preparing him for future success. (And not do what the former regime did with Manziel, which was pretend to do that, while the whole time generating a million headlines about how he’s also looking very ready to start and is in the mix for QB1, etc., stringing the team and the media and the fans along the whole time. Which is the epitome of the Browns Way™.) At the same time, though, they’ll have to manage the ego of the guy(s) they’ve brought in to be QB1 the last two seasons, at least until they’re traded.
Hey buddy! Remember those mixed emotions you had every time you looked at a mock draft that had you going No. 2 to the Browns? They just got a lot more mixed, didn’t they? I mean, even beyond the fact that they just had to soak a football in water for you at your pro day Thursday so you’d throw a duck at the feet of your receiver, instead of just looking at film of you in the rain like an organization that wasn’t trying to turn to ash everything it touches.
Here’s the thing: All indications are that RGIII does not like in-team quarterback competition. Despite the fact that he was QB1 in Washington from the moment he was drafted, it sure seemed as though he resented like hell the very presence of Kirk Cousins. Should you get drafted by the Browns, you'll get to be Cousins—only worse, because at least Cousins and Griffin had the same amount of NFL experience under their belts when they entered the league from the same draft class. Now he’s a former rookie of the year, and you are some kid from a non-FBS college. You think he’s going to be happy that you’re around? That people are calling you the future of the franchise while he takes first-team snaps? Not likely.
Silver lining: Maybe this means you’ll drop, and some other team will draft you. If that’s the case, sure, you might lose a couple bucks, but your chance of being in the league in five years improves approximately one billion percent. (Checked the math. It’s right.) Good luck to you.