The Browns won yesterday, and they’re now 1-2. There are a lot of 1-2 teams with hopes of still having a winning or at least competitive season. They’ve led all three games at halftime. The defense has been flatout spectacular for a vast majority of the time. Still, with the trade this past week, I couldn’t help but be at least a little bit torn about the game’s outcome with Brian Hoyer at the helm.
Don’t get me wrong, a win this early in the season is huge for a team’s (and the fans’) morale. It was exciting. I enjoyed watching Jordan Cameron and Josh Gordon look like true long-term weapons on offense. It was refreshing to watch a quarterback get rid of the ball quickly. The defense brought me up out of my chair on multiple occasions by forcing turnovers and holding Adrian Peterson in check. But, there’s that little voice in the back of my mind wondering if a win yesterday was the best thing for this team long-term.
Despite what some people will tell you, there is NO WAY that the Browns consider themselves a better team, more equipped for winning games, than they were on Wednesday when they traded Trent Richardson. Quarterback change or not, the Browns were led in rushing yesterday by an undrafted rookie safety who took a fake punt 36 yards. The “committee of running backs” that Solomon Wilcots kept referring to (Willis McGahee, Chris Ogbonnaya, and Chris Rainey) combined for 19 touches and 83 total yards (14 carries for 49 yards on the ground). That included a 22-yard run from Ogbonnaya on a 3rd and 30 draw.
If this team was supposed to be somewhere between 6 and 8 wins like most of us on the site predicted when they had a capable NFL running back that was tied for 5th in the league with 11 touchdowns in his rookie campaign, what are expectations now? Even more important than what expectations are, the reality is that this upcoming draft becomes the most important draft in the new era Browns’ soon-to-be 15-year history. With 7 picks in the top four rounds (for now, it could be more, after all), they HAVE to find their franchise quarterback and 3-4 more impact starters at the bare minimum.
As important as it is for the Browns to get their franchise quarterback, whether it’s Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd, Marcus Mariota, or otherwise, they could have a disappointing record this season and STILL need to move up in a trade to get their guy if he’s the unanimous #1 . There are still six winless teams at the time of writing this, after all. If we’re in a similar situation to the RG3 trade, though, we’ll be the ones undeniably holding the most chips at the table.
As much as I’ve been on board with the Cavaliers’ #TankStrong movement that acquired them Tristan Thompson, Dion Waiters, and Anthony Bennett, all while maintaining cap space and flexibility, using some of it to sign Jarrett Jack, Andrew Bynum, and Earl Clark, this is different. If the team still wins 6 or 7 games, Horton’s defense continues to apply pressure like it has through three games, and that side of the ball seems like it’s ready to contend, then perhaps having the 12th or 13th pick instead of the 5th or 6th pick isn’t as big of a deal as those extra couple of wins will be. If they’re going to end up trading up anyway, then what’s the difference?
As a city, we’ve swallowed a lot of tanking bullets lately. I’ve lived through three seasons of it with the Cavaliers. I’ve lived it every single season for a bare minimum of the last 3-4 games of the Browns’ season, saying “don’t win this meaningless game just to screw up our draft position”, often with a lame duck front office or coaching staff or quarterback. But, with 13 games left, in this apparently weak AFC North division, sitting at 1-2, and with the knowledge of the upgrades in many areas on this team, I still need to see that progress, and seeing that progress could be more important than a few draft slots.
It’s still tough to swallow that pill. If you’re going to suck, generally speaking, you should do it right and bottom out to get the top selection. There’s no lottery like the NBA, so if you’re bad enough, that top pick is assured. The problem is, unlike with the Cavs, the Browns have been close but no cigar for years now with regards to the top pick. They haven’t owned it since 2000, after all, which is kind of remarkable when you think about it. Since then, they’ve picked 3rd four times (including the trade up from #4 for Richardson), started with the 5th pick once before the double trade down saga, drafted 6th twice, and picked 7th once. They’re almost certainly gathering this package of picks to move up in the draft. The unfortunate thing when you do that is you’re giving up face-less picks of guys that would probably end up being starters on your future team.
While I think the “franchise quarterback” stipulation is an exception, look no further than our own Scott Sargent’s tweet from yesterday morning to learn what I believe is the right thought process for NFL drafting overall.
Good teams don't draft high. They draft well.
— Scott @ WFNY (@WFNYScott) September 22, 2013
We see running backs, receivers, and quarterbacks every year or every other year have stellar seasons after not being drafted in the first round. The Browns NEED to hit on someone like that. They need MORE fourth round Jordan Camerons, sixth round Ahtyba Rubins, sixth round Billy Wynns, second round Josh Gordons, and second round Jabaal Sheards. It’s about having a good scouting staff and acquiring players that fit what you’re trying to do. Just last year, Russell Wilson, Alfred Morris, and T.Y. Hilton were all high-impact offensive players that were picked outside of the first round. Doug Martin went 31st overall. There are players, impact players, at every level of the draft.
So, I won’t promise that my mindset won’t change with a game or two to go. But, for now, I’m going to enjoy the Vikings win, hope they continue to build on progress being made, and root for another one next week against Cincinnati. I realize they’ll probably end up with a top ten pick regardless, but we’ve got all the way until April to worry about that. This article probably seemed a little disjointed and all over the place, right? Well, that’s kind of where I think Browns fans are right now as a whole. Not quite sure what to think about the past week’s events. So, for now, all I can say is GO BROWNS (and everyone playing the Colts)!
(Photo: Candice Vlcek)