Why I lost faith in the Browns

FirstEnergy+Stadium%2C+home+of+the+Browns%2C+has+been+dubbed+the+%22Factory+of+Sadness%22+for+good+reason.
FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Browns, has been dubbed the

FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Browns, has been dubbed the "Factory of Sadness" for good reason.

Courtesy of @FEStadium on Twitter.

Courtesy of @FEStadium on Twitter.

FirstEnergy Stadium, home of the Browns, has been dubbed the "Factory of Sadness" for good reason.

Jake Novack, Writing Editor

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Oh, the power of hindsight.

Earlier this year, I penned an opinion piece titled “Why I still have faith in the Cleveland Browns.” In this beacon of optimism, I highlighted the plethora of skilled players available in the 2017 NFL Draft, numerous trade possibilities and a revitalized front office that would make serious improvements to the roster.

Now, seeing that the Browns have started the 2017 season with an 0-10 record, are on pace for the first overall draft pick for the second year in a row and are quite simply a dumpster fire, I’m going to roll up my sleeves and dash my football fever dreams with a hard dose of reality. Here’s why I’ve lost faith in the Browns.

Front office miscues

I know, I know, I should’ve seen them coming. Browns headquarters in Berea is pretty much one giant revolving door. Previous executives like Mike Holmgren, Joe Banner and Ray Farmer have all been chased out of town as a result of their myopic decisions that dug the franchise into an even deeper hole than they found it in. The current analytics-driven team spearheaded by Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta is no different than the executives of seasons past.

Let’s start with one glaring hole in the Browns roster formed by this front office: Cleveland’s receiving core is downright dreadful. When Duke Johnson, Cleveland’s third-down running back, is far and away leading the team in receptions and receiving yards, something has to be wrong. Yes, Johnson has lined up in the “slot” receiving position for a considerable number of snaps this year, but when Johnson’s number is called in the backfield, there has to be a receiving core that demands attention from the defense. Simply put, this team has no receivers that can make an impact on a game. Free agent acquisition Kenny Britt, who was expected to take on a top receiving role this season, has been an outright disaster. Football database Pro Football Focus (PFF) currently has Britt listed as the 109th-best receiver in the NFL, with only 14 receptions through ten games. By the way, the Browns signed Britt to a humongous $32.5 million dollar contract this past offseason. According to sports contract database Spotrac, Britt’s contract is among the 25 most expensive deals for a wide receiver in the entire NFL.

Let that sink in.

Also, the front office was responsible for quite possibly the biggest blunder of the offseason: the Brock Osweiler trade. Back in March, the Browns threw in a fourth round 2018 draft pick in exchange for Houston Texans quarterback Osweiler, and received Houston’s 2018 second round pick. The deal also gave the Browns Houston’s 2017 seventh round pick.

Not a bad deal, right?

One look at Osweiler’s exorbitant four-year contract worth $72 million says otherwise. Basically, Cleveland’s front office agreed to fork over at least one year of Osweiler’s huge salary in order to get two picks that could quite possibly only serve as future trade bait. Although one of the draft picks the Browns received was a coveted second round pick, was it really worth the $15.2 million Cleveland paid Osweiler when he was cut right before the season? I think not.

Coaching struggles

Although the Browns’ on-field product right now is atrocious, Cleveland’s coaching staff hasn’t done its players any favors. This starts with a total misuse of this year’s draft picks, starting with rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer. One look at Kizer’s stats shows that he hasn’t yet acclimated to pro football: PFF grades him as the 35th best quarterback in the league, and he has thrown 12 interceptions through nine games played (that’s an average of 1.3 picks per contest–not exactly ideal.) This is because Kizer is an extremely raw talent that was rushed into the spotlight by head coach Hue Jackson. Class of 2017 Courier sports writer Edward Melsher even noted that Kizer was a largely inaccurate passer at Notre Dame last year. So what proved to the coaching staff that Kizer was ready to start? Rather than letting Kizer mature into the position behind a seasoned quarterback (like what the Kansas City Chiefs are currently doing with rookie quarterback Pat Mahomes) Jackson and the coaching staff are letting Kizer get pummeled by NFL defenses. One can’t help to worry about Kizer’s confidence, as he’s currently ranked dead last in ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating (QBR) rankings.

David Njoku and Jabrill Peppers, two of Cleveland’s three 2017 first round picks, have also been misused by the coaching staff. Tight end Njoku, who was the 29th pick in the draft, has been heavily underutilized in Hue Jackson’s offense as he’s accumulated only 20 receptions and 211 receiving yards through ten games. I’m not saying Njoku is far and away the team’s best offensive option, but if the Browns were willing to spend a first round pick on Njoku, they might as well find more ways to call his number. Considering the atrocious receiving core that I touched on earlier, I find it shocking that Cleveland coaches can’t seem to get someone capable of acrobatic catches like this involved in the offense.

Meanwhile, Peppers is playing the wrong position. Browns defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has inserted Peppers into the role of free safety, where he lines up approximately 25 yards from the line of scrimmage. This is puzzling, especially considering that Peppers lined up far closer to the line of scrimmage as a linebacker at Michigan. PFF has Peppers ranked as the 81st best safety in football, so it’s easy to see why this arrangement isn’t working. One of the hallmarks of Peppers’ game is his tackling ability (72 tackles last year at Michigan,) so it leaves me scratching my head watching Williams take Peppers out of the game by playing him so far back.

Ownership failing to construct an effective front office

As much as it pains me to say it, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam needs to reorganize the front office. Yes, the one that I blindly worshipped in January.

As of right now, the Browns don’t even have a general manager in their front office. The Browns have an Executive Vice President of Football Operations in Brown, and a Chief Strategy Officer in DePodesta. Neither of them are capable of evaluating football talent. This is evidenced by their decision to pass up on former North Dakota State quarterback and current MVP frontrunner Carson Wentz in the 2016 draft. While I initially praised the team’s bold decision to shift to an analytics-based approach to team building, I took the role of the traditional “football guy” for granted. Haslam can’t outthink the front office layout anymore: he needs people in the front office that can be on the same page as the team’s football-minded head coach. While I think that Brown and DePodesta don’t quite deserve to be fired due to their ability to acquire draft capital (they snagged an additional first round pick for the Browns in the 2018 draft), Haslam needs to hire a team president or general manager with solid experience measuring football talent. Browns beat reporter Daryl Ruiter laid out a similar opinion in his “five point plan” for rebuilding the Browns a few weeks back, and it makes complete sense: the Browns need a clear-cut top dog in the front office that has final authority over the formation of the roster.

Look, I still love the Browns. They’re my hometown team, and I’ll be rooting for them until the day I die. But for the sake of Clevelanders who have been habitually forced to watch an atrocious football team, the Browns need to make big changes to their roster and front office.

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