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At this point, the Cleveland Browns are a joke. They were moved out of Cleveland to become the Baltimore Ravens (who promptly won two Super Bowls in 16 seasons). The Browns were recreated as an expansion team in 1999 and drafted Tim Couch as the #1 pick, which was the last time they drafted a QB first overall. They have been a horribly run sports franchise for nearly two decades, making the playoffs exactly one time, in 2002, where they lost the wild card game to the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. Perhaps more unfortunately, they missed the playoffs during their only 10 win season since returning to Cleveland behind surprise Pro Bowler Derek Anderson. Since that very good 2007, the Browns have spent 10 seasons in the gutter. They have churned through 6 head coaches and 19 starting quarterbacks in those 10 years. The lack of consistency is stunning and the problems begin up top with owner Jimmy Haslem. Infamous for interfering constantly with teams he invested in (remember University of Tennessee’s head coaching debacle in December?), Haslem is one of the worst owners in sports history. So I am going to buy the Browns, hypothetically, and fix them.
I am going to go through a few different options for fixing the Browns this offseason. Hopefully this will give a nice blueprint for how we could restore them to football prominence.
STEP 1: NEW HEAD COACH
Hue Jackson is 1-31 as a head coach. That is, to put it lightly, really bad. Jackson has been fairly inept, especially in his development of Deshone Kizer, among other young players. He chose to throw consistently last year despite having two very good running backs and a capable offensive line. And there were reports that Kenny Britt, alone, disrupted the entire Browns locker room, which cannot happen as a head coach.
This search is pretty simple, and I believe the solution has actually already been hired. Todd Haley, the new offensive coordinator, was Pittsburgh’s offensive coordinator last season. Giving Haley control of the team seems like a clear solution to this problem and removing Hue Jackson is obvious. This may even happen anyway if Hue Jackson gets off to a slow start in 2018. Regardless, Todd Haley being promoted will guide the fix the rest of the way.
STEP 2: NEW COORDINATORS
This may just be the most difficult fix. Most coordinator types have already been hired, and most coaches are not going anywhere at the moment. For the sake of this exercise, I will pretend hiring coordinators means any candidates are available and since I own the Browns, hypothetically, I will have them paid handsomely and believing in our fix.
Offensive Coordinator: Harold Goodwin (formerly Arizona’s offensive coordinator under Bruce Arians)
Harold Goodwin ran the Arizona offense for the last couple years, and when Carson Palmer and David Johnson were healthy, the offense hummed. The biggest reason Goodwin would be my first phone call is that his and Todd Haley’s offenses seem extremely similar. They each ran the ball a majority of the time through a very talented bellcow back (Johnson, Le’Veon Bell), heavily targeted a fantastic slot wide receiver (Larry Fitzgerald, Antonio Brown), allowed tall, fast WRs to run seam routes, (Martavis Bryant, Michael Floyd) and had a tall, veteran QB (Palmer, Ben Roethlisburger) throwing to them all, with a TON of checkdowns to said bellcow backs. These offensive schemes ran similarly, and Goodwin would be able to run Haley’s offense seamlessly.
Defensive Coordinator: Perry Fewell (current Jacksonville Jaguars secondary coach)
Perry Fewell’s defensive backs were absolutely phenomenal this season and they were so transformative, Jacksonville’s secondary led the entire defense into being a great one. This is a phenomenon I would want to see as new owner of a team that just drafted a safety in the first round last season in Jabrill Peppers and likely will be drafting at least one first round defensive back. Perry was the organizer of that group and I would like the ferocious shutdown mentality Ramsey and Bouye spread to the entire Jacksonville defense to be put in across the board.
STEP 3: NEW QUARTERBACK…?
The Cleveland Browns have been searching for a quarterback since they moved back to Cleveland in 1999. With 29 different QBs having taken the helm and only one, Derek Anderson, finding any remote success, things continually look bleak for the franchise. But with one correct play, those QB questions could be over for many years! The problem the Browns have been facing is that they fail to provide these quarterbacks with anything to help them. The offensive lines have not protected these quarterbacks. The running backs have not taken the pressure off. The wide receivers either smoke weed and are lost for the year, or commit drops and run poor routes. The defenses continually force the offense to play from behind. It has been a cacophony of errors for years in Cleveland, and the quarterback decisions have not been particularly good. But I have four options here that I would attempt to put in as the new owner to fix this issue.
Option 1: Trade for Alex Smith
Unfortunately, I had already begun writing this article when Alex Smith was traded to Washington, but he would have been my first quarterback move as owner. A smart, game managing, durable quarterback, Smith led an inept Chiefs offense for a long time, finally breaking through last season with a big year thanks to help from Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt. Getting Smith a security blanket like Travis Kelce was for him would have been a crucial part of this rebuild. Smith did not have that kind of talent in San Francisco and he lost his starting job because of it. Smith is also used to playing in front of talent, as he spent last season playing well enough to fend off rookie Patrick Mahomes, so Deshone Kizer could develop as Alex Smith’s backup for a few years before taking the job. Smith made a lot of sense as a starter, so it was natural for Washington to trade for him, and the cost seemed fairly cheap. Smith could lead the Browns back to relevance, where a more experienced Deshone Kizer could then step in and show off the talent that led to him being a 2nd round pick last year.
Option 2: Sign Kirk Cousins
What now looks like the most attractive option for the real life Browns would have been a very attractive option for me as well. Cousins appears to be a franchise-level quarterback who now needs a new home and Cleveland may just be perfect for him. Cleveland also has the money to make Kirk Cousins the most well paid quarterback in the league, thanks to having spent NO money over the last few seasons. Cousins is a year removed from having 4000 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. He is a rock solid quarterback, but perhaps not worth hamstringing your salary capped franchise via a 30 million dollar a year contract. Still, Cousins would bring potentially 10 years of stability to the Cleveland quarterback slot and allow them to shop the 1st pick in a draft with questionable quarterback talent.
Option 3: Draft a QB at pick 1.
It truly depends on what you believe the quarterbacks in this draft are capable of, for this to be the best option for the Browns. Josh Rosen may be the best QB prospect, but he has concussion issues and has said he would prefer to go to the “right” system instead of be picked high. Interpreted, he is afraid of a bad situation, which the Browns seem to be at the moment. Sam Darnold had an iffy year and it remains to be seen whether he truly is the next great NFL QB to come from USC. Baker Mayfield is a winner, but does those issues of height and brash personality come back to bite whoever drafts him? Lamar Jackson is a transcendent college player, but can he throw accurately enough to succeed in the NFL? Josh Allen is a huge quarterback in the mold of Ben Roethlisburger, but can he make the decisions against much faster defenses that he struggled with in college? And what about talents such as Luke Falk, Mason Rudolph, and Riley Ferguson? There are some potentially excellent quarterbacks in this draft, but there have been great quarterbacks in every draft, and the Browns have somehow missed on every single one. If I were an owner, I think Baker Mayfield’s ability to be creative, lead, throw downfield with accuracy, and take over football games is too much to pass up if this is the route I take. Baker shows me the same things that I have seen before in players like Deshaun Watson and Russell Wilson, so he would be the quarterback I take.
Option 4: Stand pat, tank again, let Deshone Kizer learn
This is NOT going to happen. Not under my Cleveland Browns.
Step 4: Free Agency
The Browns have 110 million dollars in cap space. You read that correctly, 110 million to spend on free agents. The problem with this is that free agents are generally older players and football is a dangerous sport. However, with this much cap room, we can definitely make a mistake or two. Also, the free agents I have chosen are just the ones that are scheduled to become UFAs, there could be others that are cut and available at the time of free agency.
Le’Veon Bell – if Bell makes it to free agency, the Browns should fire every available cannon to get Bell to come to Cleveland. He is, simply, the best running back in the NFL. And he fits Todd Haley’s offense. This is a perfect fit, IF Bell makes it to free agency.
Jimmy Graham – Graham is the Travis Kelce security blanket I want our new QB to have. He is the best receiver available, even though he is technically a tight end.
Sammy Watkins/Allen Robinson/Jarvis Landry – A few of these solid wide receivers should make it to free agency, and I would be happy to throw a big contract at any one of them. Watkins has blazing speed, Robinson a huge frame that can go up and get jump balls, and Landry has a excellent hands and a knack for finding open slots short. All of these guys fit into Todd Haley’s offensive scheme, and in the event of a quarterback being in place at the time of free agency, might choose the Browns over “better” teams.
Eric Reid – If Reid makes it to the free market, he can shore up a back end pass defense that proved to be fairly weak.
Kevin Minter – This could be any inside linebacker, but the Browns need to find an inside linebacker to pair up with Jaimie Collins. Minter is the youngest among upcoming free agents, so he is a good fit.
Obviously, these names are not perfect, but if i have 110 million dollars, I am going to spend ALL THE MONEY looking to build a team that is capable of winning. Should we miss on a few of these players, trades will play a factor as well, but my own personal targets would be these.
Step 5: The Draft
Cleveland botches the draft nearly every season, it seems. Last year they found some good players in Miles Garrett and Jabrill Peppers, but need more playmakers on both sides of the ball. The draft can help with that and hopefully compliments our free agent pickups above.
Round 1, Pick 1: Saquon Barkley (if no Le’Veon Bell)/ Baker Mayfield(if no Kirk Cousins)/Trade back if both Le’Veon and Cousins are signed and take Roquan Smith in the top 10.
Round 1, Pick 4: The best defensive back available: Joshua Jackson from Iowa, Minkah Fitzpatrick from Alabama, or Derwin James from FSU.
Round 2, Pick 33: Anthony Miller, WR, Memphis – This is the most important pick. Miller can be the next Antonio Brown. Get this pick, even if we have to trade up!
Round 2, Pick 35: Malik Jefferson (Texas inside linebacker) or Isaiah Oliver (Colorado CB).
Round 2, Pick 63: Jerome Baker, linebacker from Ohio State.
Rounds 3-7: Depth at RB, WR, TE if no Jimmy Graham, T, OLB, and S. Pick the best player available. Find some talent.
The Cleveland Browns have been a laughingstock of the NFL for 20 years. If they were under my control, I think with the tools at their disposal this offseason, they could have a winning team as early as next season.
What the Browns do in real life is another matter entirely….