“It’s the Cleveland Browns
When they’re Siped up, you can’t shut ’em down
Take your tranquilizers, pop your beer-can lids
It’s the Kardiac Kids.”
That is the chorus of a novelty song from my childhood, a song called “The Kardiac Kids,” by Messenger. It came out in Cleveland in 1980 when the Browns had a semi-magical season, and I probably hear that chorus in my head once or twice a month. It’s like that gum commercial in “Inside Out.” I expect to hear it in my head for the rest of my life.
I think, sometimes, about what the Cleveland Browns represented then. I was 13 years old, and the Browns had not won anything in my lifetime. But the Browns were still a proud organization. The echoes of Paul Brown and Jim Brown and Otto Graham and Lou the Toe Groza still rang. Nobody thought of the Browns as a joke. They were a great team that happened to be in a temporary lull. By then, I already knew that the Cleveland Indians were laughable. I already knew that the Cleveland Cavaliers were a clownish organization. But the Browns? They were NFL royalty.
I should warn you … it is a strange story, one that might make you wonder if you mistakenly clicked to the second page by mistake or, perhaps, have gone mad.
The lede paragraph:
CLEVELAND, Ohio — The Bengals did locate the email from the Browns about the AJ McCarron trade that was sent just before the trade deadline Tuesday, but they were in the process of filing their paperwork to the NFL and did not see it until later, a Bengals spokesperson told cleveland.com.
This is English, and it actually does make sense when you know the story … but why would you know the story? Why would you bother?
The Cleveland Browns have no idea what they are doing. I do not say that lightly. You often hear people say that this manager or that coach or this organization does not know what they are doing, but that’s an overstatement meant to express the full load of frustration at the team for bunting at the wrong time or messing up the clock in the final minutes or something. In the larger sense, everyone at the highest level of professional sports has some idea what they are doing, right?
No. Not the Cleveland Browns. They literally do not know what they are doing.
Before I get into the specifics of this McCarron fiasco, I’d like to — as Agent Smith says in The Matrix — share a revelation with you. I’ve been trying to put into words for a while now why I’m so frustrated by the Browns front office official policy of hoarding draft picks. In a sense, this is the smartest thing to do, right? This team has been terrible. So what do you do? You get a whole bunch of high draft picks and then use those picks to get great players who then make up a fantastic team. Lots of teams do it. The Philadelphia 76ers seem to be in the midst of doing that.
The Browns have five picks in the first two rounds next year, so that’s good, no?
My friend Dayton Moore, the general manager of the Kansas City Royals, told me something a while ago that has stuck with me. He said that when he hires scouts, one of the most important ingredients is that the scout “likes players.” I know that sounds strange, but stay with me here.
The thing about scouting is that it is easier, much easier, to see the flaws than it is to see the potential. The vast majority of players don’t make it. In a sense, as a scout, you are going out on a limb every single time you say that you believe in a player … even a hyped player. The easiest answer for any scout is always, “No.” If you file a report that says, “Doesn’t have the skills to be a Major League/NFL/NBA/NHL star,” you will be right 1,000-times more often than you will be wrong.
But “No,” doesn’t DO anything. No doesn’t build teams. No certainly doesn’t build championships. This is why Dayton Moore wants scouts who like players, who see the good in players, who will fight for players, who will risk being wrong again and again because being right means so much.
That thought is at the heart of what I have come to loathe about the Cleveland Browns. They do LIKE any players. They so clearly see what’s WRONG with players. They can give you a hundred reasons why Carson Wentz won’t make it. They only draft players reluctantly. They seem to spend more time high-fiving about nebulous draft picks (that have the potential to lead to MORE draft picks) than they do high-fiving about getting actual players who can help the team win. It’s maddening.
The last two days have been instructive. It became clear over the summer that Hue Jackson, the Browns beleaguered coach, REALLY LIKES New England backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Jackson came to Cleveland with a deserved reputation of being something of a quarterback guru for the patchwork surgery he had done on Cincinnati’s Andy Dalton. At the time, Dalton as floundering a bit. Jackson understood Dalton’s strengths (quick release, smart player, generally accurate) and his weaknesses (sub-standard arm, not a great deep ball, somewhat jumpy in the pocket) and he built an offense that made Dalton effective. It was exciting to think about what Jackson could do with a young quarterback.
Then he came and the Browns made clear they had no interest in giving him a young quarterback. The Browns had the No. 2 pick, slotted by everyone for Carson Wentz. They traded down. They had the pick that was ideal for Deshaun Watson. They traded down. The spin was that the Browns were not ready for a franchise quarterback … or that they had too many other problems to solve … or that franchise quarterback was slated for Year 3 of the rebuild … or something.
The reality: The Cleveland Browns front office does not like players.
Instead, they gave Hue Jackson a couple of potential sleepers– Cody Kessler and Deshone Kiser — and told him, “OK quarterback guru, let’s see you make one of THOSE guys into a franchise quarterback.” He has not been able to do so.
In any case, Hue Jackson really wanted Garoppolo, and the Browns certainly had the draft picks to go get him. But, alas, the front office doesn’t like players. So they made half-hearted offers to the Patriots for the guy and then, if reports are true, left the office early on Monday while the 49ers zoomed in and got the guy for a second-round pick.
It’s kind of hard to believe the Browns, as draft-pick rich as they are, couldn’t have done better than that. There are rumors that Garoppolo preferred San Francisco and Patriots coach Bill Belichick wanted to help out his player. This rumor is comedy gold; it is one of the funniest things I’ve ever heard. Bill Belichick would have shipped Garoppolo to Siberia if offered an extra pick.
But, alas, the Browns did not get too involved in the whole Garoppolo thing, which shows you exactly what they think of Hue Jackson. Sometimes front offices and coaching staffs are not on the same page. The Browns front office and Jackson are not even in the same library.
All of this finally brings us to the McCarron fiasco. My guess — and I admit I’m guessing here — is that at this point Browns owner Jimmy Haslam stepped in. I don’t claim to have any deep insight into the inner workings of the Browns, but Haslam could not possibly have been happy with the Garoppolo madness. I think he told the front office — Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta specifically — “DO SOMETHING.”
So they decided to get Hue Jackson a consolation prize, Cincinnati backup quarterback A.J. McCarron, someone Jackson knew in Cincinnati. The Browns, because they are the Browns, offered more for McCarron (a second and a third round pick) than the 49ers paid to get Garoppolo. Because … Browns.
It was an ill-considered deal, but at least it was an effort to get the Browns a little help.
Then the craziness begins. Let’s see if we can follow the line. The Browns and Bengals agreed to the deal with just minutes to go before the 4 p.m. trade deadline.
First story: The Browns and Bengals trade was not completed because the Browns failed to get the papwerwork into the league on time.
So that was not good. But it got better.
Second story: The Browns and Bengals trade was not completed because the Browns were too busy CELEBRATING to remember to get the paperwork into the office on time.
Some things are so stupid, you just can’t believe they are true.
Third story: It was the Bengals who failed to send in the correct paperwork — they sent in their paperwork with their own signatures but it did not include the Browns signatures.
Wait! Now the problem seems to be the Bengals, which … OK that seems unlikely.
Fourth story: The Bengals said, no, they never got any paperwork from the Browns and they did everything right.
Yeah. That sounds more like it.
Fifth story (now we are getting to the Cabot story above): The Bengals said, yes, actually after a while they did find the Browns paperwork in their email box, but had never seen it because it came from some guy named Chris Cooper, who apparently nobody in Cincinnati even knew. And anyway, none of it mattered because, the Browns still needed to send the paperwork to the league office, which they did not do because … Browns.
This is where the story seems to be now.
The Cleveland Browns do not know what they are doing.
So now let me say this: My biggest Browns rooting interest the last two years has been in stability. My feeling has been that the recent history of Cleveland football is so absurdly scattered and uneven that what this team needs is to stick with a plan, ANY PLAN, and just let it play out. I’ve wanted the Sashi Brown-Paul DePodesta thing to work. I’ve wanted the Hue Jackson thing to work. I’ve refrained from saying that any of them should be fired, even to close friends.
But you know what? This is too much incompetence even for me. The Browns have a baseball guy and a money guy running their football operations. They have a head coach who is 1-23 and is basically being treated like the crazy guy who sneaked in through an open gate. They have a bunch of draft picks and no clue what to do with them. They have a whole team players who make dumb mistakes week after week after week and never seem to get better. Even their rock, Joe Thomas, is hurt and out.
I honestly thought it couldn’t get worse. But that’s the trap. Buddy Bell was right. It can always get worse.