Maybe I’ve just been burned too many times by Cleveland Browns hope … but I just can’t get all that excited about the Browns’ clever (and expensive) little maneuver to trade for super-bust Brock Osweiler in order to add another draft choice to their growing arsenal of draft picks. Best I can tell, Cleveland now has 495* high draft picks the next two years, and this presumably is good. I’m just not quite ready to build statues to Executive Vice President Sashi Brown and Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta.
*Looking a bit more closely, it’s not quite 495 high picks. They have two firsts, two seconds and a third this year, one first, three seconds and a third next year.
The Browns have been hoarding high picks the last few years with three basic strategies.
2. Trading down from their stink-infused high draft spots.
3. Spending millions of dollars on the NFL’s all-time bust.
It is the third strategy that many people seem to be glorifying today. A year ago exactly, without even meeting with the guy, Houston gave Brock Osweiler a $72 million deal, $37 million of it guaranteed over the first two years. The deal was SO WRETCHED that barely three months ago, Mike Florio wrote that NOBODY would be trading for that stink bomb of a contract.
And then the Browns came up with their now-celebrated plan to trade for Osweiler. The Browns are $100 million under the salary cap (this is possible because of their extraordinary lack of talent) and they aren’t going anywhere next year anyway. So they decided that they could afford to take on Osweiler’s contract and free up Houston from its ghastly mistake. All it would cost the Texans is a second round pick.
In other words, the Browns agreed to pay up to $16 million — depending on what they can shave off of that deal — for a second-round pick.
The Texans jumped at this opportunity, which more or less sums up the howling stupidity of that deal just one year ago. Everyone kind of knew the deal was ludicrous when they made it. But to throw a second-round pick to Cleveland just to get rid of a guy you moved heaven and earth to get a few months ago, well, that’s legendary stuff.
So did the Browns outsmart the world by making this deal? A lot of people are lining up to say yes, to praise their shrewdness, to call the Browns the Moneyball NFL team, but I’m not so sure. First of all, the obvious must be said: The Browns have no belief whatsoever in Osweiler. None. He was merely a tool to get Cleveland that second-round pick. If you have any doubt of this whatsoever, you can look at the Browns press release — and the first quote from Sashi Brown.
“We’re really excited to acquire a second-round draft choice in this trade,” he said. “Draft picks are extremely important to our approach in building a championship caliber football team. We are intent on adding competition to every position on our roster and look forward to having Brock come in and compete.”
Draft pick first. Competition at every position second.
And even this, apparently, was a bit disingenuous because almost immediately after the trade people started reporting that the Browns are going to cut Osweiler. He’s apparently so bad that the Browns would rather release him than bring him to camp, even though their quarterback set right now is Robert Griffin III, who has thrown six touchdown passes and nine interceptions the last three seasons and Cody Kessler.
So, this was a pure draft pick purchase. As a fan, I don’t mind — it’s not my money. But let’s not overlook the simple fact that the Browns just traded for a hugely expensive player they KNOW stinks. That hardly seems like a plan for getting better.
For years now the Browns have been making all these super-smart moves to collect future draft picks. Great. At some point, though, they actually have to use those draft picks to, um, get good football players. And, sorry, until they do that I’m just not sure how anyone can get excited about any of this.
Look, the Browns had the second pick in the draft last year. Joey Bosa, who ended up with 10 1/2 sacks and, by Pro Football Focus, graded out as the fifth-best defensive end in the NFL was there to be taken — and he WENT TO OHIO STATE, which is just down the road Ezekiel Elliot, who ran for more than 1,600 yards and was the second-rated running back in the NFL was there to be taken — and he ALSO WENT TO OHIO STATE, which is just down the road.
Quarterback Carson Wentz, who got off to a hot start and had a solid rookie season, was there. Michigan State tackle Jack Conklin, a player who ended up having a superb season, was there.
The Browns traded down. They did this to get more draft picks. OK. But they ended up drafting wide receiver Corey Coleman, who was hurt and had the dropsies and rated as PFF’s 100th best wide receiver, the second best named Coleman behind New Orleans’ Brandon Coleman.
Later, they took Emmanuel Ogbah, a classic 4-3 edge pass rusher, then put him in a 3-4 defense and watched him get utterly run over all year.
Later, on a hunch, they drafted Cody Kessler. Another quarterback named Dak Prescott was still on the board.
Yes, teams make mistakes in the draft all the time. But that’s ALL the Browns have done for years. In 2015, they had two first-round picks. One was defensive tackle Danny Shelton, who did show some promise last year after a trying rookie season. The other was Cameron Erving, whose sad story probably doesn’t need to be told again.
And in 2014, they had two first round picks. The first was spent on Justin Gilbert; the Browns dumped him for a sixth round pick as soon as they could. The second was spent on Johnny Manziel … no more needs to be said about that.
And in 2013, the Browns had the sixth overall pick in the draft … which they spent on Barkevious Mingo, a player the Browns dumped for a fifth-round pick as soon as they could.
So, forgive me for not throwing the Super Bowl parade just yet. The Browns did sign veteran offensive linemen Kevin Zeitler and Joel Bitonio to long-term deals, and that’s actually exciting. The Browns look like they have the makings of a good offensive line, something that they should have achieved a long time ago since legendary Joe Thomas has been manning left tackle for years now. These are moves to applaud because there are real players attached to them.
But the acquiring of more high draft picks? Sure, it could work. Maybe even it should work. But I think about a wonderful exchange from The Office between Dwight and Stanley. Dwight had invented the concept of Schrute bucks, fake dollar bills used to buy things like five extra minutes for lunch. Stanley was not impressed.
DWIGHT: “Don’t you want to earn Schrute bucks?”
STANLEY: “No. In fact, I’ll give you a billion Stanley nickels if you’ll never talk to me again.”
DWIGHT: “What is the ratio of Stanley nickels to Schrute bucks?”
STANLEY: “The same as the ratio of unicorns to leprechauns.”
As of this moment, Browns’ draft picks — even high ones — are Schrute bucks. Maybe they’re unicorns. Maybe they’re leprechauns. They Browns have spent an extraordinary amount of time and effort and money to position themselves to cash in on the draft. But until they actually do cash in, until they use those picks to get a few good players — either through the draft or trades — I’ll hold off on planning the Super Bowl parade.