Like It Or Not: Browns Are The Story of the 2018 Season

Not since the 1980s has the Cleveland Browns been this much in the forefront of the NFL’s national media, and for good reason. While I am a card carrying member of the Cleveland Browns fandom, I can objectively state that for the better part of 30 years with few exceptions, the Cleveland Browns have been the NFL’s Bad News Bears. As someone who lived through most of the heartache, its not at all surprising. I can still remember a time when having one Pro Bowler or finishing with at least 7 wins was considered a successful season. During those years, I remember thinking that all it would take to move from cellar dweller to contender was one person of significance to say yes to Cleveland. Not a retread. Not a has been.  An active real player within NFL circles. One guy to turn the tide that says, yes coming to Cleveland is a good idea. Once one comes, the rest will follow.

Enter John Dorsey. On the heels of an attempt to adapt analytics as a core criteria for player acquisition, Owners Jimmy and Dee Haslem did a complete 180 and brought in a GM that is an old school football guy to make football decisions. It didn’t take long for John to endear himself to the Cleveland faithful.  On a day when he didn’t need to ‘do’ anything, John Dorsey was introduced to the team, made his rounds and decided to release Kenny Britt before ending his first day of employment with the Browns. Kenny Britt was brought in by the analytics group after losing Terrelle Pryor to Washington.  The idea being that analytics wise, Britt was almost as productive as Pryor was the year before. Analytics are also to blame for not retaining Pryor as their production model deemed Pryor not worth the additional million he was looking for contract wise.  With one look at the situation, the real football guy-John Dorsey concluded, that Britt wasn’t worth the paper his contract was printed on and promptly released him. A move that more than 90% of Browns fans would say they agreed with. Trimming the fat for local Browns fans is one thing, but on one remarkable day, John Dorsey would change the mindset in and around the building if not the entire league…with two individual moves.

Now if this was any other year, what I’m saying would sound familiar. If the repetitive nature of a broken record could be familiar. If I told you six months ago that the Browns made a big move, your likely retort would be something about them signing some has been.  Name chasing.  Insert Jeff Garcia, Jake Delhomme reference here. Instead, John Dorsey not only checked off boxes of need but did so with established, respected, producers in the NFL during their perceived prime.  In a matter of hours, John Dorsey traded for Tyrod Taylor, an efficient QB with a winning record that just last season took the similarly inept Bills to the playoffs. A couple hours later, as if Tyrod Taylor wasn’t enough, John Dorsey inked another deal.  Dorsey traded (essentially) a 4th rd pick to the Dolphins for Jarvis Landry.  The most productive WR not named Antonio Brown in recent memory. 4 years in, well over 400 receptions. Jarvis brings an attitude, a swagger that had been missing since the days of the original Dawg Pound. Following that big day, Dorsey also secured Carlos Hyde, a name very familiar to football fans of Ohio. The former Ohio St Buckeye brings the ability to run north and south and get tough yards that seemed to elude RBs on this team not named Duke Johnson. Within a couple weeks Jarvis Landry had organized an off the books workout session with 6 players that expected to be major contributors to the 2018 Browns season.

John Dorsey on the same day as pulling in the future Starting QB and future WR2, he was also able to convince Green Bay to take on DeShone Kizer and his league leading 22 interceptions (a staggering 1:2 TD:INT ratio, not the more acceptable 2:1 ratio you hope for with a rookie) for Damarius Randle, a productive DB who Green Bay admittedly had playing out of position. Now all of a sudden going into the draft, the holes begin to look smaller or at least less in total number. The position the entire world assumed Cleveland would HAVE TO take at 1 seemed less and less necessary with Tyrod Taylor in the mix. Until now, everyone simply assumed that they would need to draft a QB and he very likely would need to play sooner rather than later. This was no longer the case. They still would need to draft a QB they deemed to be their future, but he no longer had the added pressure of playing.  Anyone familiar with this team, I’m speaking specifically of their fans, knows that anytime this team rushes a QB they fail miserably. Looking at the draft, they would need to add a QB.  They should add a RB, possibly a compliment to Hyde with the potential to be a lone featured back in time.  Receiver was a need but not as urgent as it was in February. With Joe Thomas retiring, the big ‘woe is me’ take was that they had to address the LT position in the first 50 picks.  I was never sold on that because you can’t replace arguably the greatest LT of all time in the very next draft which by the way, might end up being the worst OT draft in recent memory. If you aren’t improving the position, don’t make the pick.  Now all of a sudden, the landscape of need had changed. People were talking about Saquon Barkley at 1?  Bradley Chubb at 4? Trade back scenarios that would have rendered 3 or 4 first round picks but none in the top 5.  The options seemed limitless.  In the end John Dorsey did what he thought was best at the top.

To be completely forthright with you, I was absolutely pissed by the time Denver was on the clock at pick 5.  Couple things in my defense. 1) Most Cleveland fans want one thing from their QB at this point.  To be productive and thus, not be a bust.  So like many others across the country I fell in love with Sam Darnold’s high ceiling high floor talk. I still see a lot in Darnold I like.  I think at the very minimum, I think he could end up being the best QB the Jets have drafted since Chad Pennington, for whatever that’s worth. My thought on QB was to pick Darnold or Mayfield (to not pick Rosen unless he slid into the 20s and to not to take Lamar Jackson at either top 5 picks) and to hope that Bradley Chubb fell to 5. Like so many, I accepted that they were going to go QB at 1 whether I thought it was necessary or not, then take the best player available regardless of position at 4. I had Baker Mayfield as my #2 QB entering the draft but had my reservations. My dream would’ve been for Saquon Barkley to fall to 4. Darnold/Barkley.  I wanted two corners out of this draft but not with either of the first 2 picks. Whether it was from the success of the Legion of Boom or just the fear of getting burned, I wanted no part of a short corner. My definition of ‘short corner’ being anyone under 6’0. So when the Browns drafted Baker Mayfield I was a little miffed, but ok with it. When Barkley went off the board at 2, I was reeling.  What are they going to do now? Well fingers and toes crossed that the Jets don’t take Chubb. Jets take Darnold predictably.  Now we can breathe easy.  Chubb is the best player available, this is a no brainer.  I was hosting an NFL Draft show live when the Commissioner approached the podium for the 4th time that day. When he read the card and the first name started with “D”, I was at a complete loss.  In that split second I thought, the only D name I have any interest in first round wise was Derwin James and this is WAY TOO early for him. Denzel Ward?!?!  He wasn’t even on my radar because I said no to short corners. When the name clicked in my brain, I didn’t say a word, stood up and walked the f out of the studio.  I literally stranded my own show, because like most people these picks were not anything I had fleshed out as a real possibility.

I called a colleague and friend of the brand, Rick Morris basically just to bitch. Now I am a 4th generation Browns fan, 3rd generation Ohio St Buckeye fan.  Yet, here I am speaking to another Ohio St fan about just how pissed I was that they did exactly what I didn’t want them to. Alas, let your routines calm you.  I’m not afflicted with OCD or anything, but I do have very OCD like compulsions during the draft.  After round one no matter what I inundate myself with press conferences and national media coverage post round. By the end of the night, I had begun to understand the Denzel Ward pick. As a glutton of exposure that I am, I also started watching “Behind Baker” a documentary crew follows Baker Mayfield throughout the draft process.  Fox is currently running a show that uses a lot of that documentary’s video footage called “All the Way Up”.  If you have any interest from die hard fan to train wreck intrigue, I urge you to watch either one.  I was sold on Baker the man within the first episode.  And if you’re familiar with Baker the man, you know that Baker the player is not likely to fail.

Now here’s the irony (I hope to not invoke the irony police, i.e. Mr. Teeple), the next four rounds of the draft was almost a greatest hits of guys I was very intrigued by throughout the process. I though Corbitt was a bit of a reach but the Browns had success with guys from Nevada (J. Bitonio). Nick Chubb (the RB not the DE) was an absolute dream.  I butted heads with my fellow draftniks and analysts who were singing the praises of Sony Michel and Derrius Guice. As far as I was concerned, the RB position went Saquon Barkley 1, Nick Chubb 2.  Chad Thomas was a guy not many looked at.  Maybe he felt like a tweener (too light to play 4-3 DT not an elite pass rusher to play DE) or maybe some were scared off by the fact that he was an accomplished producer in the Hip Hop world.  Either way, I saw a young very poor man’s Fletcher Cox that just needs to be developed. Then John Dorsey did something that in hindsight was as predictable as the sweatshirt he wears.  What is common in most if not all Dorsey drafts? He waits until the round value and the upside of a certain player with questionable background merged.  At the top of the 4th round, Dorsey sent in a card with a name most people took off their board completely.  Antonio Calloway. Like Tyreek Hill and Marcus Peters before him, Dorsey took a calculated risk drafting Calloway. Without the off the field issues, most in NFL circles believe that Calloway would have been the consensus #1 WR in this draft. Considering Dorsey’s track record drafting troubled players, I was over the moon for that pick. This leaves us with Genard Avery.  A smaller LB that most never saw play out of Memphis. My favorite game I watched of him was against UCLA and the media darling Josh Rosen. Avery flies around and seems to find a way to disrupt virtually every play. By the waning minutes of that game, Rosen looked physically and mentally spent. The draft didn’t go exactly as I had hoped, but once  I came around to the understanding behind Baker Mayfield and Denzel Ward I began touting this draft as a complete success.

Before the draft even began, Dorsey had quietly cut and signed a large number of players. Trimming the fat and countering it with better football players. Donald Stevenson being the only one I was expressly  against as I watched a lot of Broncos games last year.  So much movement in fact that we started the draft with even more picks than we initially knew of.  All in all, there are 3 practical phases of this roster.  Established NFL producer, nice young prospect with upside, and a developmental tier.  In previous years the Browns were almost always missing that first one. This 0-16 team that started the season starting DeShone Kizer, Isaiah Crowell, Corey Coleman, a decent offensive line and would play most of the season without most of their best players, now can claim a roster that has Tyrod Taylor, Baker Mayfield, Carlos Hyde, Duke Johnson, Nick Chubb, Josh Gordon, Jarvis Landry, Antonio Calloway, a re-arranged offensive line (sans Joe Thomas), Myles Garrett, Emmanuel Ogbah, Jamie Collins, Joe Schobert (lead the league in tackles), Christian Kirksey and a completely revamped secondary.   Yeah, I’m feeling pretty confident about ’18.  This time of year everyone has an opinion on predictions, up to and including most improved.  Now normally MIT is designated for a 2-4 win team that doubles their win total. I am not bashful about saying that on paper, this Browns team looks like a 7+ win team.

Let’s address the elephant in the room. I mentioned him in passing earlier.  Josh Motherfing Gordon.  Put simply, I believe in talent. Josh Gordon, when right and active is at WORST, a top 5 WR in the NFL.  PERIOD.  And here’s the kicker…! It was revealed that Josh Gordon has played every game of football in his entire life short of 2017 ‘not sober’.  So there is a notion that we’ve never seen Josh Gordon truly ‘right’.  We have no idea how good he actually could be until we see him ball out while not only sober, but been sober for some time. In 5 games, catching balls from the most inaccurate QB in the NFL last year, Gordon pulled in 18 receptions for 335 yds for an 18 yds/catch average. Not to mention that whole ‘talent’ thing.  In 14 games in, catching passes from Brian Hoyer, Brandon Weeden, and Jason Campbell (seriously, that’s like saying the NFL equivelent of saying he caught passes from Huey, Dewey, and Louis) to the tune of 87 receptions, 1600 yds, 9 tds for an average of 19 yds/reception.  You can literally count on one hand the number of receivers who have ever done that in the history of football, and I’m not even counting the 498 yds combined in two games back to back. While Gordon has not been that good since, once a player shows they can do it once, the talent dictates that it can happen again.  Combine that idea with the pictures on Flash’ Instagram account.  He has spent this offseason becoming the football gods’ inspiration when they invented the Wide Receiver. 6’3, pushing 240, 4.4 speed and improving hands. Josh Gordon has the talent.  And as he revealed early in 2017 he did all of that ‘not sober’.  What do you think the outcome will be when he’s been sober for some time, had the time to sculpt his body into the most perfectly created receiver frame, has the complete support of his organization and has a top 20 starting QB in the NFL for the first time in his career?  I hate to be so matter of fact about it, but…do not talk to me about his track record, number of violations, addict history, or that he has lost your trust.  Memo to fans specifically Browns fans, do not bring that s up around me.  This is a completely different situation and if you can’t see that then you’re not paying attention. If you’re not paying attention, I have no time for your negativity. I would challenge anyone not related to Josh Gordon to go toe to toe with me on where their devotion and support of Gordon ranks.  I would call myself the unofficial Josh Gordon fan club President if that wouldn’t seem overtly arrogant. I support him unconditionally unlike most fans who only support him while he’s active and in camp.  So memo to most fans/readers.  Don’t f*** with me on Josh Gordon.  When he starts the season week 1 and gets to week 8 while being productive, I fully expect the team to sign him to a top 5 WR extension (somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 mil per) and hopefully before the Giants extend Beckham, just the thought of Beckham’s extension scares me.

As we work through week 1 of training camp and enter week 2, I reiterate that like it or not, the Cleveland Browns will be the story of the 2018 season.  Not because they will be yet again the laughing stock of the NFL, but because 2018 will be the year most fans of most team will remember as the year the Cleveland Browns stood up and said “no more”.  The apathy and losing traditions stop today.  The league has been put on notice. Before you start freaking out that I’m putting the cart before the horse, there are some nuanced differences.  Browns fans have always said this was our year.  Ever since Byner’s fumble and Elway’s drive, Browns fans have always gone into every season claiming that this is the year we turn it around. Except in most cases, we are talking about pinning all of our hopes on names like Dennis Northcutt, Charlie Frye, Lee Suggs and a stable of names that now aren’t even footnotes in the annuls of the NFL timeline . Now this team has real talent.  And while they are preseason 28-30 out of 32 teams, every intelligent football fan knows that there aren’t 27 teams with better talent on the roster.

Now in the second week in August, we Browns fans, we NFL fans turn our sites to HBO’s Hard Knocks. There is no open QB competition.  No Josh Gordon (for what seem like obvious non substance abuse reasons) for the start of camp, but make no mistake about it.  This team is not your Daddy’s Browns and Hard Knocks should be required viewing for anyone who considers themselves a football fan.  The quiet before the storm.  Times, they are uh changin’.  Will you be one of the surprised fans or one of the ones that ‘saw this coming’.  The offseason, the draft, free agency, training camp have all been about the Browns. Do you really think the rest of the season isn’t going to follow suit? Just remember you saw it here first, if you didn’t already see it somewhere else previously.  The Browns will be the story of the 2018 NFL season. Unlike Jarvis Landry, I’m not willing to proclaim playoffs, but I do expect this team to still be in the playoff hunt in the latter third of the season.  A remarkable spot from where they were when Corey Coleman drops a sure fire first down and likely go ahead scoring opportunity in the final minutes against Pittsburgh in the last game of the season.  Good luck to your team (unless you are a fan of the Steelers, Ravens, or Patriots), but make no mistake about it, The Browns are coming. Like it or not.

 

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