BEREA (92.3 The Fan) – The notion that the Cleveland Browns are tanking the 2016 season has dominated headlines and talk shows locally and nationally this week.
With the departure of 30 players this offseason – many of them veterans – coupled with the decision to keep 13 of 14 draft picks and a total of 17 rookies on the roster, many have confused the team’s youth movement with a lack of desire to win.
Browns executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown admitted Friday that the accusation that the team is deliberately tanking bothers him and others within the building.
“It does,” Brown said. “The external noise we know is coming and will be there whether we’re successful or not, and we can’t let that bother us. I think that anybody who knows Hue [Jackson], myself, Paul [DePodesta], Jimmy [Haslam], others in the building know that that just would not be part of anything that we would embrace or be part of.
“I appreciate the folks that have not seen a strategy quite like this before, but I’d hardly call it tanking.”
Following yet another January of change, the organization has basically wiped the slate clean and is starting anew – on as well as off the field – and that doesn’t mean they do not want to win games this year.
“We’re looking at 2016, and for us it’s about finding that nucleus of young talent that we can bring in,” Brown said. “We stepped back at the end of last year and had to make some hard decisions about where our roster was coming off a 3-13 season.”
Center Alex Mack, right tackle Mitchell Schwartz, receiver/returner Travis Benjamin and safety Tashaun Gipson were allowed to walk in free agency. Veterans Donte Whitner, Karlos Dansby and Paul Kruger were among the bigger names to be cut. The Browns traded linebacker Barkevious Mingo to the Patriots and cornerback Justin Gilbert to the Steelers for future draft picks.
But Brown stressed Friday that the decision to move on from those players was not based on solely on just starting over. Many of the decisions that were made were based on what they saw – or didn’t see – on the field.
“None of the decisions are black and white, they’re all kinds of shades of grey,” Brown said. “You try and make the best decisions and have the best information at the time but none of it was purposeful as in, ‘Let’s get these guys out of here because they were part of the team in the past.'”
In the process of gutting the roster, Brown has added a bunch of picks to aid in the latest reconstruction: Philadelphia’s 2017 first-round pick, Tennessee’s 2017 second-round pick, New England’s 2017 fifth-round pick, Philadelphia’s 2018 second-round pick, Carolina’s 2018 fourth-round pick and Pittsburgh’s 2018 sixth-round pick while giving up a 2017 fourth- or fifth-round pick to Philadelphia and a 2017 sixth- or seventh-round pick to San Francisco.
“We believe the draft is really the pipeline of teams that are successful over a period of time, and that’s our goal,” Brown, who denied that their sole focus has been to amass draft picks, said.
To those riding the tanking train, some food for thought: the Browns have the league’s worst record in the NFL since returning in 1999, so losing hasn’t really been difficult for 17 years and they don’t really need to try.
“The headlines are the headlines and I understand people have jobs to do and they want to catch a sound bite, and that’s great for them,” Brown said. “But really, internally we focus on our work, getting our players to buy in and really be focused and putting them in the best position to go out and win Sunday.
“We’ll let the results fall where they may, but we don’t go in expecting to win less games than any number that we have the opportunity to go out and win.”