CLEVELAND (AP) — Bad may not suffice anymore. Horrid hardly scratches the surface. Miserable doesn’t tell the whole story.
Embarrassing? At so many levels.
The Cleveland Browns are a complete calamity. One of the NFL’s most storied franchises has fallen so far, and the team appears so disconnected and constrained by dysfunction, that the Browns almost defy description.
For the second straight year they’ve reached the midway point of the season 0-8. They’re now 1-23 under coach Hue Jackson and a numbers-crunching front office led by Sashi Brown, whose decision to tear down a roster to its foundation has to this point proven foolish.
The three- or four- or five-year plan — the club has never publicly explained its long-term game plan— isn’t working and more change seems inevitable despite vows by owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam to be patient during a painstaking rebuilding process.
“I think we know where we are headed,” Jackson said this week, trying to put a positive spin on a negative situation.
The truth is, the Browns remain critically broken, damaged goods. They’re 88-208 since their 1999 expansion return, with a single playoff appearance that seems light years ago. They’re 19-63 since the Haslam’s $1.05 billion purchase was approved by the NFL in 2012.
A minor-league franchise in a major-league world.
But even by their low standards, this week — the Browns’ bye week — presented another stage of clumsiness and chaos for Cleveland’s woebegone franchise. Fittingly, the shocking scenario unfolded on Halloween.
With the Browns’ perpetual search for a long-term quarterback — they’ve started 28 QBs since ’99 — stalled, they were undone by a paperwork glitch that perhaps illustrates the team’s desperation to win, and a divide between Jackson, his staff and the team’s decision makers.
One day after New England traded Jimmy Garoppolo, Tom Brady’s backup and a quarterback Jackson had coveted for months, to San Francisco for a second-round pick, the Browns, who had previous talks with the Patriots and are armed with three second-round picks in 2018, bungled a deal with Cincinnati just before Tuesday’s deadline.
The Browns reached agreement on a trade for Bengals backup AJ McCarron, sending one of their AFC North rivals a second- and third-round pick in next year’s draft. But the clubs failed to file the appropriate documentation to the league office before the 4 p.m. deadline and the transaction was nullified. In the aftermath, the Bengals insisted they followed standard procedure, while the Browns, who have executed 17 trades since April 2016, declined comment as they entered their week off.
So while the winless 49ers may have found their franchise quarterback, the Browns stood pat.
Only the Browns lose in their bye week. Orange helmets, red faces.
And whether or not they were solely culpable in the McCarron affair because of their dubious track record of busted draft picks and constant upheaval, the Browns aren’t getting the benefit of the doubt in the court of public opinion. They haven’t earned it. Two decades of losing football has destroyed any good will while eroding a passionate fan base and making them a national laughingstock.
The deadline fiasco also seems to show that Cleveland’s building is split on its present and future. One of the major goals this season was to develop rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer. But perhaps feeling pressure to show the Haslams he can win with an inexperienced team, Jackson has benched the second-round pick three times in the past four weeks.
McCarron played for Jackson while he was Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator and might have been able to win a game or two over the final eight weeks. But while Jackson fights for his job, Brown, Paul DePodesta and the rest of Cleveland’s analytics-friendly front office can’t hide from monstrous misses in the draft. They’ve ignored addressing their quarterback conundrum to hoard assets they’ve yet to use wisely.
In 2016, the Browns traded the No. 2 overall pick to Philadelphia, which used it to select quarterback Carson Wentz, who has thrown 19 TD passes this season, has the Eagles at 7-1 and could be the clubhouse leader for league’s MVP.
If that wasn’t enough of a gut punch to Browns fans, after the team selected defensive end Myles Garrett first overall (he’s been a force when healthy), the team traded the No. 12 pick to Houston. The Texans chose quarterback Deshaun Watson, was keeping the Texans relevant following the season-ending injury to J.J. Watt until Watson tore up his knee on Thursday.
Those blunders, combined with the McCarron muff, could be enough to convince the Haslams they have the wrong people in charge.
Jackson isn’t absolved of blame, either, as his handling of Kizer, along with some in-game strategic moves that backfired, have put his future in jeopardy.
There’s still time to fix things — or make them worse. The Browns have eight games left to change their course.
At this point, they’re headed for another hard crash.
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