by Ken Carman
Listen to Ken on The Ken Carman Show with Anthony Lima, weekday mornings on The Fan
I was working in my office on Monday afternoon, and for whatever reason I decided to click on Bill Walsh: A Football Life.
It’s a special I watch a couple times a year. Sometimes just to day dream about how things could be, or just to see if I can pick up anything from the late-great genius.
There was a new sentence though that hit me. Through 27 games, Bill Walsh was 5-22. If Bill Walsh was coaching in 2017, there’s no way he’d make it to his third season (He would finish his second year 3-2 in his last five for a 6-10 record, making him 8-24 his first two seasons. Easier to digest for a patient fanbase) .
A lot of rebuilding plans went that way in those days. Three and four, even five year rebuilds. Coaches and scouts had long term plans. Today? Three years is scoffed at, even if it is required.
It brings me to today’s Browns. Another loss to the Chargers on Sunday dropped them to 1-27 in the Hue Jackson era. They’re now officially worse during this stretch than the 1976 and ’77 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s the worst stretch of losses in modern football history.
Cynicism reigns supreme. I have said, and I always will say, that the Browns will be good again someday. Even if it’s by accident, they will be. “When” though, is a different question.
This season has been most frustrating. Even the most diligent, well intended plans have backfired. Hue Jackson tried to win games in the preseason to give his team a taste of what even a fake win was like, but that feeling has long dissipated into the reality of a team that is loaded with good ideas for future drafts, but is still short on talent.
Make no mistake of what you read. Those ARE good ideas. The Browns have stockpiled future draft choices (good ideas), but they’ve done it at the cost of the most impatient, patient fan base in sports. Patient in that they’ll still talk about the Browns, they’ll still hope they win, and they’ll still carry on their rituals, but they don’t want to wait around on another rebuild.
To fans, they’ve been rebuilding. Every draft comes with a sense of optimism. That these will be the players that lay the foundation to success. Except that when the Browns have missed, the misses have been so spectacular that they’ve covered up any chance of success of the players that have actually contributed.
Myles Garrett and David Njoku for example have shown flashes of brilliance. Njoku isn’t a great blocker (YES, I’ve seen the PFF chart, but you and I have eyes) but he’s been a great pass catcher at times and is starting to come into his own physically.
Garrett, on the other hand, feels like a disappointment to much of the fan base, but for really no good reason other than that he’s been often injured, something that’s not his fault. He’s 2.5 sacks away from reaching our show’s goal of 7.5 sacks for the season, with a fumble recovery in only seven games. It’s not what Joey Bosa did last year for the Chargers, but it’s still good for the short amount of time. When you’re on a team that’s been losing though, fans still demand more. That’s not unreasonable either. They thirst for something to latch on to. Something that will show them that their team is going in the right direction. Judging by the team though, the fans have had nothing to go on.
This takes me from Bill Walsh, to Sam Hinkie, the former Team President of the Philadelphia 76ers in the NBA. Hinkie is a thinker with a passion for sports, and a passion for the process. Hinkie refused to cut corners during a bitter multi-year tank job, that did not even net the Sixers with a non-trade first overall pick two of the three years. Philly clocked 19,18,and 10 win seasons over that stretch. Hinkie tried to realize his vision by drafting Joel Embiid, who was immediately injured then stuffed on the Injured list … to tank out more games. By 2016, Hinkie was gone. His team, though, has met a new fate.
Still bothered by inconsistency, and a few key injuries, the Sixers have a wealth of talent and cap space and are fighting their way off the mat at 13-10. Not too great, but their arena rocks every night as they watch a young team play hard and try to build.
This will happen to the Browns someday. PLEASE DON’T CLICK OUT, I SWEAR IT WILL.
I’m serious, this is the official rock bottom. Unless they’re the Bill Tobin Colts of the 90’s (I pray they’re not), they cannot have THIS many high choices in the draft, and THIS much cap space and still be THIS bad in the future. It is an absolute impossibility.
We didn’t sit through this bitter hell storm of football seasons for more bitter hell storms of football season. With six choices in the first three rounds, it’s almost foolproof. They simply … cannot … mess … this … up. Even the Browns … cannot … mess … this … up.
It’s been a horrible, long process, and this regime, just like Hinkie in Philadelphia will not get to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
You can judge for yourself.
Defensively it was a team that was legitimately listed in the top 10 in the NFL. Costly turnovers (-19), and that Angel position that we’re just going to have to learn to accept for the rest of the year even factored in, it was a legitimate top 10 defense.
Now, if you followed @sportsboytony on Twitter and that’s it, you might have thought last week that I was going to continue to preach that it is still top 10. No. Not even close.
Losing Jamie Meder, Jamie Collins and Emmanuel Ogbah pulls them right out of any consideration of being a legit top 10 defense. As time goes on this season, they do not have the horses to plug in. This is on the front office. Tearing down from a three-win team in 2015 has left the defense without a middle class of steady rotational players. We can hope that the loss of these key players will create some of those middle class players, but we can’t hope that it will create wins.
Offensively, the Browns had been waiting patiently for Josh Gordon to return from a near three year absence. That’s how bad their wide receiver corps has been. When you have to wait three years for a top notch talent to come back, without any real hope of moving the football with WR’s, you’ve messed up drastically.
Duke Johnson shows some serious promise and rightfully makes Browns fans cringe of what he’ll do with a capable top end QB and offense using him. Which brings us to the QB…
It’s not all DeShone Kizer’s fault. Most of it’s not. Hue Jackson either didn’t want to start him when the Browns started him, or didn’t want him at all. Either way it’s a non-fit. You can’t take a 2nd round QB with accuracy issues who left school early and start him on the youngest most talent depleted roster in the league and expect success. That’s silly, illogical thinking, and that’s what the Browns did.
Cody Kessler played like a third rounder during his rookie season, but regressed more than anyone I’ve ever watched over the last year. Kizer’s tenure has been doomed from the start. If the Browns acted with more common sense, they could have drafted quality position players that would help fill in this roster, and left the Quarterbacking to a veteran journeyman. It wouldn’t be exciting, but it would be right. I like DeShone Kizer. He seems like a good kid. But it feels that he should be looking for greener pastures elsewhere already.
That position alone will end this Browns’ regime, as it does with every other team in the league. It’s not just a Browns thing, it’s what the sport has become. To judge the Browns based on who they passed up at the Quarterback is hindsight, but that’s what all sports are judged on. The worst out of all this is that the fans will again be the one’s left holding the bag. The second worst though are those trying to force blame on one side and not the other when it comes to the coaching staff and front office. They both share the blame of this poor stretch of football.
The front office missed on QB’s, and they didn’t aim high. They’ll wear that forever, but it’s the reports that continue to surface about head coach Hue Jackson that make it that much more upsetting.
It seems very odd that we’ve read reports that Hue Jackson wanted Carson Wentz this week. It seems even odder that Hue Jackson once told us to “trust him” on Cody Kessler (even if he was covering for the front office pick at the time). It seems oddest that Hue Jackson was linked to a possible Cincinnati job opening by Mike Silver this weekend, and by Jason La Canfora this week, a month after trying to trade for Bengals back up AJ McCarron.
I’m sure Jackson is frustrated, and I would be too. Yet the reports read of a person trying to either stage a coup, or trying to save his reputation for the future. Both would be unnecessary distractions. And if the McCarron deal was to go through, I’ll either hug a fax machine that didn’t work, or Sashi Brown himself, because you and I didn’t sit through draft night trades to stockpile picks for AJ McCarron. If I’m going to have to be patient, it’s damn sure going to be for something better than AJ McCarron.
Through all this though, there are still four games left and it’s still not cut and dry that both sides will be relieved of their duties after the season. Remember, the Browns have had picks and salary cap space before, and even young talent, and coaches still passed up on the job because they don’t trust the Browns. Judging by the attendance though, the fans are feeling the same thing, and it’s going to be difficult to sell a team to fans that could very well be coming off 1-15 and 0-16 seasons.
There are a few things though that I absolutely believe as we stare down another December in Berea, and more than likely another January flying in possible coaches:
- Hue Jackson should have had an offensive coordinator. The team is young and mistake prone, and Hue Jackson looks more tired during every press conference. If Jackson does return, it’ll be time for an offensive coordinator who calls plays.
- The front office and Hue Jackson really did come in with the best of intentions. No one takes over a job thinking “I’m going to run this thing into the ground!”
- This team really is in a good spot for the future. If it were any other franchise, we’d be optimistic, but since it’s the Browns, and we’ve told ourselves this before, I understand that you might be saying “you’re full of s**t, Ken.” They do have those picks though, and if it’s Rosen, or Mayfield, or Darnold or whoever in April, that quarterback will be much better equipped, and in a much better position to win early than Kessler in ’16, or Kizer this season.
There may be a day where we look back and thank them for this. We thank them for not putting a band-aid on things, and doing what might be necessary to amass choices, but it will more than likely be someone else who fills the top of the roster and drafts the quarterback.
Behind me, Bill Walsh: A Football Life is finishing up. Stories like his are great, but there’s are a reason there’s not more. Genius comes along only a few times in a generation. For the rest of us, there’s bitter frustration and hard work that we hope precedes opportunity.
We’re now just waiting for ours to come along.