5 Most disappointing seasons in Cleveland Browns history
No 2: The Year the Coach Had to Jump in the Lake
The 2017 season was so discouraging and disappointing because Cleveland became so dedicated to Moneyball that they forgot to play football. General manager Sashi Brown probably started with sound concepts on how to rebuild a franchise. If your target is to rebuild in three seasons, you should get rid of every player who cannot help your team win in that third year. You should work the salary cap and you should stockpile future draft picks. The basic thought process was worked out by Joe Banner a few years earlier but implemented ruthlessly by Sashi Brown following the professional demise of Banner and his successor Ray Farmer.
Starting a quarterback who leaves college two years early is almost always a bad idea. That’s just basic football sense. We don’t know whether the decision to start 21-year-old DeShone Kizer was made by coach Hue Jackson, or essentially forced by Sashi Brown by jettisoning the other alternatives (Brock Osweiler, Robert Griffin III, and Josh McCown). It seems unbelievable that that was the coach’s decision, but on the other hand, it is hard to believe that a general manager would force that on a coach. It’s not that the veterans were great quarterbacks, but they were good enough to at least win a few games while the rookie could have been learning the intricacies of a pro offense.
Yet the Browns had been foolish enough to try the same thing only three years earlier, rushing 21-year-old Johnny Manziel into the starting lineup in what should have been his junior year at Texas A&M. Young Manziel was not able to wreck the league as he had promised, but he did pretty much wreck the Browns. We thought about including the 2015 season in this article, but truthfully the most disappointment was in the offseason. On the field, it was fairly upbeat as Manziel had a few good games in his second year. But that is another story. In any case, like my high school history teacher used to say, those who can not remember their history are condemned to repeat it. Enter DeShone Kizer.
Another highly questionable move in the 2017 season was the decision to donate Joe Haden to Pittsburgh, with the Browns incurring a $7.3 million dollar cap hit in the process. Scuttlebutt was that the coaching staff realized that Haden’s off-season surgery to repair two muscle tears had been successful and that he would be able to play at close to his previous Pro Bowl form, but Brown wanted to cut Haden anyway, based on his overly generous salary.
Of course, Haden elected to play for the Steelers, plugging a bad hole in their secondary, and helped them into the playoffs, while the Browns cap charge for him was higher than the Steelers’. Although there is a certain financial logic to that decision — the team did get to deduct a net of some $4 million from their overall cap — but the thought of paying a good player while allowing him to play for an arch-rival was insane from a football point of view.
The Browns players generally played hard for coach Jackson, but they were not very talented, and Jackson’s play calling seemed out of sync to the average fan. The Browns had good running backs in Isaiah Crowell and Duke Johnson (this team gained more yards on the ground than their opponents) but unbelievably, they had no wide receiver who exceeded 400 receiving yards that year. Somehow, Jackson seemed to be using the New Orleans Saint’s offensive playbook, eschewing the run in favor of a high powered passing attack, but unlike the Saints, the Browns had the NFL’s lowest completion percentage to wide receivers.
The result was loss after loss after loss, despite occasionally playing well. Coach Jackson continued to look at the film, work hard, and even vowed to jump in Lake Erie if the team went 0-16. Well, he had to jump in the lake.
The coach blamed Sashi Brown for not providing a good quarterback. That might even be true. Jackson might have wanted a veteran but Brown seemed to have totally dedicated the season to player development and achieving high draft position, and winning was no longer a relevant objective. That was a breach of faith to the players and to the Dawg Pound.
At the end of the year, the Browns managed not one victory. The season ended with a dropped pass by underperforming Corey Coleman and the Browns were embarrassed owners of an 0-16 record.
If your team goes 0-16, that is not just bad, but it is an epically bad achievement, deserving of maximum ridicule and scorn from the rest of the league. If that happens, everybody in the front office and coaching staff, including the water boy, richly deserves to be fired. Not just the Browns, but any team that goes winless should have no complaint about being purged at the end of the season if the team is allowed to sink to that level. As it was, Jackson was allowed to stay on for another half season, but Brown was sent packing after failing to pull off a trade for Jackson’s favorite quarterback, A.J. McCarron.
Browns fans, do you realize how close the team came to an even greater disaster? If Brown had carried out the coach’s wishes and traded two second-round picks for McCarron, the Browns would have not have been able to draft Nick Chubb, and very likely they would have drafted another quarterback besides Baker Mayfield, who does not fit the analytic formula for success. The team could have had no wins, no Baker, no Chubb, no Dorsey, and they could have kept Brown and Jackson.