Flashback Friday: Still mad about Cleveland Browns 0-16 season

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 07: Cleveland Browns mascot Swagger in the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 7, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 07: Cleveland Browns mascot Swagger in the third quarter against the Baltimore Ravens at FirstEnergy Stadium on October 7, 2018 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /
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Cleveland Browns
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – FEBRUARY 06: (L-R) NFL coach Hue Jackson, Dee Haslam and Sashi Brown attend the 5th Annual NFL Honors at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on February 6, 2016 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images) /

Things that Sashi Brown got right, sort of

Sashi Brown did have some good ideas. His basic methodology of hoarding cap dollars and draft picks is sound. Especially in the case of draft picks, NFL teams do not seem to understand the concept of interest applied to draft picks.

If you can get 50 or even 100 percent interest, you have to take it. For example, in 2017 Brown traded the 12th overall pick that year for Texan’s number one pick for 2017 (25th overall) and for 2018 (not known at the time but turned out to be fourth overall). A building team has to make deals like that.

The rest of the league usually acts as if next year is not going to be as important as this year and that they are willing to sacrifice the future to give it their best shot now. However, that’s mostly false, unless perhaps your team is the New England Patriots or other veteran team trying to make one more playoff push. So, trade today’s picks for next year’s picks and collect phenomenal interest. That is one thing Brown got right.

Brown was justified in investing almost exclusively in young players who are expected to contribute two and three years down the road. If there’s a veteran player, say a $5 million player, who the scouts feel will not make the team three years from now, then cut him now and take the cap savings.

In year three when the team is ready to win, the team will have ten million dollars to invest in someone twice as good. That part Brown also got basically right. Save the cap dollars, spend them when the team is on a winning roll.

The exception, however, is that the Browns should not have pushed in all their chips for a 21-year old college junior in DeShone Kizer.

One of the veteran quarterbacks (not highly paid) should have been allowed to play in 2017 while Kizer could have learned behind the veteran.Going into the 2017 season, the Browns had under contract Josh McCown, Robert Griffin III, Cody Kessler and Brock Osweiler. None of these guys are Hall of Famers or even average quarterbacks, but they are good enough to give their team a chance to win.

As evidence, Josh McCown won five games with the Jets after being cut by the Browns, Robert Griffin III  is 1-0 for the Ravens after beating the Steelers last year.  Brock Osweiler won two games for the Dolphins. Cody Kessler went 2-2 for Jacksonville. They prove that the Browns did not have to start a college junior and go  0-16.

The purge of quarterbacks on the roster to eliminate rivals for Kizer was completely dumb and pointless. For example, Osweiler’s money was all guaranteed so zero dollars were saved by cutting him.

Hue Jackson and the Browns ruined DeShone Kizer, in this analyst’s opinion. We don’t know whether he could be been good or not, but taking an inexperienced college junior and giving him a bad NFL offense to work with is not the way to develop a quarterback.

Another deal Brown messed up was letting  Joe Haden go to the Steelers at a reduced rate, despite the coaching staff telling him that Haden was healthy again after successful surgery to repair torn groin muscles. The Browns were charged $7.2 million versus the 2017 cap and $3.2 million versus the 2018 camp while Haden was playing for the Steelers. A football team cannot aid it’s rival like that. That deal should not have been made.

Brown was not afraid to lose all 16 games. Perhaps his hunger for a second consecutive first overall pick overcame his better judgment.

People are not like computer programs. When players see that the front office is intent upon making it harder to win instead of helping as much as possible, they lose confidence and they lose heart.  And they lose. A lot. And it is not going to be easy to undo the damage.

For that matter, Hue Jackson, though heavily criticized here for his role in the Browns’ continuing quarterback debacle, did some good things for the organization. Jackson was a good coach because he got seven wins out of Jason Campbell and went 8-8 with the Raiders in 2011. That’s very good. Granted that Brown’s moves had weakened the team, it would have been nearly possible to have a respectable record. Jackson kept his players generally positive and playing hard in nearly impossible circumstances.

The nature of sports is that it is a competition, and if you do not win, another person will get a chance. It doesn’t mean that Hue Jackson and Sashi Brown are undeserving of our respect. On the contrary, leadership positions in the NFL are among the hardest jobs in the world, and hopefully, if you get the chance to meet either of them, you can thank them for their contributions and mean it. But 0-16 absolutely does mean that someone else has to be given a chance.  As it was, they hired John Dorsey before the 2017 season was complete, and then fired Jackson at the halfway point of 2018.

Cleveland Browns
SAN FRANCISCO, CA – FEBRUARY 06: Co-owner of the Cleveland Browns Dee Haslam speaks onstage during the 29th Annual Leigh Steinberg Super Bowl Party on February 6, 2016 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Eugene Gologursky/Getty Images for Leigh Steinberg) /

Dee Haslam moderates analytics and team rebuilding

This story does have a happy ending. The Haslams apparently had a family conference and decided to allow Dee Haslam to have more decision-making power. Although she prefers to stay in the background and is soft-spoken, she’s no lightweight, having been the award-winning and Emmy-nominated  CEO of RIVR Media.

She is a winner who stays calm during a crisis and makes level headed decisions. No offense to JH3, but Dee has the best brains in the family and she is going to get the organization moving in the right direction.

The Sashi Brown rebuild plan has many valid elements within it, but it kind of sounds like something that could have been cooked up at a Browns Backers meeting after a few beers:

Say, what if you trade away expensive veterans, trade back in the draft for future draft picks, and hoard salary cap money. If you do it for three straight years, you will get three superstar players at the top of the draft, and now you can outspend the opponents 2:1 on free agents. Then suddenly you have a Super Bowl-caliber roster.

Dee’s comments in Kevin Kleps’ story in Crains Cleveland Business about the rebuild process clarify that she believes the Brown process was too severe.  Also if it was not clear before whether 0-16 would be tolerated, it should be clear now.

"“We can never do that again. I wouldn’t recommend that to any sports team…You have to transform and you have to constantly innovate. But sometimes it’s better to transform and innovate in a slower way… Let’s look at it this way: Every part of our story leads us to here.  We made every mistake in the book and you learn from that, and the people that were part of that contributed to where we are today. You have to give credit to where credit’s due along the way.”"

Translation — the Browns are going to put the smart kids in charge of the draft and signing free agents, but they will no longer subscribe to the draconian techniques of Sashi Brown.

Next. How to manage future Browns contracts. dark

There were some good things that he did, but the process leading to 0-16 was so painful that it will never be repeated. Thank you Sashi, thank you Hue. Now let’s move on.