The Cleveland Browns were always right about Carson Wentz, even if he were great
When the Cleveland Browns traded out of the second overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft, passing up the chance to select North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz, many fans were angry, and that anger rose to previously unseen levels in 2017 as Wentz looked like an MVP candidate while the Browns were going 0-16. Things have changed significantly since then, but even if Wentz were a top-10 signal-caller, the Browns made the right move.
Following the team’s trade, Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta made a bold claim, stating that the Browns did not feel Wentz would be a top-20 QB. This quote was routinely mocked in 2017, and the optics for Cleveland weren’t great. Now, things are different. Wentz was a bottom-five passer in 2020 while the Browns had their best season since returning to the NFL.
At the time of the trade, the Browns were in the process of completely tearing down an old, overpaid, and underperforming roster to start anew. General manager Sashi Brown spearheaded an unprecedented rebuild, and wanted to accumulate as much draft capital as he possibly could, with the thought process that Cleveland wouldn’t be drafting any better than the other 31 teams, so the more darts they had to throw, the more hits they’d get on average.
Brown, DePodesta, Andrew Berry, and the rest of the front office approached the rebuild in a new way; they saw the quarterback as the finishing piece of the rebuild, rather than the catalyst. Even if they felt that Wentz was going to end up as a franchise QB, they may very well still have traded the pick. Had Wentz started for Cleveland in 2016, he would have been throwing to Andrew Hawkins, Terrelle Pryor, Ricardo Louis, and Gary Barnidge, handing off to Isaiah Crowell, and standing behind the likes of Alvin Bailey and Austin Pasztor.
The Browns broke Cody Kessler. They broke DeShone Kizer. They’ve broken countless other QBs over the past 20 years, and if Wentz fell apart in Philly, imagine what he would’ve done in Cleveland.
Instead of risking the entire rebuild on one player, the front office chose to trade down, and then trade down again.
Those picks continued to be moved around, and the Browns ended up with Jordan Elliott, Odell Beckham Jr., and Denzel Ward on the current roster. Maybe not the final result that the team envisioned when initially making the deal, but having those three guys today is better than having Wentz.
The result may have been less than ideal, but the process was sound. Cleveland ended up building perhaps the greatest treasure trove of capital in NFL history, and while it perhaps wasn’t used all that well by two different regimes, it’s what allowed the team to build the legitimate Super Bowl contender that the Browns are today. Had they stayed at No. 2 and taken Wentz, we’d probably be talking about which quarterback prospect would fall to their pick this year instead of what moves can be made to win it all.