Don’t be fooled by Cleveland’s 0-14 record and NFL-worst -155 point differential. The future’s not quite as bleak as it appears, but I’ll get to that in a second. The Cleveland Browns are terrible, but that’s nothing new. They last made the playoffs in 2002; they last finished over .500 in 2007.
It’s gotten particularly ugly in recent years:
2017: 0-14, at Bears, at Steelers
Allow me to try and find the silver lining heading into the offseason:
The offensive line was at times shockingly impressive according to stats from Pro Football Focus. But then Joe Thomas went down and things got bleak. Thomas is 33 and has a potential out after this season; will the Browns let him finish his career with a winner? Any dramatic improvement on this team would obviously be tied to Thomas sticking around to protect the blindside of [Insert Future QB here].
The run defense has been elite, #1 in yards per carry allowed (3.3; yes, sometimes that’s due to teams being up big in the 4th quarter and running dives into the line), but they’re also 8th in yards per game allowed (96.1)
Those are the positives! There are two glaring, obvious negatives:
For a 21-year old rookie QB, Deshone Kizer was very bad. Sure, there were flashes of potential, but 25 turnovers (19 interceptions, six fumbles) and just 53 percent completions were among the worst in the NFL.
The team’s 2nd biggest issue is pass defense, where they’re 32nd in QB rating allowed (102.7), 30th in completion percentage allowed (68%) and 23rd in yards per attempt allowed (7.3). Maybe rookie Jabrill Peppers is eventually a playmaker, but they don’t have any in the secondary.
The great news is that the Browns currently have the 1st and 4th picks in the draft, and both of those massive needs could be filled: If Sam Darnold comes out of USC, he’ll go 1st to the Browns. I’m not sure how quickly the Browns will rush him to the field, as he doesn’t turn 21 until after the draft.
With the 4th pick, they could get instant help for the secondary with Alabama star DB Minkah Fitzpatrick.
And Cleveland’s new GM, John Dorsey, built a pretty good team in Kansas City, and he did so by finding several gems in the draft. Yes, he took chances on guys with checkered backgrounds – Marcus Peters (who was kicked out of Washington) and Tyreek Hill (who punched his pregnant girlfriend in college) – but he did nail star tight end Travis Kelce (3rd round, 2013) and Kareem Hunt (3rd round, 2017),
But the excitement doesn’t stop there, because according to one website, no team has more money to chase free agents than the Browns. With $118 million, the Browns probably want to first bolster the secondary, kick the tires on some free agent receivers, and don’t be shocked if Dorsey goes for a stop-gap QB as a bridge to Darnold.
The name that Browns fans won’t want to hear, but makes some sense, is Alex Smith. If the Chiefs move on from Smith to get to Pat Mahomes, we know Dorsey loves him – it was his 1st move when he became GM in Kansas City.
The Bengals are fading, fast. They’ll have a new coach.