18 September 2016: Cleveland Browns fans during the second quarter of the National Football League game between the Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland, OH. Baltimore defeated Cleveland 25-20. (Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire)

by: Will Keys

It’s not exactly a mystery why the Cleveland Browns have been one of the worst sports franchises in the United States (nay, the Earth) since their rebirth in 1999.

It’s not that they’ve had the worst players, or the worst coaches, or the worst front office — it’s a top-down problem, it’s systemic. The foundation is rotten to the core, and as is usually the case with historically inept franchises, the problem begins with ownership and permeates down into the executive, coaching, and playing ranks.

Jimmy and Dee Haslam, who have owned the Browns since 2012, have consistently swung and missed on the most crucial decisions in their tenure, either directly or by proxy.

To recap:

  1. Drafted both Trent Richardson and 29-year-old Brandon Weeden in the first round in 2012.
  2. Drafted both Justin Gilbert and then Johnny Manziel in the first round in 2014.
  3. Let offensive coordinator and future 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan walk after 2015.
  4. Hired Hue Jackson as head coach in 2016.
  5. Traded down in 2016, effectively passing on both Jared Goff and Carson Wentz.
  6. Passed on Deshaun Watson in 2017.
  7. Retained Jackson as head coach after an 0-16 record in 2017.

In summation, if you gave 1,000 monkeys 1,000 draft boards and let them make personnel moves for the rest of eternity, it’s doubtful any one of them would come up with a five-year stretch of decision making worse than that of the Browns.

The latest big move out of Cleveland is a five-year, $75.5 million extension for wide receiver Jarvis Landry, who they acquired from the Miami Dolphins earlier this offseason.

Is Landry a bad player? Definitely not. But he’s making Antonio Brown, Julio Jones, and A.J. Green-type money, which is simply preposterous considering he averaged less than nine yards per catch last season, whereas someone like Brown averaged 15.2 yards per catch.

Paying Landry top wide receiver money is a bit like dropping a wad of cash to eat at Taco Bell when there’s somewhere infinitely better across the street for roughly the same price (probably Baja Fresh). You know it’s not a great idea to begin with and you’re definitely going to regret it afterwards.

It’s another questionable decision in a sea of more-than-questionable decisions. Also, if you’ll remember, their 2016 draft was based on the principle of not having to sign a high-priced wide receiver in free agency.

That year, they drafted Corey Coleman in the first round, Ricardo Louis in the fourth, plus Jordan Payton and Rashard Higgins in the fifth. While three of them are still on the roster, it’s hard to say any of them have exactly panned out, either. Corey Coleman picked up 305 yards and a pair of touchdowns last year while Higgins and Louis amassed similar numbers.

If not for the millions of dollars, it’s honestly tempting to feel bad for whichever quarterback the Browns select with the first overall pick (assuming that’s the direction they go).

They’re not built for developing a quarterback, and yet, if they eschew the position to build an infrastructure (players like Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson), they’ll be condemned for passing on whichever quarterback in the 2018 class turns out the best.

If I were the owner of the Browns, I would probably do these five things:

  1. Can Hue Jackson: you just can’t wash off the stink of 0-16.
  2. Move on from Paul DePodesta: he’s a great baseball mind, as evidenced in Moneyball, but advanced sabermetrics don’t tell you as much in football as they do in baseball where the sample size is 16 games rather than 162.
  3. Switch back to the old uniforms. Oh boy do the current ones suck. I subscribe to the whole look good/feel good theory. It’s science… I think.
  4. Do not draft Josh Allen: this isn’t to say that Allen will definitely be a bust in the NFL, but he will definitely be a bust in Cleveland.
  5. Take either Rosen (the QB who needs the least development) at one as well as either Barkley or Nelson at four. Chances are, one of them will turn out pretty good.

Alas, I do not own the Browns. I’m barely qualified to own a dog. But it seems like these few steps are fairly logical, and therefore they won’t be on the Browns’ agenda anytime soon.

I want the Browns not to suck, I really do. But at some point they need some tough love, and people need to hold ownership accountable for their bad decisions. If football were like soccer, I would recommend relegating the Browns to the NCAA or potentially the XFL for a year to teach them a lesson. Also, we could finally answer the age-old question of whether or not Alabama could beat the Browns.

Like a child at a scary movie, I may have to avert my eyes when the Browns are on the clock come late April.

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