Cleveland Browns2

The Cleveland Browns have become a laughing stock in the National Football League. To those outside of Northeast Ohio, that is.

My buddies here in the Cleveland-area would vehemently disagree with that statement. It’s sacrilege to be critical of the losers who play in the Mistake on the Lake. You’re a bad fan if you refuse to support the pursuit of mediocrity. And you will be treated as a pariah if you criticize the decisions made by the front office.

The truth of the matter is the bad fans are the ones who blindly support the organization without thinking critically. Professional sports is a business that thrives off of fans like those. Teams like the Browns rake in money hand over fist because they have the support of the community. The problem lies in the fact that there is no incentive for the organization to actually become competitive because it’s getting rich without putting forth a good product.

Those who believe it will change simply because the Browns want to win are mistaken. The change won’t come until the organization isn’t as profitable as it might be if it won more games.

There’s a reason, though, for the fans’ approach. And I get it.

After Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore following the 1995 season, Browns fans learned what it feels like to lose an organization. There’s a fear that if they refuse to show up at the stadium or quit spending money, the team will again be lost, possibly for good this time.

That’s an excuse. And it doesn’t hold water. It doesn’t excuse fans from thinking critically or demanding better.

The relationship the Browns have with their fans is abusive, at best. The fans are battered. They’re taken advantage of by the organization. And it’s their own fault because they continue to return for more year in and year out.

Since 1999, when the NFL returned an organization to the city (I refuse to say returned the team because this team is not the one that left), the Browns have exactly two winning seasons (10-6 in 2007 and 9-7 in 2002).

There’s one very good reason for this. The team drafts terrible players.

Cleveland has had 20 first-round draft picks since 1999. Four times since 2007 they’ve had two first-round choices. Just one of those eight players (Joe Thomas taken in 2007) has made a significant contribution.

Johnny Manziel3Quarterbacks were drafted four times – Johnny Manziel in 2014, Brandon Weeden in 2012, Brady Quinn in 2007 and Tim Couch in 1999. Not one of them has amounted to a hill of beans. Only Manziel and Weeden remain in the league. Johnny Football may be on his way out of town and Weeden was recently released by Dallas before signing with Houston where he joins fellow Cleveland castoff Brian Hoyer.

Just four times since rejoining the league has Cleveland team drafted an offensive skill position other than quarterback in the first round. Running back Trent Richardson was drafted in 2012 and is out of the league. You have to go all the way back to 2005 to find the next one, which was receiver Braylon Edwards. and only once since Braylon Edwards was taken in 2005. Prior to him, tight end Kellen Winslow was taken in 2004 and running back William Green was selected in 2002.

So far just three (15 percent) of those picks have actually improved the team. Manziel and 2015 selections Danny Shelton and Cameron Erving are not included in that group, but could be if they make a contribution next season.

Of course, Browns fans will argue general manager Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine and the people who hired them shouldn’t be lumped into the group of degenerates who made the decisions prior to 2014.

They’re dead wrong.

Since Farmer took over before the 2014 draft, he has picked 18 players in the draft. Just one was a receiver (Vince Mayle in the 4th round last May) because he has publicly stated receivers hold little value, though the league is generally accepted to be a passing league. Maybe four of those selections actually have helped the team.

Josh McCownThe free-agent class he brought in prior to 2015 included cornerback Tramon Williams, quarterback Thad Lewis, receiver Dwayne Bowe, receiver Brian Hartline, defensive tackle Randy Starks and quarterback Josh McCown. That group was rated the worst group of free agents signed by any team in the NFL by ESPN.com.

Williams is part of a secondary that has been beaten as much as it delivers. Lewis didn’t make the team out of camp. Bowe gets on the field for about five plays per game. Hartline was underwhelming before being lost for the season. Starks was signed to be a run-stopping defensive end but his true value prior to playing in Cleveland was as a pass rusher and it has showed that he is certainly not in a position to succeed. McCown didn’t play as badly as his career numbers would’ve predicted, but lost the job to Manziel before being injured.

The group brought in before 2014 included linebacker Karlos Dansby, receiver Andrew Hawkins, tight end Jim Dray, safety Donte Whitner, receiver Miles Austin and running back Ben Tate.

Dansby is the quarterback of one of the worst run defenses in the league over the last two seasons. Hawkins started well with a strong 2014 before injuries rendered him a waste of money in 2015. Dray is an offensive tackle wearing the jersey of a tight end. Whitner is old and gets beaten in pass coverage. Austin was the best receiver in a terrible group in 2014 but was not re-signed after the year. Tate was released in the middle of the 2014 season.  

It’s popular in Northeast Ohio to argue against Pettine and Farmer losing their jobs because the team needs continuity.

Again, the fans are wrong. Continuity for the sake of continuity when clowns are in charge is no better a situation than the current one. Continuity is only good if you have competent people in place. It’s clear Farmer, who was suspended for the first four weeks of the season for texting the sidelines during games is in over his head and has no idea what it takes to win football games.

Mike PetitinePettine may or may not be a good coach. But he needs to go because he has lost the team and is 3-15 in his last 18 games. He also is a stubborn mule. Despite the fact that Farmer is incompetent, the coach needs to play the players brought in to improve the team. If you refuse to play those players, the team doesn’t actually have the opportunity to improve. That’s evidenced by the team going from 7-9 in 2014 to 3-10 and in the running for the first overall pick this year.

Pettine plays Shelton about 40 percent of the time. He absolutely refused to play Manziel until there was no other option. Bowe doesn’t see the field. He was part of running former tight end Jordan Cameron out of town. Gilbert was an afterthought until Joe Haden was lost for the year. Irving wasn’t going to see the field until guard Joel Bitonio was lost to injury.

The organization is a mess. Yet the fans are calling for more of a mess. Many want Pettine and/or Farmer to remain in their current positions.

Worse, they are calling for the team to draft a quarterback with what should wind up being a top-three selection in the 2016 draft when there is not a franchise quarterback available that’s worthy of a top-3 pick (though Memphis’ Paxton Lynch has a chance to work his way into one of those positions with the combine).

Quarterback is one of the few positions the Browns have actually been better than terrible. Though the position needs an upgrade, the smart play is to draft the best available player in the first round and address the receiver position in the second and maybe even the third rounds before going back to simply selecting the best available players.

The team has black holes at nearly every position group on both sides of the ball. Quarterback is one of the few places they don’t have a terrible situation.

There’s also a group calling for the selection of more offensive linemen in the first round. What? A team that has spent three first-round picks, two second-round selections and free agent money on another guy who was taken in the second round has to spend yet another early pick on the line?

Absolutely not. But that is the mindset, both among the fans and in the front office.

The situation is horrible for the Browns. They’re a joke in NFL circles. The organization hasn’t a clue and doesn’t really care because owner Jimmy Haslam is still getting rich.

The fans get an assist for supporting the dumpster fire that is the 2015 Cleveland Browns.