It’s not exactly breaking news that the Cleveland Browns are a terrible football team. They’re 0-12 after yesterday’s loss, and they’re a near-lock to earn the first overall pick in the draft for the second consecutive season.
But I don’t know if we’re talking enough about just how historically awful this Browns of the last two years, coached by Hue Jackson with a front office run by General Manager Sashi Brown and Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta, really is.
With yesterday’s loss to the Chargers, the Browns are now 1-27 in their two-year rebuilding effort, in which they were supposedly going to use statistical analysis to find innovative ways to build a roster. (DePodesta has experience doing that in baseball and is a key figure in Moneyball.) That’s not just bad, it’s historically bad: The Browns are as bad as any team has ever been, in the history of the NFL.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers entered the NFL as an expansion franchise in 1976, and that expansion team is widely regarded as the worst team in NFL history. But the Bucs won two of their first 28 games, so even those Buccaneers, at 2-26, were a game better than these Browns.
Will the whole Moneyball strategy work for the Browns? It’s hard to say because they’ve barely even tried yet: Step One of their strategy has been accumulating lots of draft picks, and they’ve done that well, with trades netting them an extra first-round pick and two extra second-round picks in next year’s draft. But is this team actually any good at using those picks to find good players? And at developing those players once they’re in Cleveland? I have my doubts.
It seems to me that if the Browns’ brain trust knew what they were doing, there would be some signs of progress from Year 1 to Year 2. And I’m not seeing any progress from Cleveland. If there was anything for a Browns fan to be excited about yesterday, it was the emergence of receiver Josh Gordon in his first game back from a lengthy drug suspension. But Gordon is a player the new brain trust inherited, so they can’t get any credit for his accomplishments.
I don’t think Jackson and the front office are a good fit together, and I think after the season the Browns need to either fire Jackson or give him enough personnel authority to sign or draft the quarterback he wants.
Or maybe Browns owner Jimmy Haslam just needs to fire everyone and start a big rebuilding effort all over again. That sounds like a mess, but 1-27 is already a mess.
Here are my other thoughts from Sunday:
The NFL is weirdly restrictive about online access to its content. The NFL is often criticized by fans for being behind the NBA and MLB in allowing fans access to content online. A good example of that came up on Sunday with this complaint from a fan who was blocked from using the NFL’s streaming service because he was at a game. “Looks like you’re in or near a stadium,” the message on the device said. “Due to NFL rules, streaming on your device is not available.” That’s a ridiculous rule. Fans who both pay for tickets to games and pay for access to the NFL’s streaming service are the league’s best customers. Why would a company want to deny its best customers access to its product? The NFL needs to enter the 21st Century.
The Chiefs have problems, but Alex Smith is the least of them. Despite calls to bench Smith for Patrick Mahomes, Smith was excellent yesterday against the Jets: He had 366 yards and four touchdowns passing, ran for 70 yards and had no turnovers. Yet the Chiefs still lost 38-31 to the Jets. The Chiefs’ defense, which let Jets receivers Jermaine Kearse and Robby Anderson each go over 100 yards, is an absolute mess. Kansas City’s best defensive player, Eric Berry, was lost for the season in Week One, and far from figuring out how to replace him, they seem to be getting worse on defense down the stretch. Kansas City may still win the AFC West, but it’s hard to see them winning in the playoffs. That’s the fault of the defense, not Smith.
Rob Gronkowski should be suspended. Gronk’s cheap shot on Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White was a blatantly illegal hit on an opponent who was totally unsuspecting, long after the play was over. If that’s not the kind of thing that gets a player suspended, what is?
Teams still don’t understand late-game strategy. One of the things that fascinates me about NFL teams is how often they make obvious strategic mistakes late in games. I don’t mean things you can second-guess after the fact, I mean things that happen that as they’re happening, I immediately ask what they were thinking. Take the Titans at the end of yesterday’s win over the Texans: With Tennessee ahead by four points and less than a minute left in the game, Derrick Henry ran for a 75-yard touchdown. That might seem like a great play, but it really wasn’t: A better play would have been to run just far enough to pick up the first down, then go down so the Titans could run out the clock, as the Texans were out of timeouts. Then, after Henry’s touchdown, the Titans kicked the extra point. That was a mistake, because the extra point could have been blocked, the Texans could have run it back for two points, and that would have made it a one-possession game. The Titans should have simply kneeled down on the conversion attempt. With all the money NFL teams spend on hiring the best coaches and the best players and the best personnel people, you’d think they’d hire someone who understands late-game decision making and advises the coaches appropriately.
Jim Caldwell should be on the hot seat. Caldwell signed a contract extension with the Lions before this season, so perhaps his job is safe. But it shouldn’t be. In a year when the Vikings, Packers and Bears all had to change quarterbacks due to injuries or ineffectiveness, the Lions, with the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL in Matthew Stafford, should be able to win the NFC North. Instead, Sunday’s loss to the Ravens makes it a near certainty that the Lions won’t win their division or make it to the playoffs as a wild card, either. That’s on Caldwell, who admitted after the game that he hasn’t done a good coaching job this season. Lions General Manager Bob Quinn has to think seriously about replacing Caldwell next month.