Photo Credit: Erik Drost (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cleveland_Browns_(20060573978).jpg)
“The Browns is the Browns,” said Tik Tok Extraordinaire and Dance Dance Revolution Expert JuJu Smith-Schuster. Although he would later eat those words after the Cleveland Browns drubbed Smith-Shuster’s Pittsburgh Steelers 48 - 37 in the Wild Card Round of the 2020 NFL Playoffs, the Browns are, in fact, the Browns. Maybe they could have evolved into something different, something special, but nope, the Browns are going to Brown, no matter what.
Since upsetting the Steelers in the playoffs, the Browns have done a complete 180, not just on the field, but off the field as well. Baker Mayfield, their former top overall pick and the only quarterback to lead the franchise to a playoff win since the team returned to the NFL in 1999, has been tossed onto the scrap heap in favor of a different player who has exactly the same number of playoff wins, but does have significantly more civil lawsuits for sexual assault. This player is Deshaun Watson, formerly of the Houston Texans, most recently seen captaining a disappointing 4 - 12 team.
In Browns’ logic, Watson is a clear upgrade over Mayfield. To every other conscious individual with a conscience, this move couldn’t be uglier. This is what we’ve all come to expect from the Browns: bizarre roster decisions, poor leadership, and continual ineptitude. Are they the most embarrassing and dysfunctional organization in the history of professional sports? Almost certainly.
Let’s go back to the Wild Card victory over the Steelers in 2020. Mayfield threw three touchdown passes in the game with zero interceptions, and then went on to give the top-seeded Kansas City Chiefs everything they could handle in a 17 - 22 loss. The future looked impossibly bright for the Browns, Mayfield, and their talented new head coach Kevin Stefanski. What went wrong?
Well, everything. Mayfield hurt his shoulder early in the 2021 season and could never regain his 2020 form. Now, is Mayfield at fault for continuing to play even though he wasn’t performing up to his usual level? Sure, it is reasonable to suggest that he should have removed himself from the games to give his team the best chance to win. At the same time, isn’t it more reasonable to expect the coach to just go ahead and make that decision? Where was Stefanski during all this? Why couldn’t anyone, from the front office on down to the lowliest trainer, say something, anything, to Mayfield? Didn’t anyone on the Browns notice or care that the team wasn’t performing well with Mayfield playing injured?
It doesn’t seem like it. Instead, the Browns were content to keep sending a diminished Mayfield out there week after week to get demolished behind a bad offensive line and let down by selfish wide receivers like Odell Beckham, Jr. Mayfield was made into the fall guy for the teams’ failures in 2021.
So, now that Mayfield is out of the picture it seems, the Browns will be turning the keys to the franchise over to Watson, who, I’ll say again, has 22 pending civil lawsuits for sexual assault. And by keys to the franchise, I mean $250 million fully guaranteed going directly into Watson’s account so that he can pay off these civil settlements.
It should be Mayfield who starts under center for the Browns in 2022, not Watson. Mayfield may have played poorly, or at least not up to his 2020 level, but he’s still a former top pick who led his perpetually clownish franchise to a playoff win over their division rival. He should have been a Browns legend. Instead, Browns fans get to root for a sexual predator at QB. Nice!
One former Brown who is probably happy the team moved on from Mayfield is Brian Sipe, but not for the reason you think. If you’re asking yourself, “Who’s Brian Sipe,” well, let me fill you in! Sipe played for the Browns from 1974-1983, won the NFL MVP in 1980 and pretty much fell off the NFL map immediately after that. Oh, and he still holds the Browns all-time record for passing yards with 23,713. Now that Mayfield is out of the picture, Sipe will probably get to hold onto that record for a while.
(Sidenote: Sipe was the QB for the famous “Red Right 88” play, in which he tossed an interception at the goal line against the Oakland Raiders in the 1980 Playoffs, causing the Browns to lose. The Browns were Browning all the way back in the 80s!)
Although the Browns as a franchise have existed since 1946, they only returned to the NFL in 1999 after former owner Art Modell moved the team to Baltimore in 1995. It’s really fortunate that the NFL felt compelled to bring the team back to Cleveland, because otherwise we might have been robbed of all the comedy. Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Browns are 1-20-1 in Week 1 games. At no point, since 1999, have the Browns ranked better than eighth in the NFL in points scored or yards gained in a season, and they accomplished that feat just once in 2007. Among all NFL teams, the Browns rank 26th in points scored, 25th in yards gained, 19th in points allowed, and 21st in yards allowed since 1999.
As for postseason success…there is none. Wait! Except for when Baker Mayfield was their QB and, oh shoot, that’s right, they decided to go with a guy who has been accused of sexual assault by 23 different women instead of Mayfield. Way to go, Browns!
The Browns, since 1999, have only appeared in the playoffs twice, and, as I’ve mentioned, won once. For comparison, the Detroit Lions, another hapless NFL franchise, have appeared in the postseason four times in that span. The Cincinnati Bengals, for that matter, have appeared in the playoffs eight times in that span and, oh yeah, just went to the Super Bowl last year.
At least the Browns have solid leadership. Wait, what am I saying, no they don’t. The Browns are currently owned by James Arthur Haslam III aka Jimmy and his wife Dee. Dee Haslam seems like a nice lady, and she was the executive producer for shows like Whale Wars and Trading Spaces so I’m going to direct my ire at her husband instead.
James aka Jimmy Haslam has a teensy-tiny, very minor, not-at-all concerning blemish on his professional record. Haslam, who is CEO of Pilot-Flying J, got himself into a little trouble with the law when it was discovered that Pilot-Flying J was defrauding customers over diesel fuel rebates. OK, so maybe that teensy-tiny, very minor, not-at-all concerning blemish was actually a big, huge, very serious blemish. Potato-tomato, or whatever.
In 2014, Haslam was forced to pay $92 million in damages in a settlement with the great state of Tennessee to avoid prosecution for the fraud charge. Is this “cognitive dissonance?”
To begin, the fraud scheme was supposedly cooked up, or at least, encouraged by Haslam’s Vice President of Sales John “Stick” Freeman. Here’s the other funny thing: Freeman wore a wire during the investigation into the fraud charges, and conversations he had with other Pilot-Flying J employees seem to suggest that Haslam was aware and happy with the scheme.
Regardless, this “I didn't have any knowledge” defense is so unoriginal that you can find multiple examples straight out of the college coach playbook. Rick Pitino supposedly had no idea that prostitutes were being made available to basketball recruits while he was coaching at the University of Louisville. Art Briles somehow had no idea that Baylor University was rampant with rapists on his football team. It’s simply amazing how these hands-on, CEO-types are so blithely unaware of serious criminal activity taking place under their noses.
Perhaps most hilarious of all, get a load of this quote from former Knoxville, Tennessee Chamber of Commerce President Mike Edwards, before Haslam purchased the Browns in 2011: "He has an 'A Team' throughout the organization. He has the best of the best, but he doesn't turn it over to them. He is very engaged and very focused and goal-oriented and he drives himself hard. He's very competitive. He doesn't micro-manage them, but he certainly manages them."
I nearly fainted from the irony. An “A Team?” More like a D+ Team at best. I also love how Edwards describes James aka Jimmy as “very engaged” and “doesn’t micro-manage” but “certainly manages.” Does any of this sound like a person who would be utterly unaware of fraudulent business practices? If you buy that, I have a beach house in New Mexico I’d love to show you.
What about the Browns GM Andrew Berry, isn’t he a smart guy? Well, sure, I guess. He did graduate from Harvard, so that’s pretty good. But, oh no, he did decide to give a man who has 22 pending civil lawsuits a fully guaranteed, $250 million dollar contract. That’s not smart, Andrew.
Maybe, though, Berry is way smarter than any of us peons. Maybe he has a clairvoyance that allows him to see things before they happen, to see the different paths into the future, to chart a path through the cosmos…wait, sorry, that’s Paul Muad'Dib from Dune. My bad.
Besides, Berry isn’t even the first Harvard graduate to have the GM position for the Browns. Remember Sashi Brown? He’s lasted three years. We're going on year three for Mr. Berry and the clock is ticking louder than ever.
The colossal embarrassment of the Browns is even more jarring when juxtaposed to other dumb franchises. The Tampa Bay Devil Rays, who entered the MLB in 1998, were consistently terrible during their first few seasons in the MLB. But, do you know what happened? First, they dropped the “Devil” from their name. Next, they started being competent! The Rays have appeared in two World Series, in 2008 and 2020. The Browns have appeared in exactly zero Super Bowls. They have also appeared in exactly zero AFC Championship Games. But, for some reason, this is the team that has the best odds to win the AFC North in 2022. Better watch out Vegas, you’re turning into Browns-lite.
The Houston Texans are another expansion team that found a path to success, unlike the Browns. Despite only entering the NFL in 2002, the Texans have managed to reach the playoffs six times and have four playoff wins. They’ve managed to win playoff games with T.J. Yates, Brock Osweiler and Matt Schaub at quarterback, which pretty much kills the idea that you need a really good QB to make noise in the postseason. They also managed to win a playoff game with the Browns current starting QB Watson, although at the time he did have 22 fewer pending civil lawsuits for sexual assault.
Maybe the Browns’ closest competitor in ineptitude is the Los Angeles Clippers, who were LA’s laughing stock for a long time and the perpetual punching bag for the rival Lakers. Things changed big time for the Clippers in 2014, though, when then-owner Donald Sterling was recorded making racist statements about NBA legend Magic Johnson and Black Americans. 2014, coincidentally, was also the year it was discovered that Pilot-Flying J had defrauded customers to the tune of $56 million. Sterling was given a lifetime ban by the NBA and Steve Balmer, the former top executive for Microsoft, took over after outbidding the field. Balmer, for his part, has managed to turn the Clippers into a perennial contender and has advanced numerous times in the postseason since acquiring the team. Oh, and he has also managed to avoid defrauding too many of his customers!
With all of this said, it’s impossible to come to any conclusion other than the Browns are the dumbest franchise in the history of professional sports. One would think that they’d be doing their best to change that. But no, the Browns are going to Brown. Just ask Baker Mayfield or JuJu Smith-Shuster. The Browns is the Browns. That is all.