Believing in the Browns, without a real reason

There’s this strange feeling with the Browns lately.

They have traded for overpriced and underperforming quarterback Brock Osweiler. They’ve let their 1,000-yard receiver, Terrelle Pryor — pretty much the only positive from last year’s 1-15 season — walk in free agency.

They signed a talented but frustrating receiver in Kenny Britt, and given big contracts to a pair of guards, Kevin Zeitler and Joel Bitonio.

There’s also something about giving a long snapper an extension, but do I really have to double check that guy’s name? Charlie Hughlett? OK.

The point is, the Browns are making some odd moves. They have been making them ever since the team’s current power structure of Sashi Brown, Paul Depodesta and Hue Jackson was put in place more than a year ago.

And here’s the weird part.

I believe in this.

And I have almost no reason to.

Look, if the Indians made moves like this, I could say “well, this is the front office that built a World Series team. If the Cavs did it, the explanation would be LeBron James was OK with it, and that’d be good enough.

But the Cavs and Indians are successful, I’d argue even model franchises in their league.

The Browns haven’t been since at least the mid-1990s, and even that is only due to retrospect. At that time, the Art-Modell-led group had Bill Belichick, Ozzie Newsome and Nick Saban under one roof. The group wasn’t that successful. It managed one winning season in four years.

But Belichick went on to win five Super Bowls with the Patriots. Newsome has led two championship clubs from the front office in Baltimore. And Saban has become perhaps the best college coach of his era.

No one knew that at the time. Belichick’s success was as a defensive coordinator. Newsome was just a few years removed from a Hall of Fame playing career. And Saban had just a single year as Toledo’s head coach before becoming a Browns assistant.

Just as no one knows much about the Browns now.

Yes, the team is terrible. But the front office has no track record.

Brown is a lawyer with a limited football background. Depodesta made his name crunching numbers in front offices in baseball. Jackson is a respected assistant coach. But before last year’s 1-15 debacle, he’d only logged one season as a head coach in the NFL. That was an 8-8 season with the Raiders, after which he promptly was fired.

So why do I believe in this group?

Part of it is plain hope. The Browns have tried everything under the sun — save continuity — to turn this franchise around.

When you’re as bad as this franchise has been, it often takes drastic steps to change things.

It also takes time.

The Browns have the current first and 12th pick in the upcoming draft. My feeling is the Browns will come out of that with a potential franchise defensive lineman in Myles Garrett, and a quarterback.

The team is expected to rid themselves of Osweiler, thank goodness. A new QB should be here.

It could be the Patriots Jimmy Garoppolo. It could be Deshaun Watson or Mitchell Trubisky or even Deshaun Kizer.

No matter who it is, if the Browns end April with a top defensive player and a QB, they’ll have something the franchise hasn’t had in decades.


And after all these years of watching my team wander aimlessly in the wilderness of talent evaluation, I’m willing to give direction — any direction — a chance.

That’s the feeling.

Zach Baker is the sports editor of The Advertiser-Tribune.

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