The Cleveland Browns made the wrong kind of history Sunday. They lost to what amounted to the Pittsburgh Steelers‘ JV team and finished off the second-ever 0-16 season by an NFL team, joining the 2008 Detroit Lions in pro football infamy.
There is a convincing case to be made that these Browns are the sorriest NFL team ever. They have a record of 1-31 over the past two seasons. And there is no excuse for them to be this bad, given that they were in position to select a franchise quarterback – either Carson Wentz in 2016 or Deshaun Watson in 2017 – in each of the last two NFL drafts. Before their season-ending knee injuries, Wentz was on his way to becoming this season’s league MVP and Watson was having a season worthy of the offensive rookie of the year award.
It has to get better from here for the Browns.
It can’t possibly get worse.
Those words must be said carefully. These are, after all, the Browns. It generally can get worse with them.
They found a way to repeat the mistake of not drafting Wentz by going out of their way not to draft Watson. They managed to downgrade after a 1-15 season.
They lost Sunday to a Steelers team that was all but tanking its regular season finale with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, running back Le’Veon Bell, injured wide receiver Antonio Brown, offensive linemen Maurkice Pouncey and David DeCastro and defensive lineman Cameron Heyward on the inactive list. The Steelers apparently did not believe the slim chance that the New England Patriots would lose to the New York Jets, which would have needed to happen for Pittsburgh to overtake New England for the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed, justified putting their key starters in harm’s way.
It didn’t matter. It didn’t help the Browns. The Browns rallied from a 21-7 deficit to tie the game, then immediately surrendered a touchdown on a kickoff return by Steelers rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Steelers held on from there.
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam reiterated to reporters afterward that he intends to retain Hue Jackson as the team’s coach. The Browns already have overhauled their front office by firing Sashi Brown and hiring John Dorsey as their new general manager. Is there any chance that Haslam still could reconsider when it comes to Jackson? Or that Dorsey could intervene and ask for a coach of his own choosing? Perhaps. Anything is possible on the heels of such historic failure. But there’s no reason at this point not to take Haslam’s word for it.
Dorsey is well armed to restock the roster and provide Jackson with the “real players” that, in Dorsey’s recent words, the previous front office failed to get. The Browns will be flush with salary cap space. They possess the first and fourth overall selections in the NFL draft, the latter of which they received from the Texans as a result of the deal that allowed them to select Watson last April, along with a trio of second-round picks.
There will be veteran quarterbacks to be had. Dorsey could bid for Kirk Cousins, assuming he’s available, or try to trade for Alex Smith. He could choose one of the quarterbacks available in a well-regarded draft class.
Improvement is virtually guaranteed. The bar is set exceedingly low.
That hasn’t mattered for the Browns in the past.
They can only hope that things will be far, far different from now on.