Peren­nial losers the Browns are a study in fail­ure

For con­sis­tently be­ing hope­less, few sports teams can match Cleve­land’s NFL fran­chise, writes Daniel Schofield

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Final Whistle -

Which is the most re­mark­able NFL fran­chise of the mod­ern era? Which team has de­fied the draft and salary cap sys­tems to achieve an un­matched con­sis­tency of results?

Those with a pass­ing of knowl­edge of Amer­i­can foot­ball would vol­un­teer the New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots, win­ners of five Su­per Bowls in 15 years, but they would be wrong. Even the seven conference and 14 di­vi­sion ti­tles that the Bill Belichick-tom Brady era has brought to Bos­ton is sur­passed by the re­li­able, rank aw­ful­ness of the Cleve­land Browns.

So far this sea­son, the Browns have lost all five of their matches fol­low­ing on from the pre­vi­ous cam­paign in which they fin­ished 1-15. This is far from a blip. In the past 18 sea­sons, they have regis­tered just two win­ning sea­sons, re­sult­ing in a sin­gle, short-lived trip to the play-offs in 2002. It is a pedi­gree that al­lows the Browns to lay con­sid­er­able claim to be the worst, or at least, most dys­func­tional sport­ing team on the planet. Sup­port­ers of Leeds United, Sun­der­land and many other teams may raise their hands at this point, but what makes the Browns’ achieve­ments (or lack thereof) all the more im­pres­sive is that the NFL sys­tem is de­signed to pre­vent re­cur­ring fail­ure. The team fin­ish­ing with the worst record get the first pick of the best col­lege play­ers. Fur­ther­more, strug­gling fran­chises should ben­e­fit from the bet­ter teams strug­gling to keep all their star as­sets within the salary cap. Hence, a cou­ple of poor sea­sons of­ten al­low a side to rebuild and re­bound.

And yet the Browns re­main stub­bornly im­per­vi­ous to all such safe­guards.

Their his­tory of ter­ri­ble draft choices has ac­quired its own mythol­ogy within NFL cir­cles. The ques­tion is why the Browns are so ter­ri­ble. There are many books ex­plain­ing how head coach Belichick – iron­i­cally sacked by the Browns in 1996 – built a dy­nasty in New Eng­land: War Room, The Blue­print

and Pa­triot Reign to name but three, yet as far as I can tell none ex­am­in­ing the sys­temic fail­ure of the Browns.

Of course, suc­cess is a far more at­trac­tive propo­si­tion to re­search and write about, but surely the les­sons of how not to do it are just as im­por­tant. After all, the Browns also em­ploy many of same the strate­gies as tro­phy­win­ning teams.

Their in­ter­nal motto is Trust the Process (which seems like a sick joke) while their owner Jimmy Haslam last year ap­pointed Paul De­podesta, one of the found­ing fathers of base­ball’s mon­ey­ball phi­los­o­phy. None of it has made the slight­est dif­fer­ence.

So where do we start? Se­lect­ing draft picks is an in­ex­act science, but the Browns have de­vel­oped a bat­like radar to seek out the busts among all the fu­ture su­per­stars. The in­sta­bil­ity at quar­ter­back is re­flected by a carousel of coaches and general man­agers. Yet both these is­sues are hardly unique to Cleve­land.

For a while, the most ra­tio­nal ex­pla­na­tion seemed to be that the city of Cleve­land was cursed. The Browns’ woes were re­flected by the Cava­liers in bas­ket­ball and the In­di­ans in base­ball. None had won a ma­jor cham­pi­onship since 1964. But then Lebron James re­turned and the Cavs won the 2016 NBA Cham­pi­onships while the In­di­ans last month set a MLB record of 22 con­sec­u­tive wins. Like a sphinx, the Browns keep their flaws a se­cret.

For most sports teams, the real goal at the start of any sea­son is not to win a ti­tle but to avoid ab­ject fail­ure. In this re­spect, the Browns are a much more valu­able case study than the Pa­tri­ots.

They have de­vel­oped a bat­like radar to draft the busts among the fu­ture su­per­stars

Lost again: Deshone Kizer passes dur­ing the Browns’ latest de­feat by the Jets

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