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
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