On Sunday the Browns benched DeShone Kizer for Kevin Hogan. If Hogan starts next week (or whenever he eventually starts), he will be the fifth different starter for the Browns since the start of last season, two of whom have been Browns draft picks. The Browns are 1-20 since deciding to pass on Carson Wentz.
Neither their means nor their ends have been justified.
Browns Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta, who never worked in football prior to being hired as Cleveland’s front office #2, justified passing on Wentz because they were convinced he would never be even a top 20 quarterback:
I think the hardest part, and where we have to stay the most disciplined, as much as you want a player, you can't invent him if he doesn't exist. In a given year, there may be two or three NFL-ready quarterbacks at the college level. In another year, there literally may be zero. There just may be not be anybody in that year who's good enough to be a top 20 quarterback in the NFL.
Even though you have a desperate need for one, you have to resist the temptation of taking that guy just because you have a need if you don't believe he's one of those 20 guys at the end of the day. I think that's the hardest part, just maintaining your discipline because you have the need. That's what we did this year.
DePodesta’s overall point is fair: teams reach for QBs nearly every year and drafting a position high just because you need someone is a terrible strategy.
But Cleveland’s front office, the third iteration in the five full seasons that Jimmy Haslam has owned the Browns, doesn’t have the luxury of taking the view from 40,000 feet. They specifically passed on Wentz on 2016 because they didn’t think he would be any good, and on Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson in 2017 because they thought they weren’t good value. Trubisky makes his debut tonight, Mahomes looked terrific in the preseason but as the backup on the only undefeated team in the league is going to have to wait his turn, while Watson is looking like the next big thing. Meanwhile the quarterbacks the Browns did take because they were “good value” have both been benched: despite a decent season in 2016, Cody Kessler lost his job in the offseason to Kizer, who has now lost his job to Hogan.
The argument that the Browns were right to pass on a QB high and focus on building up the team around the position first, as Browns legal counsel turned Executive Vice President of Football Operations explains, has always been weak.
High-value draft picks in the first couple rounds are tremendously valuable. We have a long way to go to get our roster where it needs to be. We understand that and so this is a great opportunity to add a player and add another player next year that we hope, again, will be another impact player for us. So it's really for us a two-for-one and where we're coming from on our roster that's valuable.
The Browns roster is no doubt terrible, but that’s in part to having a carousel of terrible quarterbacks.
-The Browns offense in 2016, sans QB, was just as untalented as the Eagles, who had the worst skill position players in the league. The Browns offensive line wasn’t as good as the Eagles, but it wasn’t a liability either. And Wentz’s mobility is a big asset. The Eagles supporting cast was at best on par with the Browns in 2016, and that clearly didn’t ruin Wentz.
-They still drafted a QB in 2016, and gave him 8 starts. If you were so worried about the supporting cast getting a QB killed, you’d completely punt on one in the draft and have a depth chart of veterans to get you through the season, like the Jets are doing this year. They didn’t. The Browns felt they would be smarter than everyone else and take Cody Kessler in the 3rd round. If you want to be really reactionary, they graded Cody Kessler higher than Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott. Kessler has spent the 2017 season inactive.
-Talent changes hands often in the NFL. The Eagles have four new starters on offense this year, as many as the Browns. Tanking in the NFL can work, but there’s little need to do it for multiple years when there is a QB staring you in the face. Upgrades to help out your young QB on a bad team are readily available in free agency, especially when you have as much cap space as the Browns.
And then there is the return in the trade to consider. The Eagles supposedly “gave up the farm” or “mortgaged the future” when they traded for Wentz, which ignores that without a QB there is no future for an NFL team. In the trade for Wentz and subsequent trades of some of those picks, the Browns received Corey Coleman, Shon Coleman, Cody Kessler, Derrick Kindred, Spencer Drango, Ricardo Lewis, and Jordan Payton in 2016, and Jabrill Peppers and DeShone Kizer in 2017, and have a 1st (from Houston for Deshaun Watson) and 2nd (from Philadelphia) in 2018. Both the Colemans, Kindred, and Peppers are starters. Kessler and Kizer have been benched, Payton is out of the league. The rest are situational players at best. It’s not quite the opposite of the Hershel Walker trade, but it’s not too far off. The Browns got a mud farm and a reverse mortgage, the Eagles and Texans got the future. The Browns process has always been broken. They visit Watson and the Texans on Sunday to further drive home the point.
At least they’ll be in position to pass on another quarterback in the draft again. Well, maybe not Sashi Brown and Paul DePodesta. History says they’ll be fired by then, and it will be justified.