If there was ever a word to describe the Cleveland Browns, it would be the following: misery.
Since the NFL made its triumphant return to the city of Cleveland in 1999, the Browns have only succeeded in granting their fans eternal torment. They have firmly replaced the Chicago Cubs as the lovable losers of the sports world, with ineptitude being met with pity more than anything. The following video should do more than enough to explain just how depressing this current run for the Browns has been.
All you have to do is Google “Cleveland Browns QB jersey” to see just how long the quarterback carousel has been spinning for the team. As if that wasn’t bad enough, since the return to Cleveland, the team has burned through eleven head coaches and nine general managers. Stability is a foreign concept with the organization. The results of such turmoil have made themselves evident in the quality of play, as the Browns have the lowest winning percentage on any team in the 2000s so far. The fanbase deserves medals for their loyalty, and a psychologist to check for any masochistic tendencies that have arisen during their fandom.
Despite all of the failure and embarrassment that has come from the Browns over the last two decades, one man alone epitomizes such futility. This man steered the ship into yet another iceberg. His name is met by Cleveland fans with apathy at best and pure rage at worst: Hue Jackson.
The litany of failures that plagued Jackson’s run with the Browns is almost comical. Trading the number 2 pick in 2016 for what amounted to Denzel Ward and little else. That pick the Browns traded ended up turning into Carson Wentz. Passing on both Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson the following year (although they got a good consolation prize in Myles Garrett.) Throwing out quarterbacks that were clearly not ready to be long-term starters in the NFL. An offense that was mediocre at best in Jackson’s two full years at the helm. Going 1-31 in that same span of time, and the only reason behind the one win is because the Chargers had Mike McCoy as their coach and zero kicking ability whatsoever.
In the end, Jackson became objectively one of the worst head coaches in NFL history. He earned a reputation as a failed offensive guru who lost the locker room and blamed everyone but himself for the team’s shortcoming. His .205 winning percentage being the second-lowest mark in NFL history, with first place belonging to a coach-owner. His name forever smeared with ridicule and perceived incompetence. It sounds like it can’t possibly be any worse than this, right?
Well, that was what everyone thought.
This season, the Browns had actual expectations placed on them. The team looked to finally have its first-ever franchise quarterback in Baker Mayfield. Freddie Kitchens, the team’s new head coach, looked to be the architect of Mayfield’s strong second half in the previous season. Sophomore sensation Nick Chubb and recently-signed Kareem Hunt looking like the best backfield duo in the league. Odell Beckham Jr. joining a group of young talented pass catchers. A defense spearheaded by emerging young talents like Garrett and Ward. Everything looked in place for the Browns to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002. The long road of suffering seemed to finally be at an end…
…and then this season turned into yet another twist of the knife. The embarrassing loss to the Tennessee Titans in Week 1 was the first of many setbacks that derailed the Cleveland hype train. Stephen A. Smith ripped Mayfield about having more commercial appearances than touchdowns. OBJ has caught less touchdowns than Saints third-string quarterback Taysom Hill. A mediocre offense matched with a middle-of-the-road defense. The only thing that has been correct about the Browns this season is Chubb, who has unfortunately seen his efforts put to waste. The playoff hopes are all but dead at this stage, and the optimism Browns fans started the season with has mutated into bitter disappointment.
This all leads to the question asked at the beginning: has this season actually been worse than anything Hue Jackson was around for? When looking at the seasons, there are quite a few striking parallels between them. However, in Jackson’s time, the expectations were that the team was going to be bad. Kitchens does not have such an excuse. In fact, Kitchens might have lost the locker room more than Jackson ever did. Look at all of the following transgressions. Garrett getting an indefinite suspension for using Mason Rudolph’s helmet as a weapon. Jordan Whitehead being cut after threatening critics of his play on social media. Beckham, Landry, and others telling other teams to “come get them.” When incidents like this happen simultaneously in such a short time, they are not isolated incidents; it is a representation of a culture that lacks accountability or leadership. After losing a winnable game in Arizona last week, the unmitigated disaster Kitchens would need to have to be fired may be starting to take shape.
Ultimately, the last few years have led people to an epiphany about the Browns: there is still no concrete plan. Ownership has thrown their hands up in the air and have chucked anything they can at the wall in the hope that something sticks. In a year with hopes to finally have some success, such a strategy is indefensible. If Kitchens and GM John Dorsey are both axed this offseason, the Browns will return to the instability and internal strife that has plagued their existence. It is another dimension of despair for a team and fanbase that hasn’t known anything but.