It’s easy to make fun of the Cleveland Browns.
And it has been fully justified.
They have been very, very bad for a very, very long time. And they have been particularly pitiable of late, with a grand total of one victory over the last two seasons. Their on-field follies during a winless 2017 season were accompanied by their botching of a trade-deadline deal for quarterback AJ McCarron, after they failed to turn in the necessary documentation to the league office in time, rendering their swap with the Cincinnati Bengals null and void.
Their sorry state is as sorry as it gets.
But now there is an honest-to-goodness football grown-up in charge, with John Dorsey on hand at general manager. Dorsey has resources at his disposal, and he is wasting no time in turning the Browns — yes, the Cleveland Browns — into a team with some possibilities.
The Browns agreed Friday to trade two draft choices to the Miami Dolphins for Jarvis Landry, the franchise-tagged wide receiver who led the NFL with 112 catches this past season. They quickly followed that up by agreeing to send a third-round pick to the Buffalo Bills for quarterback Tyrod Taylor and working out a trade with the Packers for cornerback Damarious Randall that sends quarterback DeShone Kizer to Green Bay.
Suddenly, it appears that new offensive coordinator Todd Haley might have plenty with which to work. The Browns can pair Landry with Josh Gordon at wide receiver (if the often-suspended Gordon can remain eligible to play — admittedly a significant if). They have a promising young tight end in David Njoku. They have an all-around running back in Duke Johnson. They have a Hall of Fame-bound left tackle in Joe Thomas, assuming Thomas opts against retirement.
And there is plenty more to come. With the free agent market scheduled to open next week, the Browns are estimated to have more than $100 million in available salary cap space. With preparations for the NFL draft intensifying, they possess five picks in the top two rounds, including the first and fourth overall selections.
Dorsey can do just about whatever he wants.
Taylor presumably becomes the Browns’ temporary starter at quarterback ahead of a franchise centerpiece-to-be who will arrive via the draft. With the No. 1 pick, the Browns could have their choice of the prized quarterbacks in this celebrated draft class, a group that includes USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Wyoming’s Josh Allen and Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield.
There is room to wonder whether Taylor was the right choice. He was benched by Buffalo in favor of rookie Nathan Peterman at one point last season. That turned out to be a significant blunder, but it spoke to what the Bills thought of how Taylor was playing. Taylor helped the Bills to reach the playoffs but was overwhelmed by the Jacksonville defense in a quick and meek postseason exit.
The conventional wisdom had been that the Browns would sign McCarron, now an unrestricted free agent, as their placeholder at quarterback. But they opted for Taylor, a starter in Buffalo the last three seasons who totaled 51 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions over that span. He presumably will keep the starter’s seat warm for whichever rookie is anointed on draft night.
The assumption has been that the Browns will use the No. 1 pick on a quarterback. But what if the Browns follow the Taylor surprise with another on draft night? What if they go with Penn State running back Saquon Barkley with the No. 1 selection?
By going that route, they no longer would have their choice of the available quarterbacks. But they still would get one of them. And Scot McCloughan, the former Washington Redskins general manager who is serving as a consultant to the Browns, has expressed his football affinity for Mayfield, the polarizing Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma. Mayfield is likely to be there at No. 4.
That might be a risky, particularly for a franchise that passed up opportunities to take Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson in the last two NFL drafts. But those gaffes weren’t Dorsey’s, and he is a respected front office decision-maker.
No one should expect too much, too soon. After all, going 1-31 over a two-season span is quite a distance from respectability. But the first steps are unusually promising, and there should be plenty more to come.
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