Head of football operations Sashi Brown bent a little Monday during his news conference. He admitted the roster he put together isn’t where it needs to be and that talent evaluation was the problem in not identifying Carson Wentz as a future franchise quarterback.
But Brown didn’t break. Or fall on his sword.
As he stuck to his routine refrain that improvement is being made and better days are on the horizon, one line stuck with me.
“Easy to get lost in certainly the wins and losses, there has been some progress,” he said.
I have no doubt Brown believes that — or desperately wants to — and has repeated it often to owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam. But the poorly constructed sentence left me shaking my head.
Since Brown was promoted to run the football department, the Browns have one win — singular — in 24 tries. The 23 losses should overshadow any progress. This is a bottom-line business, and the bottom line is the Browns have been historically bad on Brown’s watch.
Progress isn’t the only thing that gets lost in all the losses.
So do fans, interest, sponsors and jobs. Brown is much too smart — he went to Harvard, you know — not to realize this, and once again laid out the rationale for why he should remain employed.
** He inherited a talent-deficient roster that had been sabotaged by a series of historically dismal first-round draft picks.
** He didn’t want to rush the rebuild. The goal is sustainable winning.
** The plan includes getting a franchise quarterback one of these days.
** The roster has improved under his authority, which Brown said is proved by the contributions of first- and second-year players and select big-money free agents.
It’s not debatable that Brown, chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and coach Hue Jackson walked into a mess. The issue is whether Brown took the right approach in fixing it, and if he’s on the path to success.
Reasonable minds can disagree on the answers. I’m going with no to both.
I respect the boldness of Brown and DePodesta to strip the roster but don’t believe it was necessary or wise, especially for an organization that’s been losing for so long. This fan base didn’t deserve to go backward from bad.
When other losing teams find a way to win while rebuilding, the experiment looks worse. The Bills are 5-3 and the Jets 4-5 after partial teardowns of their rosters. The Browns are 0-8 for the second straight season.
Brown made it clear he doesn’t expect to bat 1.000 in talent evaluation. Unfortunately, he’s fallen short in his true objective.
“We’re not going to be perfect,” he said. “That’s not the name of the game, but it’s to be better than the others.”
(Quick aside: It’s almost impossible to lose as many games as the Browns have in the last season and a half. Bad teams fall backward into two or three wins a year. For the Browns to go 1-23 under Brown and 2-33 over the last 35 games is either a cruel joke by the football gods or the greatest tank job of all time. I’m going with cruel joke.)
Brown’s argument that the team is headed in the right direction is rooted in his contention that the roster is better. Is it really? If so, is the difference meaningful?
I’d again argue no.
It’s certainly younger, as Brown has done his best work accumulating draft picks. He used 24 in his first two drafts and has 13 selections waiting in 2018.
But there’s little evidence the youngsters are better than the guys they replaced, or will develop into starters on a playoff team. Too many of them — quarterback DeShone Kizer, safeties Jabrill Peppers and Derrick Kindred, linebacker Joe Schobert, receiver Ricardo Louis, tight end Randall Telfer — are starting because of necessity not performance.
The biggest failure, and the one that could cost Brown his job, is the inability to fix the quarterback problem. He passed on Wentz and then Deshaun Watson while promising to address the position at a later date.
Brown may never get that chance. There could be no coming back from not recognizing Wentz as a franchise quarterback and organization changer.
The NFL today is all about the passing game. Yet the Browns have among the worst quarterback and receiver situations in the league.
They also lack impact players. Myles Garrett looks like one on an overall improved defense, but Brown shouldn’t get too much credit for not screwing up the No. 1 overall pick. After Garrett, there are a bunch of maybes and hopefullys.
I’ll give Brown this: He doesn’t back down. He spoke confidently about the past, present and future. He referred to the upcoming offseason as “huge” and “probably the most important,” even though he may not be around to see it, and left fans with a vision of brighter days ahead.
“There are signs of progress that people can be excited about and look forward to,” Brown said. “We’re going to be good, and when we get there we’ll be good for a long time.”
The promise is intoxicating. The progress invisible.