Perhaps it was the late great sportswriter Grantland Rice who put it best:
“Dame Fortune is a cockeyed wench, as someone’s said before. And yet the old Dame plays her part in any winning score. Take all the credit you deserve, heads-up in winning pride. But don’t forget that Lady Luck was riding at your side.”
So, let’s face it. Given the evidence of the last 30 or so years, the best hope for the Browns is that they periodically get better accidentally.
Left to their own devices, well, the last 30 or so years speaks for itself. Over the last 30 or so years, they’ve tried all kinds of other ways to improve, in order to occasionally reach the playoffs, or the — dare we invoke the sacred words? — Super Bowl. But nothing seems to work.
Here, however, is something.
That’s right, a potential accidental gamechanger for an accidental help-challenged football team desperately in need of some accidental help.
Better yet, it could be coming from the most unexpected of sources: The Baltimore Football Ravens.
As you probably know, the Ravens and their one-of-a-kind quarterback, Lamar Jackson, are currently doing the franchise tag dance. Jackson doesn’t want it and could sit out all team workouts and training camp if the team does use the tag on him.
It seems likely that the team will, because if the Ravens don’t, Jackson could become an unrestricted free agent. The deadline for using the franchise tag is March 7.
The push-pull portion of the drama is that Jackson reportedly wants a fully guaranteed contract, up there in Deshaun Watson territory. Five years, $230 million. This is where it gets interesting.
If the Ravens don’t want to play ball with Jackson in Deshaun Watson territory, it’s not out of the question that, if the stalemate proceeds into the summer, and the start of training camp, that Jackson could (potential accidental Browns improvement alert!) eventually ask to be traded.
If Jackson eventually becomes successful at squeaky-wheeling his way out of Baltimore, there’s no way the Ravens would trade him to an AFC North team, thereby inviting the headache of having to game plan against him twice every season.
If all THAT were to happen, then we’d be able to say this about that: In signing Deshaun Watson to the largest guaranteed money contract in NFL history, the Browns not only greatly elevated their quarterback position, but they ran the division’s most explosive quarterback out of the division.
Not only that, but guess who’s next in line on the when-do-I-get-mine? AFC North quarterback cash explosion?
(Hint: rhymes with “Joe Burrow”).
With a little more accidental luck, in a year or two the quarterbacks in the AFC North could be Deshaun Watson and three Brock Purdy impersonators.
If you listen closely, you can hear the Haslams already plotting parade routes.
While other NFL owners were cursing the Haslams for escalating the going rate for top-of-the-line quarterbacks, the Haslams were already quietly initiating a thinning of the AFC North quarterback herd through the revolutionary, forward-thinking milking of a time-honored, analytics-driven formula for success titled, “Getting Better Accidentally.”
In its own way, it’s not unlike the NFL’s in-house, inside joke among the league owners that says, “All you’ve got to do to keep making tons of money is to just keep showing up.”
The hard part is getting into the club. The easy part is staying there. The Haslams took a lot of heat for their decision to trade for Watson and give him a five-year, $230 million contract.
That reset the quarterback market to unimaginable parameters, and, one assumes, earned the Haslams rows and rows of chilly arched eyebrows from other owners at subsequent league meetings.
What those owners didn’t realize at the time was that, while the Haslams were re-setting the market, they were also getting themselves in on the ground floor of the next round of contract carnage that would eventually follow for subsequent franchise quarterbacks.
The Ravens are sitting there now with Jackson. The Bengals soon will be there with Burrow. If this was a golf tournament, the Browns, and Watson, are in the clubhouse, but Jackson and Burrow, and their teams, are still out on the course.
Was this all drawn up in the Haslams’ playbook, the way it’s playing out now? Maybe, but probably not. The Haslams, in not taking “no” as an answer from Watson, were operating more out of desperation than inspiration. Their team had never won anything in forever. The owners of the Ravens and Bengals had.
For the ego-driven owners in professional sports, what’s most important is not how you get to the winner’s circle, but if you get there.
Sometimes you get there through hard work, great planning and a great deal of high-level efficiency.
Sometimes you get there accidentally.