Surprise! It’s been another miserable season for the Cleveland Browns. With an 0-4 record, they’re firmly in the cellar of the AFC North and seem destined for their ninth consecutive losing campaign.
But it’s not just the losing that’s been tortuous for the Browns this fall. They’ve been snakebitten since Week 1, when Robert Griffin III suffered a shoulder injury and was subsequently placed on injured reserve. Veteran Josh McCown was supposed to step in for Griffin, but he’s been out of action with a shoulder injury as well. Between the end of the 2015 season and the beginning of 2016, the Browns went five straight games with a different starter under center.
September was a brutal month for the Browns in terms of losing players. In addition to RGIII and McCown, four starters got hurt in the same week — including dynamic rookie wideout Corey Coleman.
If that’s not bad enough, Cleveland has snatched defeat from the jaws of victory a couple of times, and next up, they have to face the New England Patriots in Tom Brady’s first game back from his four-game suspension.
Hue Jackson and Sashi Brown bring a sense of optimism that the Browns will get it figured out with better days ahead, but for right now, things aren’t good. The Browns always seem to find a way to out-sad themselves. And quite honestly, we feel bad for them. In many, many different ways.
1. Missed field goals when they mattered against the Dolphins
The Browns had a chance to beat the Dolphins in Week 3 — all they needed to do was a hit a field goal. But following a Ryan Tannehill fumble in Cleveland territory, kicker Cody Parkey missed a 46-yarder as time was expiring. Parkey, who was signed the day before after Patrick Murray went on injured reserve, missed three kicks on the day and the Dolphins won in overtime.
But wait, it gets worse: The following week against Washington, Parkey was perfect on his field goal attempts. (The Browns still lost.)
Level of pity: Like watching a Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercial. -Alex Reimer
2. Josh Gordon is gone forever
In 2013, Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon led the NFL in receiving with 1,646 yards. To illustrate just how absurd that is, keep in mind that Cleveland finished 4-12 that year, started Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer at quarterback, and had Greg Little as the other starting receiver. But then he went and got suspended for 11 games in 2014 and all 16 in 2015.
But wait, it gets worse: Gordon’s return was supposed to be Week 5 of this season, but just about a week before his reinstatement he announced he’d enter an inpatient rehab facility. It sounds like it was the last straw and the Browns are done waiting for Gordon to get things figured out. Still, it’s hard to feel that bad for the Browns after they drafted Gordon knowing full well that he showed the same problems in college.
Level of pity: When you see someone getting a ticket for not putting enough coins in the parking meter. -Adam Stites
3. The Defense Against the Dark Arts-type curse on the QB position
The Browns have gone through 26 different starting quarterbacks since 1999, and they have all been generally terrible. This offseason, it looked like Cleveland might have actually solved its quarterback woes after bringing in RG3, but after he and McCown were injured in back-to-back weeks, Cleveland was forced to turn to rookie Cody Kessler and had to sign journeyman free agent Charlie Whitehust just to have a backup.
The best Browns quarterback since 1999 is almost certainly Derek Anderson. Let that sink in for a moment — Derek Anderson, who went 16-18 as the starter in Cleveland over three seasons, was behind center for the Browns’ last 10-win season back in 2007, which easily makes him the best quarterback in recent Cleveland history.
But wait, it gets worse: The Falcons traded the Browns a ton of picks in 2011 to move up in the draft and select star receiver Julio Jones. The Browns, in turn, used one of those picks to draft Brandon Weeden. The Browns could have had Julio Jones, and instead Cleveland ended up with Brandon Weeden. That’s so very Browns.
Level of pity: Let’s encapsulate it in one singular image. – Jeanna Thomas
4. There’s no question, the Browns are the worst pro-sports franchise in Cleveland right now
Cleveland has long been a rough town to be a sports fan in. The Browns have been mediocre for a while now, and even the last time they were consistently competitive in the late 80s, they broke hearts. The Cavaliers had a stretch of good basketball from the late 80s into the late 90s, but it didn’t matter thanks to Michael Jordan, who dominated the NBA. The Indians have made a pair of World Series appearances the past 20 years, but had that absolutely heart-shattering loss to the Marlins in the 1997 Fall Classic.
Just this year, the Cavaliers broke the seemingly endless drought with a championship in June, and the Indians look like legitimate World Series contenders. The Browns? They’re 0-4. Everything has been looking up in Cleveland, except the Browns.
But wait, it gets worse: Even the Lake Erie Monsters (who play in the American Hockey League) have won a championship. Bill Belichick could have made that different had the Browns not relocated 20 years ago.
Former Patriots fullback Heath Evans told ESPN, “If you look at the Bill we know now, the same thing he did in New England was going to happen in Cleveland. I have no doubt that 1995 in Cleveland would have been like the 2001 Super Bowl season in New England if Bill had been allowed to continue to grow and groom his staff and his team.”
“Eventually they will love me because we’re going to win. We’re going to win a championship here for the Cleveland Browns.” — Hue Jackson
— Cleveland Browns (@Browns) September 14, 2016
Level of pity: I want to believe you, Hue, but this is like the guy with a D average who insists he’s going to Harvard. -Harry Lyles Jr.
5. The Browns’ first-round draft picks are screwed — unless they’re offensive linemen
Since 2000, the Browns have selected 20 players in the first round of the NFL Draft. Those 20 players have played a combined 114 seasons in the league, 16 of which have ended with Pro Bowl selections. Take away standout blockers Alex Mack and Joe Thomas, however, and you’ve got just four Pro Bowl appearances split between three players. Congratulations, Joe Haden, Braylon Edwards, and Kellen Winslow. You’re the only Browns to escape from Cleveland’s gravity well of bad decisions at the skill positions.
For comparison’s sake, Pittsburgh’s first-round draft picks have earned 25 Pro Bowl nods in that same span. The Bengals have 18. The Ravens have 26.
But wait, it gets worse: Coleman, the team’s first-round pick in 2016, began his rookie campaign with 179 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns in two games. Then he promptly broke his hand, because nothing gold can stay — especially in Cleveland.
Level of pity: The local newscaster who has to introduce a segment about organic dog treats with the phrase “it’s a dog-eat-dog world.” -Christian D’Andrea
6. The refs are actively thwarting them from winning one stinkin’ game
In Week 2, the Browns had their largest first-quarter lead in 55 years when they were up 20-2 early against the Ravens — one of their biggest rivals, no less. Naturally, the Ravens scored 23 unanswered points. Still, the Browns had a chance to win, down five, with less than a minute to go and the ball on the Baltimore 30-yard line. McCown connected with Terrelle Pryor, but the first down didn’t count because the officials decided this was taunting:
McCown threw an interception on the very next play. Game over.
But wait, it gets worst: Two weeks later, the Browns were up 20-17 on Washington in the fourth quarter when fullback Malcolm Johnson, on his first carry ever, fumbled in the red zone. OK, that’s bad luck. Washington then drove 91 yards to take the lead. OK, that’s bad luck and bad defense.
On the ensuing possession, the Browns were picking up yards on the ground when Duke Johnson fumbled — OR DID HE? Well, he did. But he also recovered the fumble. The refs signaled Washington ball, however, and even days later with video evidence, the NFL stood by the officiating decision. Browns lose, 31-20.
Level of pity: LET THE RABBIT EAT SOME DAMN TRIX! -Sarah Hardy
7. Just everything. All of it.
In 1996, Cleveland had its NFL team taken away from it. Since the Browns rose out of the grave in 1999, they’ve played in one playoff game (a loss, obviously). The Browns have had nine different head coaches and 26 different starting quarterbacks in that time span. Every single one of their six first-round draft picks from 2011 to 2014 is no longer on the team. Meanwhile the Baltimore Ravens, the team that used to be the original Browns, has two Super Bowl rings, led by general manager Ozzie Newsome, a Cleveland legend who might have guided the Browns to championship heights if the team never moved.
But wait, it gets worse: Can it get worser? Things have only been getting progressively worse for the Browns year over year — almost 20 straight years of sucking. There’s no good reason why the Browns shouldn’t be able to have a good thing once in a while. Maybe it really is just fate.
Level of pity: As high as it goes, man. -Louis Bien
8. The Browns are contributing to Northeast Ohio’s declining middle class
Football has its origins in the Industrial Revolution in America. Factory workers formed football teams, playing the workers at other factories around the Great Lakes and through the Ohio River Valley. It was a nice distraction from an otherwise tough existence. You know how this story goes. The economy changed, factories left and people struggled.
Are the Browns adding to the problems of post-industrial America? Joe Thomas complained to the media this week that the ever-changing front office was constantly stripping the middle class of players out of the roster, leaving a few stars and trying to make do with rookies.
“Because any time a new staff comes in, basically they wipe out the middle class,” Thomas said. “They keep a couple of your superstars and then they want everyone else being a rookie so that they can try to develop them.”
But wait, it gets worse: Those players wind up on teams like the Patriots, becoming the productive contributors they never could be in Cleveland.
Thomas has a point here. Teams need players who aren’t necessarily superstars, but reliable contributors who produce week-in and week-out. You can’t develop that kind of talent if you’re constantly firing the coaching staff and gutting the front office. You also need to hire competent coaches and front office people, something the Browns have done a truly miserable job of.
Maybe this time it’s different. The new regime had no choice but to gut the whole operation and start over. Now, they have a boat load of draft picks and a shit ton of cap space (roughly $57 million for next year).
Level of pity: Drinking six cans of Stroh’s and eating a head cheese sandwich for lunch. –Ryan Van Bibber
It’s not totally hopeless in Cleveland. Some of the swagger LeBron brought back to the Cavs seems to be rubbing off on the Browns.
They’ve been competitive in their games this season, fighting to win. They have a coach willing to try just about anything and a budding superstar, an Ohio State product nonetheless, in Terrelle Pryor who is so gritty he’s willing to cut off body part to get the Browns a win.
No, the Browns are not going to have a winning record this season, but they do have the things a franchise needs to build for the long haul, draft picks, cap space, etc.
All they need now is a sustained period of smart leadership to put it all together. That’s been hard to come by for the Browns since they came back to Cleveland, but let’s give them a chance. What else do the Browns have to lose?