“You guys want to change the narrative of the Cleveland Browns? You got a chance to do so. Starting right now.” Thanks for the pep talk Hue, but you couldn’t be any more wrong. The narrative was changed in the early stages of 2016. The path was set. The long difficult road to change that narrative has been paved. All you have to do now is keep from driving the car into the ditch.

If I can so boldly ask of you dear reader: Please join me in a moment of silence for the fallen (on his own sword) Sashi Brown. Thank you! (I’ll assume the silence was out of respect and not bewilderment for my asking.)
January 3, 2016 Sashi Brown is hired as the GM of the Cleveland Browns. January 13, 2016 Hue Jackson is hired as the Head Coach of the Cleveland Browns.

Domino one. (Stay with me, and yes I’m burying the lead)

You couldn’t pick a better coach for stage one of a rebuild than Hue Jackson. Average, unimaginative, morale and a teacher of the game. A leader, a mentor and a rah-rah champion. Someone who will keep players dialed in and fighting against all odds to better themselves every single day, while being inept enough to not screw up a draft slot. Hue Jackson. Top notch man, top notch placeholder coach. A stealth tank driver. The perfect hire for a rebuild.

Behind the scenes, in his analytics filled haze of lunacy, Sashi Brown was hunting and pecking at his computer to piece together a blueprint for success. There were plenty of flaws to be had. His 2016 draft for example, which only netted Ogbah. A draft class that otherwise consisted of 13 darts flung blindfolded off a cliff.

Pause. However,

His draft included five different trade downs adding five current year picks, three high future picks (Phi 2017 1st, Tenn 2017 2nd, Phi 2018 2nd) and Jamar Taylor. That’s a lot of value. Wasted in 2016 surely, but there’s a lesson to be learned from this: As of 2016, analytics can’t point you towards whom to draft, but it can tell you the proper way to run a draft.

In 2016, Cleveland cut most of its bad cap. Cleveland added a dearth of cheap “talent.” Cleveland was terrible but Sashi was patient.

The trade deadline of 2016 marked the start of phase two. Adding Jaime Collins signaled the start of foundation building. Extending Bitonio, adding Zeitler and Tretter followed. He picked up a few core pieces. Still, there was no rush to get better. To ensure that he absorbed Osweiler to buy a 2018 2nd and continued to blood-let by canning Tramon Williams, Josh McCown and Joe Haden. Finally, to drive the message home, (when Hue desperately wanted Deshaun Watson) Sashi “wait for it” Brown traded down netting Houston’s 2018 1st and 25. The 2017 draft was not a glowing success for Sashi’s computer based draft mastery but at least it brought in Njoku Peppers and Ogunjobi who are very promising athletes. His tanking succeeded by getting him the generational Garrett. To top it all off and throw Hue a bone, Sashi added another QB Hue liked in Deshone Kizer.

The foundation was being laid. The (stealth) tank was set in place. The secondary was weak, QB was dismal and the coach was Hue. Nothing could go wrong. Then it all went horribly wrong. No not the 0-8 start, as that was Sashi’s plan all along, the 2017 trade deadline.
There is a football drama being launched on a premium TV network. It will tell you a great number of stories. The macho bravado of a locker room, a number of get-to-know the players spots, the “underdog rising up the ranks” feel good piece. A whole lot of blah blah blah. What it won’t tell you is that the hierarchy in Cleveland is an 18-wheel propane tanker with its tires on fire. It can best be encapsulated by quoting Sean McDermott, “We are all the leader.” Hue has the ear of the owner. Sashi had the ear of the owner. Like an Aesop’s fable, two mice are trying to trick a lion into agreeing with them so they can lord over the other mouse. It was a billowing powder keg until;

October 31st 2017:

Wildly under reported, Hue and the Cincinnati brass had been in talks about sending AJ McCarron to Cleveland. McCarron needed a chance and Hue needed a QB. Cincy wanted to help Hue out due to their personal ties and for the low low price of a 2nd and a 3rd round draft pick they’d send him AJ. Yes, for those of you following along, Cincy only wanted MORE for McCarron than NE GOT for Garappolo. Jimmy “27.5 million dollar” Garappolo versus AJ “I’ll keep it warm for you Josh” McCarron. It was discussed and talks went cold. As the deadline approached, in what can only be justified as “YOLO” impulse, talks got hot. Haslem and Hue wanted to make it happen (final price is unknown but it’s easy to assume it was too much) and Cincy was contacted. The deal was sent to Cleveland for approval and THEN the story gets strange. Sashi Brown had a response sent to Cincinnati (via his assistant) with the language altered so that the deal would not be valid. The email Brown’s assistant sent was supposed to go to the league offices, not Cincinnati. It was sent soo close to the deadline that there was no chance for Cincinnati to clarify the verbiage. The excuse, “they were too busy celebrating the trade that they missed the deadline.” But they didn’t miss the deadline. They also didn’t accidentally send it to the wrong place. Sashi Brown actively sabotaged the deal. Oops!

Sashi Brown picked his Waterloo. He died there. May he rest in peace.

The 2018 offseason was set to kick off the preordained rise of the Cleveland Browns. Flush with cap space, flush with picks. It was time to kick over the first domino and set the chain reaction off. Sashi Brown didn’t get to kick that domino over. He was fired four months too early because the hierarchy broke and Hue pulled more weight with Haslem. Enter John Dorsey and he wasted no time in saying the “right things” to anyone within ear shot. Throwing Sashi Brown under the bus with comments such as, “I need to get Hue talent. The past regime failed him,” and “Sashi Brown got too young.” No Mr Dorsey, Sashi wasn’t trying to succeed yet. Shame on you for kicking a man when he’s down. Especially when you are positioned to look like a genius because of the ground work he laid and the dust he ate.

At least it points to Dorsey Hue 2018! Saga over! At least we are on the same page and that’s all in our rearview mirror. It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, and I’m… um Cleveland. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but we aren’t done yet.

Dorsey is simply a new GM taking a new angle at the same game.  Spy vs Spy.  Kill the GM killer or be killed.  Step one, throw Sashi under the bus to garner goodwill with Haslem and Hue.  Step two, hire a plant to remove power from Hue in Todd Haley. (has there been any uncomfortable moments between Hue and Haley yet?)  Step three, give Hue the worst QB you could possibly give him while making him believe he has a winner inTyrod Taylor. (on an expiring deal, no less)  Step four, leak your side of the story and don’t put your name on any story that rocks the boat.Textbook public relations undercutting and away we go! 

There isn’t a new narrative in Cleveland these days.  There are two narratives.  Hue vehemently backing Tyrod Taylor and why wouldn’t he? He was going to resurrect RG3, desperately wanted Watson, liked and stuck with Kizer and now backs Tyrod.  That’s 2 years!  I won’t touch that with at ten foot pole.  Then, there are counterpoint reports coming from somewhere else glowing about how good Baker looks.  Set the stage for Baker to be the wedge used to force Hue Jackson out the door.  Hue will want to stick with Tyrod Taylor as the coach’s job is on the line.  He will back Tyrod for his professionalism and leadership.  He will like Tyrod because Tyrod fits his offense well.  He’s the perfect fit for Hue.  However, Hue isn’t calling the plays anymore.  Haley’s system isn’t vastly different but it does tilt in favor of Baker Mayfield’s strengths as Haley utilizes the TE and slot game.  (Njoku and Landry)  Haley’s system does a better job in breaking down press man coverage which was Baker’s biggest weakness heading into the draft.  Tyrod doesn’t see as much of this due to his ability to run and inability to throw over the middle of the field.  Baker is a great fit for Haley.

If you take a glance at the Browns schedule there is a clear catch point.  Pittsburgh and New Orleans to start is not promising for the revamped Browns but then 4 of the next 5 are winnable games.  Even 3-4 at this point would be a moral victory for a team that has gone 1-31 in the last two seasons.  However, the next three games might as well be called the “dead man walking” section of the Browns schedule.  Pittsburgh, Kansas City, ATL, BYE. (Bye, Hue)  You can almost hear the spiel.  “He needed weapons and we paid a ton of money to get Landry, Hyde and added Hubbard.  We drafted Corbett Chubb and Callaway.  We gave him a playoff-starting quarterback and we are 3-7!  Jimmy, we need to go in a different direction.”

You sure do.

Let’s set aside the negatives for a second and talk about the positives for Browns fans.  Dorsey is seen as a solid draft-and-develop GM.  That is the style he learned in the Green Bay front office and has been what he’s shown in Kansas City.  In the five years he was GM in KC, the Chiefs have added superstar talent in Kelce, Peters, Chris Jones, Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt.   Basically, if you are looking at the 2017 Chiefs, and you aren’t looking at DJ (corpse) and Houston, he built it.  Multiple picks used on upside athletes and more than a handful of UDFA hits.

Unlike Sashi Brown to this point, Dorsey has hit big on a few of those athletic gambles.  As expected, Dorsey handled the draft very well.  Baker Ward Corbett fit seamlessly into what Cleveland is trending towards.  Thomas, Callaway and Ratley are the high level athletes with boom or bust potential that tend to work their way into a Dorsey draft.  Add in an inexpensive compliment to Duke Johnson Jr. in Nick Chubb, and Dorsey did nothing to disappoint in the draft process.  However, the more impressive part is what we shouldn’t have expected of John Dorsey.  After all, he was fired for how he managed the cap in KC. 

So when he inherited Cleveland, with a ton of cap to blow, the league watched with bated breath.  He proceeded to buy rentals and be patient.  EJ Gaines, Tyrod Taylor, Mychal Kendricks, and even TJ Carrie and Carlos Hyde are essentially one year deals.  Early guarantees and easy opt outs were the common course of action.  Hubbard and Fells are two year easy opt out deals and Terrence Mitchell is structured as a developmental deal.  There were only two signings that are structured to stick with Cleveland through the life of their contract.  Jarvis Landry and the under the radar pass rushspecialist Chris Smith.“I need to get Hue talent,” “The past regime failed him,” and “Sashi Brown got too young.”  Fixed, in perception at least, and truly that’s all that matters to Dorsey this year.

If you want to buy into the narrative that the Browns are on the rise you are completely missing the timeline.  That storyline is a year too late and a year too early.  The difference is that withTyrod Taylor the Browns have a QB that will allow them to live up to their talent.Tyrod Taylor is the definition of stability and if he was on the Browns last year they would have won 5 or 6 games.  That is how ungodly bad Kizer played.  The 2018 version of the Browns is a 6 or 7 win team (yes, I’d take the O5.5 wins -145 that Vegas posted) and that is not a dramatic difference. 

The Browns are not on the rise.The Browns were on the rise, they are in limbo, and if Dorsey is able to kill the hierarchical power triangle, the Browns will ascend to the playoffs in 2019.

But first, to correct the coup that never should have been, Dorsey needs to kick over the first domino.