Passion + Losing = Impatience – Part III
Ah, the NFL Draft; the annual Super Bowl for Cleveland Browns fans. Building a winning team for years to come is the ultimate goal for all 32 franchises; it occurs for a select few but for the most part teams are looking forward to make a push from mediocrity (or worse) to contenders. The best way in accomplishing this, is to gain athletes that will bring good fortunes over a long span, not a play maker here and there that could fail without an adequate supporting cast. One thing I’ve learned is that numerous fans of bad teams desire the performer that will make the team relevant (in their eyes) immediately, forgoing a possible building opportunity for the team (but only if the price is right).
One thing that can infuriate Browns fans is trading out of their top ten pick (for either players or later draft selections). A likely reason for this, is that it would be perceived that the franchise does not care about the present and would rather wait to win. The Browns have done this twice recently (in 2009 and 2011) and subsequently won five games or fewer the following seasons. However, other teams like the Carolina Panthers, Buffalo Bills, and Arizona Cardinals all drafted a player high (did not trade down) last season; the end result was not winning in the present either – none had winning seasons. (It should be mentioned that I’m not advocating trading down just because a team has been bad recently; it should be considered only if it is extremely beneficial.)
Teams typically trade down when the franchise has so many needs at multiple positions; they want to fill them with solid players while gaining future prospects. After selecting several solid players annually, the team can then go for game-changers who will put the team over the top. Unfortunately, the Browns franchise has not seen a solid roster where a single play maker could be selected to take them towards a championship. Therefore, they have been using picks to trade down for multiple selections instead of trading up and getting “that guy”.
No other position in the National Football League lends itself to being the man to turn around the franchise like quarterback. He is seen as the exciting pick whom the fans can rally behind. The most popular player (a majority of the time) is thought to be able to take a down trodden team one year and make them a competitor the next. While this may happen from time to time (Andy Dalton), it is not the norm (Cam Newton, Sam Bradford, etc.) That being said, it is arguable that this is an impatient move that only the right teams should make in the right scenarios; fortunately the Browns have been patient with this in the past few seasons (when not having good team overall).
Teams (typically dearth of talent) drafting high (i.e. top five overall) and picking a quarterback may gain a few additional wins early, but the overall roster will not get better top to bottom. However, selecting the “franchise” by an overall solid team will typically set up the player for early success, as not much will be asked by the team. The quarterback could rely on other areas (running game, defense, etc.) while he develops into that of a great player.
The Browns have drafted a few defensive playmakers the past few seasons to make the unit respectable. Their offense does need some help though, and the team could definitely use a few guys who put points on the board. 2012 is a season where a quarterback could finally be taken early in the draft, but other offensive areas (wide receiver, running back, lineman, etc.) of need should be thoroughly considered with the early picks. I applaud the front office for their patience to the point where they can be flexible on who to take early.
No matter which players the Browns select, the same type of philosophy must be used – draft the best player available. It is important not to reach for a player that is less talented in order to shore up an area of need. Doing so hinders the building process, as the player selected may not live up to expectations while a skipped-over player may have contributed to the teams success and also masked a deficiency where the team could use a later, inexpensive pick to fix the problem. This includes the quarterback position; just because one is there that may be very good does not mean the team should ignore a great player who would help for many years.
Therefore, no matter when referring to coaching, free agency, or the NFL Draft the Cleveland Browns (and their fans) must be patient with the plan in place. Not everything will be fixed overnight or in one offseason. Firing the coach after a short tenure, picking up the biggest name free agent, or drafting the “franchise player” when the team is not ready are symptoms of a franchise that has seen a lot of losing over the years. This may lead to future impatient decisions that will continue to hamper the organization.