By Brandon Niles EBS Sports Columnist
You could feel the desperation emanating from an entire city and fan base on Nov. 30 in Cleveland, as the Baltimore Ravens defeated the Browns in the closing seconds of their Week 12 matchup.
As Cleveland placekicker Travis Coons lined up for a game winning field goal, it seemed the Browns were about to win a tight contest. But instead of the ball sailing through the uprights for a Browns victory, the kick was blocked by the Ravens and returned by Will Hill for the game-winning touchdown.
This is the life of a Browns fan, and it’s been a very long time since the team had anything to be excited about. They are currently in their longest playoff drought in team history – their last appearance was in 2002 – and they haven’t won a playoff game since 1994.
The components of a successful NFL franchise are pretty clear: consistent coaching, quality quarterback play, personnel decisions revolving around drafting well, and not overpaying free agents. These are consistent traits of the most accomplished NFL teams, and when you look at how the Browns have fared in these three key categories, it’s clear why they’ve been so dismal.
While the rest of the AFC North division teams – the Ravens, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Cincinnati Bengals – have combined to employ only five head coaches since 2003, the Browns have had seven different head coaches in that same span.
Since the Browns last made the playoffs, they’ve had 21 different starting quarterbacks, including most recently Austin Davis, who got his first start in Week 13.
Additionally, only six of the 15 players the Browns have drafted in the first round since 2002 are still on the roster, and center Alex Mack and cornerback Joe Haden are expected to move after this season.
The quarterback situation seems to be at its worst this year, as the Browns have started three players at the position and none has been productive. The best of the three, 36-year-old Josh McCown, is on his seventh team of his career, and led the Browns to a 1-7 record as a starter this season before breaking his collarbone.
The team’s 2014 first-round pick Johnny Manziel was supposed to provide hope at the position, but he’s been in the news more often for his off-field antics than for his on-field performance. The Associated Press recently reported that Manziel had “partied his way out of the lineup” following his Nov. 25 benching.
The Browns need to find an answer. Head Coach Mike Pettine seems like a good long-term solution for the team, but if they continue to draft poorly and struggle at the quarterback position, they have little hope of ever making the postseason.
Acquiring a quarterback is easier said than done, but the Browns also need to draft better and not overpay free agents. Three of their 10 highest paid players this season are underperforming free-agent acquisitions, including receiver Dwayne Bowe, who counts for $4.5 million against the salary cap this year despite only catching three passes through the first 12 games.
If the Browns take a different approach than the past 13 years, there’s no reason why they can’t head in the right direction. For now though, the team needs to erase the bad aspects and move forward making sound, long-term decisions – including ridding themselves of problems like Manziel.
Brandon Niles is a longtime fan of football and scotch, and has been writing about sports for the past decade. He is a fantasy football scout for 4for4 Fantasy Football and is co-host of the 2 Guys Podcast.