Is the Cleveland Browns draft class new hope or another false dawn?

What is the most wonderful thing about the offseason? No matter what happened last year, you can let your imagination off the leash.

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Life is cruel, however. The first things to go after the initial meaningful game are hopes and dreams.

Occasionally, though, the unexpected happens. Everything falls into place. Hope is fulfilled, dreams realized, and your club goes all the way. In 2017, the Houston Astros won the World Series. Three months later, the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl.

In the latter case, a few thousand memes had to be revised to fit a new team.

If I were Eagles owner, Jeffrey Lurie, the first person I’d call would be Cleveland owner Jimmy Haslam. The Browns were winless in 2017. They’ve only won four games in the last three seasons and had just two winning seasons since their reincarnation in 1999.

Hi Jimmy? It’s Jeff. Listen I’ve got all these old Super Bowl memes lying around that we can’t use anymore…

Of course, some aren’t transferrable.

Dad, what’s a Super Bowl ring? How should I know, son? We’re brown.

That doesn’t make sense. And can a color see its shadow?

On the other hand, Ned Stark is universal. You can put Cleveland, Detroit, Buffalo, Minnesota, whoever, in there and it works. It could be leased out to baseball, basketball, and soccer trolls, too. Haslam would see a return on his investment. The Back to the Future meme offers double value. After all, Marty McFly’s mentor is Doc Brown. It’s a natural fit.

Getting good value might be a problem for Lurie, however. The Browns already have some existing inventory.

Right now, there is optimism in the Dawg Pound. Cleveland is a .500 team again at least until Week 1. There may be reason to hold out hope. The Browns had a strong draft, landing Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield and Ohio State cornerback Denzel Ward in the first round, as well as Georgia running back Nick Chubb in the second. The team also acquired quarterback Tyrod Taylor from Buffalo, receiver Jarvis Landry from the Dolphins, and right tackle Chris Hubbard from Pittsburgh. Left tackle Joe Thomas retired but Vegas sport books have the Browns as early favorites in two games, Week 3 v the New York Jets and Week 15 when the Cincinnati Bengals come to town.

It’s encouraging to think the Browns might be competitive in 2018 but let’s not jump the gun. They’ve made exciting personnel moves in the past. Tim Couch never panned out. Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III. If anything, Baker Mayfield might deserve our sympathy. The Oklahoma quarterback has a different skill set than Griffin and more self-control than Manziel but is another unique personality. The team has already demonstrated it can’t deal with characters, preferring to cookie-cutter everyone in the squad.

Nor does the executive show patience or long-term thinking. Its five first-round picks in the 2017/18 NFL Drafts were courtesy former Executive VP of Football Operations Sashi Brown’s draft policy. Building a club through the draft is a multi-season endeavour. It didn’t happen quickly enough for owner Jimmy Haslam. He fired Brown in December to resolve a power struggle between the executive and head coach Hue Jackson.

Cleveland Browns EVP of Football Operations Sashi Brown and head coach Hue Jackson.

Brown wasn’t perfect as a GM. He took a gamble on Griffin’s injury history and lost. He traded away a second-rounder to Philadelphia that turned out to be Carson Wentz. As if the quarterback was guaranteed to enjoy the same success in Cleveland as he has in Philly.

Brown clashed with Jackson because his focus was on collecting draft picks rather than paying too much to free agents or in trades with other teams. The team is now benefitting from that policy and likely will for the next few seasons.

Like Jackson, Haslam is impatient. When he hired both Jackson and Brown in January 2016, it was his fourth franchise reboot in five years as owner. It’s easy to imagine the team struggling early, Jackson turning to Mayfield too soon in the young quarterback’s tutelage, the team struggling further, and Haslam initiating the search for a new coach before season’s end. It’s more fun to dream, however.

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Martin Palazzotto is a freelance writer and author of strange bOUnce, a collection of sport fiction.

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