Friends and family in Northeastern Ohio are starting to sing the chorus of “the Cleveland Browns are cursed.”
Are they really cursed?
The early season woes feel more like mismanaged to me.
The Browns found a competent head coach (Kevin Stefanski), and a top-notch defensive coordinator (Jim Schwartz), they made changes to improve their run defense, surrounded themselves with talented receivers and tight ends, and they returned to 2023 action with arguably one of the best three running backs in the league, Nick Chubb.
My Cleveland-area friends and family, some still living there and others living elsewhere because Cleveland is a great place to be… from (as Debra Winger put it), were talking Super Bowl this summer again.
Maybe Chubb’s season ending knee injury in Cleveland’s loss to Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football would logically lead its faithful followers to feel they’re cursed.
However, I believe the Browns weren’t going to play as well as my Northeast Ohio cronies professed this summer because of one poor decision: the signing of quarterback Deshaun Watson.
Cleveland signed the former Houston Texan, who was inactive for two seasons due to injury and due to the NFL’s eleven-game suspension for numerous alleged sexual assaults to a fully guaranteed $230-million contract.
When Chubb returns from his knee surgery, based on a typical NFL running back’s life cycle, he will not be one of the top three ball carriers.
Watson, in the present, is showing what two years out has done to his skills. This is a guy who once led the league in passing yards, and helped a mediocre team overachieve.
Cleveland signed a moth-balled quarterback with lots of baggage to the highest paying contract among any quarterbacks, again fully guaranteed, for $230 million.
The Browns’ have already tailored their offense to suit Watson’s skills… from two years ago, and now he is without a running back that would have kept opposing defenders on their toes. Instead, Cleveland is courting another running back who had a record of problems treating ladies properly.
I’m going to shift gears here, because I’ve had enough of Browns’ management to support the team anymore.
When the REAL Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore for the 1996 NFL season everyone hated Art Modell, and the city lobbied to keep the team’s name and its historical records for whenever pro football would resume in Cleveland with expansion (1999).
I, on the other hand, realized Ozzie Newsome was a decent NFL franchise executive, and the Baltimore Ravens (again, the REAL Browns) had some great draft picks, specifically first-rounders and eventual hall-of-famers Jonathan Ogden (offensive lineman), and Ray Lewis (linebacker).
So, the Ravens became my favorite team even when the Cleveland Browns were part of the 1999 NFL expansion.
I still get a lot of guff about this.
I was charmed in preseason by Cleveland, and almost left my support of the Ravens by the wayside. Fortunately, seeing the results of poor personnel management reminded me that Browns V2.0 weren’t worth changing my allegiance.
One of my sisters and her husband are season ticket holders and ardent fans, and my sister still refers to Watson as “the predator”, and she is unflattering in her words regarding the re-acquisition of the troubled Kareem Hunt.
The energy of gameday in Cleveland, and their hometown pride bring them to the lakefront for home football games, but even my sister is experiencing some ambivalence:
the disappointment of losing Chubb in a game where the archrival Steelers (who only attained nine first downs the entire contests) handed the Browns another loss in the Steel City, and the schadenfreude of seeing the Watson signing already turn into a bust.
Although I like the Ravens more than I like the Browns, I’ve evolved from single-team fandom to watching different franchises with greater interest from year to year.
I’m driven, these days, by compelling teams and interesting story lines.
This year, the teams drawing my attention are the San Francisco 49-ers (already 3-0), the Washington Commanders (a surprising 2-0), and the Buffalo Bills.
I’m drawn to the Niners because Kyle Shanahan is an offensive genius who still makes offensive football interesting with a physical offense full of weapons allowing his young quarterback Brock Purdy to manage a game well in his second season, and first full season as starter.
Purdy was the 2022 Mr. Irrelevant (the name for the last player drafted in each year’s NFL draft) who steppe in and led San Francisco to the NFC West title and a nice playoff run.
Kyle Juzczyk, the Swiss army knife tight end/H-back hails from my high school alma mater. While he was a Cloverleaf Colt, he was like NorthWood’s (class of 2019 (Bronson Yoder. He was primarily a running back who could shift to quarterback or to wide receiver who landed a spot on Harvard’s gridiron team before making the rare Ivy League-to-NFL jump to the Baltimore Ravens.
I’m drawn to Washington to see how well Eric Bienemy performs as offensive coordinator outside of the Andy Reid umbrella. Bienemy probably won’t earn a Super Bowl ring this year, but he has already improved the firepower of a Commanders team headed by a defensive-minded coach (Ron Rivera) who gives his offensive assistants more leeway than most defensive-minded head coaches.
The Commanders also boast Jack Del Rio as their defensive coordinator.
I’m also excited about Washington’s new ownership and the removal of the franchise’s control and ownership from toxic former owner Dan Snyder. What a sorry outfit and dysfunctional culture Snyder fostered during his regime.
Finally, the Buffalo Bills intrigue me because we are starting to see how the absence of New York Giants head coach Brian Daboll as the Bills’ offensive coordinator has affected Buffalo’s performance on that side of the ball. It will be interesting to see if Josh Allen can get into a groove like his performance two seasons ago.
It appears I have plenty of NFL action to track without being annoyed by the Browns’ front office incompetence.