The future has arrived
At the recent National Football League Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the media asked Browns General Manager John Dorsey about his team and what the future looked like.
The question, prompted by the club’s surprisingly good showing last season, drew the following answer: “I don’t think we’re a team yet to go for it. We have a young, talented team. Let’s build a foundation here. Let’s build a team of substance, OK?”
Now maybe Dorsey was being overly modest about what the Browns accomplished in his first full season as GM. Then again, maybe he knew what the immediate future held and was merely pretending.
After stunning the NFL – and the entire sports world, for that matter – by trading for New York Giants superstar wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr, Tuesday, it turned out the audacious Dorsey clearly was playing his cards close to the vest.
When the blockbuster news arrived shortly before 8 o’clock Tuesday night that the Browns had shipped their first-round pick and the lower of two third-round choices in next month’s college draft and safety Jabrill Peppers to the Giants for the peerless Beckham, it shook the NFL Universe to its core.
The future is clearly bright now in Berea and Dorsey, even more clearly, is as all in as a poker player sitting with a straight flush and equally straight face.
His aim is higher, a whole lot higher, than the AFC North championship, which seemed like an achievement just a few short months ago. The championship thoughts now coursing through his mind are much closer to the Super Bowl.
All of which makes the almost-miraculous transformation of this franchise in the last 15 months, or since Dorsey took charge, as remarkable as any in recent NFL memory.
This franchise was setting numerous records for futility as recently as a couple of years ago. They became only the second team in league history to lose all 16 games in one season (2017) and won only once in 32 games in consecutive campaigns.
The Cleveland Browns were an embarrassment to the league, wandering aimlessly. Finishing in the basement was an annual event. Fans jumped off the bandwagon in droves.
Then along came Dorsey, who keeps topping himself, with a simple objective. Change the culture. He methodically dismantled half the roster he inherited and went to work shaping the immediate future in his image.
And now comes the piece de résistance. Landing one of the genuine superstars of the NFL at a time when doing so was merely a pipe dream, a thought bubble that kept exploding because it was not doable.
After signing him to a new five-year, $98.5 million contract last summer the Giants maintained they would not trade Beckham, but would certainly listen to offers. Giants GM Dave Gettleman repeatedly told the media, as recently as the Scouting Combine, “We didn’t sign Odell to trade him, OK?”
As much as Browns Nation dreamed of such a deal, they realistically couldn’t help but think it had no chance of happening.
Until it did. And it instantaneously labels the Browns relevant in a spectacular way.
Helping Dorsey pry Beckham loose might have been a story floating around New York that Beckham was not a favorite of Giants coach Pat Shurmur, who would not be unhappy to see him leave. Gettleman ostensibly had two choices: Trade Beckman or fire his coach.
Dorsey and Gettleman, who successfully negotiated the Kevin Zeitler-Olivier Vernon trade just a few days ago, probably expanded their discussions to Beckham before agreeing on the second swap.
To make matters a little easier logistically, the clubs have agreed to combine the two deals, making it Zeitler, Peppers, a one and a three for Beckham and Vernon. That’s outright thievery in broad daylight either way.
I was of the belief it would cost at least a pair of ones, a two and a higher profile player than Peppers, who has not lived up to expectations, although he did appear to put together a much stronger second half last season after being totally misused as a rookie.
The King’s ransom thought to be the key to dislodging Beckham from the Giants’ roster turned out to be a pawn’s ransom by comparison as Christmas and New Year’s arrived in Cleveland 10 months early.
The gravitas Beckham brings to Cleveland, added to that of Baker Mayfield, now places the Browns in the upper echelon of relevance from a media standpoint. Networks will scramble to land as many nationally televised Browns games as they can.
With the likes of Beckham, his college buddy Jarvis Landry, Mayfield, Nick Chubb, the distinct possibility of Kareem Hunt, emerging tight end David Njoku and a defense that ultimately could be the most improved in the league this season, Browns fans should have no problem getting used to the national spotlight.
The acrobatic and highly entertaining Beckham, who has averaged 93 yards a game and scored 44 touchdowns in five seasons, legitimizes a Cleveland offense that flirted with being one of the most dangerous in the league in the second half of last season. Some national media observers are calling the Browns “scary good.”
Keeping the mercurial Beckham happy in his new environment should not be a problem, Besides rejoining his former Louisiana State teammate Landry, he also will be coached by Adam Henry, their position coach at LSU.
The domino effect on offense should be felt almost immediately and serve as a supreme challenge to the creative minds of new head coach Freddie Kitchens and offensive coordinator Todd Monken.
The mind boggles at what these guys can do with the talents of Mayfield, Beckham, Landry, Antonio Callaway, Njoku, Chubb, Hunt, etc. There is so much talent on that side of the football now, the only problem might be keeping everyone engaged and happy.
The deals have also had an immediate impact on betting odds for this season. The team that annually scraped the bottom of the NFL for nearly two decades went from 25-1 to 14-1 to win the next Super Bowl and from 12-1 to 7-1, behind only New England and Kansas City, to win the AFC championship.
Social media exploded with the news as prominent athletes around the sports world chimed in. Former Cavaliers great LeBron James, a Dallas Cowboys fan, tweeted: “OH!!!! S*#% just got REAL!!” Might he be thinking of switching allegiances?
“Movement.” was all Mayfield needed to tweet. Added Dez Bryant, “The whole New York Giants fan base just switched to Cleveland . . . SMH”.
The seismic aftershocks of this deal will be felt for quite a while, dominating the headlines before simmering down and then firing up again as teams prepare for the upcoming season with OTAs, minicamps and then summer camps.
The Browns and their fans had better get used go the national attention this team is certain to attract. The whole new culture in Berea also will take some getting used to after all these years of futility and frustration and being ignored. It’s pretty safe to say now the Factory of Sadness that sits by the lakefront will take on a brand new name.
At the same time, I cannot adequately describe how utterly strange it seems to be typing Super Bowl and Cleveland Browns in the same sentence. It’s a strange and somewhat surreal feeling.
And that rapidly shrinking bandwagon is loading up again and should reach capacity, if there is such a thing considering the international reach of Browns Nation, well before the start of the 2019 season as visions of a return to the glory days of this once-proud franchise dance around.
Fans who have stuck around and been patient through the last two decades despite all the losing will now be rewarded for their patience and loyalty with the kind of football team they expected when the NFL allowed it to return in 1999 after an undeserved three-year absence.
Bottom line: OBJ in Cleveland is one of the most joyous OMG moments in not just Cleveland Browns history, but Cleveland sports history, ranking right up there with the LeBron James era. Two transcendent, generational athletes performing for the great sports fans of Cleveland.