COMMENTARY| To win or not to win, that is the question the Cleveland Browns will need to answer for the remainder of the 2013 season. While no professional sports team is honest enough to come out and admit they want to tank a season to position themselves for better draft picks, sometimes actions speak louder than words.
After the Browns put up two of the most miserable performances imaginable in Week 1 and 2, GM Joe Banner sent 2012's No. 3 pick, Trent Richardson, to the Indianapolis Colts for their 2014 first-round pick and subsequently replaced him with 67-year-old (in running back years) Willis McGahee. With the amount of activity occurring before the team's fourth game, it is a legitimate question as to what the motivations of the front office might be for the rest of the season.
The trade happened to coincide with the benching of starter Brandon Weeden (the Browns' other underperforming 2012 first-round pick) due to an injured thumb. In Weeden's absence, third-stringer Brian Hoyer led the Browns to a last-minute victory over the Minnesota Vikings despite three interceptions, setting up the potential for a season-long game of starting quarterback musical chairs if Hoyer's play slips in the next couple weeks.
And just like that, everything about the Browns season has been brought into question before the new season is even a month old. Who will be the team's starting quarterback for the rest of the year? With the trade of Richardson, will the Browns be able to run the ball even a little bit? Will the front office trade any more Browns starters?
But, with the Browns recent history of year-after-year failure, the most important question for the Browns to answer is this: Is it better for the Browns to win games to climb back to mediocrity this season, or should they sell out to reap the high draft picks?
Unlike the NBA where the draft order is determined by a lottery, the draft position for the NFL is entirely dependent on a team's win-loss record, making bottoming out a fool-proof approach to getting the draft's top talent.
You don't have to look too far back to see how tanking can lead to dramatic changes for the top-picking teams.
The 2011 Indianapolis Colts finished the season with a league-worst 2-14 record, and with it, the rights to the top pick in a quarterback-rich draft featuring Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III.
The Colts picked Luck first, leaving the Washington Redskins, who finished 5-11, to select RG3.
In their rookie seasons, the Colts improved from 2-14 to 11-5 with Luck at the helm, while the Redskins improved from 5-11 to 10-6. Both teams made the playoffs and appear to have found their starting quarterbacks for at least the next decade.
Unfortunately for Cleveland fans, the most excitement 2012's No. 3 pick brought to the Browns was the buzz he generated from being traded after 17 games.
However, even though the Browns have had excellent draft positions on virtually a yearly basis, their recent history doesn't instill a whole lot of confidence that the Browns can find a franchise-saving player even if they get one of the first picks in 2014.
But a new front office led by Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi brings with it, at least in theory, new hope that the Browns can buck the trend of dead-end drafting.
The speculation has already begun amongst the fanbase and members of the media of what quarterbacks might be available for the Browns to draft and whether any might have the capacity to change the franchise in the same way that Luck and Griffin did for the Colts and Redskins.
Unlike last year's draft that was unusually weak in terms of quarterback prospects (only E.J. Manuel went in the first round), this year's draft seems to show promise.
Teddy Bridgewater, Tajh Boyd, Brett Hundley, Johnny Manziel and Marcus Mariota are considered to be among the top prospects in the upcoming draft, and odds are that at least one or two will be standout pros.
There is, of course, something to be said about fighting the good fight and cobbling together wins any way possible, no matter the ramifications on the draft--first-year head coach Rob Chudzinski and his players will undoubtedly be trying to do just that. But after 14 dreadful years of fielding a consistently bad team, one can't help but wonder what the best move is to put the Browns in position to finally become a playoff threat.
Whatever the Browns do on the field and in the front office this season, they better make sure that when this time rolls around next year, fans are more interested in the games the Browns are actually playing than the ones that the college prospects are. Because as Browns fans know, the word "rebuilding" sounds more like "incompetence" the more you hear it.
Adam Redling is a freelance writer from Cleveland, Ohio. He covers the Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Cavaliers for the Yahoo Contributor Network.
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