Nearly two weeks ago, in the middle of remarks at the NFL scouting combine, Cleveland Browns general manager John Dorsey planted the only question that mattered heading into the franchise’s most pivotal offseason in decades.
What have we done?
Dorsey was being rhetorical, of course. His Browns were coming off a 7-8-1 season that was being toasted by the fanbase as if it were more moonshot than mediocrity. But Dorsey’s underlying point was clear: He didn’t come to Cleveland to bask in a sub-.500 record, regardless of how much of an exponential improvement 2018 was over the previous two seasons of 1-31 football.
So when the season ended, he carried that overriding question with him into the combine. And from there, to the first day of free agency. Hoping to eventually arrive at the point where when he asked it, there was a substantial accomplishment to be found on the other side.
What have the Browns done?
As it turns out, a lot.
Enough to raise their Super Bowl-winning odds from 50/1 in early February and jumping to to 15/1 Tuesday following the Browns’ trade for wideout Odell Beckham Jr. That deal alone would have been considered a monumental coup by Cleveland just one month ago, but it follows three other big additions in defensive end Olivier Vernon, defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson and running back Kareem Hunt.
That is what the Browns have done.
Granted, for Dorsey, all of these moves are supposed to be the prelude to the only NFL success that really matters. The kind that happens from September to February. But even with that in mind, there are victories to be had in the offseason. You can win news conferences. You can win coaching hires. You can win free agency and the draft. And sometimes, you can win enough of those offseason moments to actually create something meaningful. The kind of stuff that translates from paper victories in March to ticker-tape parades in February.
With the acquisition of Beckham, the Browns have secured one of those wins. Certainly, hindsight can make fools of us all – and nobody knows that better than fans in Cleveland – but today, at this moment, it’s undeniable that this franchise has taken some momentum and made bold moves to significantly build upon it. Not only winning a pivotal portion of the offseason, but actually making the Browns a viable and attractive franchise for talent.
Not that it comes without risk. For the uninformed, Cleveland’s haul includes some very challenging personalities. Beckham had his fair share of well-chronicled emotional meltdowns with the Giants. Richardson was previously arrested and suspended early in his career. Hunt is facing league discipline after a disturbing video tape emerged showing him assaulting a woman in a Cleveland hotel. And Vernon? Well, his problems have been only injury-related, keeping him from fulfilling the massive promise that made him a coveted free-agent addition by the Giants in 2016.
Yet, it’s arguable that this kind of risk falls right into Dorsey’s wheelhouse as a general manager. He has a history of gambling on talent, courting risk and embracing big (and sometimes abrasive) personalities. That he’s doing it in Cleveland shows that he’s consistent when it comes to his own scouting report. Basically, if you can play in the NFL at a high level and help him win games, Dorsey will take a long look and often dive in when others won’t.
The upside of that mentality: He can collect talent. And just like he did in Kansas City, he continues to churn the roster and stock the Browns’ depth chart with the best available pieces. Now he’s added four young stars who arrive on the roster with an average age of 26 between them but have collective résumés boasting (take a deep breath):
… six Pro Bowl appearances (each with at least one)
… three All-Pros (Beckham Jr. and Vernon)
… one NFL rushing leader (Hunt)
… one NFL defensive rookie of the year (Richardson)
… one NFL offensive rookie of the year (Beckham Jr.).
If that’s not the kind of thing that impresses the masses, it’s worth noting that the No. 1 safety on the market, Earl Thomas, remains up for grabs and Cleveland still has the salary-cap space to make him the attractive offer he’s seeking. And the Browns look like an enticing bet. [Editor’s note: Thomas ultimately agreed to terms with the Ravens.]
Regardless of whether or not Thomas joins the deepening talent pool, Dorsey went from 7-8-1 in the regular season to 1-0 in the first pivotal phase of the offseason. Making the kinds of moves that have made Cleveland better while the rest of the AFC North has seemingly gotten worse, from the defensive defections of the Baltimore Ravens, to the Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell departures from the Pittsburgh Steelers, and the Cincinnati Bengals seemingly stuck in neutral into mid March.
At the very least, Browns fans can look at their franchise and have a solid reply for Dorsey’s rhetorical question. What has Cleveland done? More than ever. Maybe more than anyone could have imagined in the last year. And that might finally complete the jumpstart that has been decades in the making.
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