It can’t get any worse.
With the resting Pittsburgh Steelers running out their junior varsity roster, the NFL’s version of the seventh-grade B team joined the 2008 Detroit Lions in winless infamy Sunday in Pittsburgh and took their inglorious place as the worst team in the history of the four major professional sports.
Yes, the worst.
With due respect to the Lions (0-16), the 1899 Cleveland Spiders (20-134) and 2003 Tigers (43-119), the 1972-73 Philadelphia 76ers (9-73), and the 1974-75 Washington Capitals (8-67-5), a franchise mismanaged worse than Enron is in a class of its own.
Remember, the Browns came within a missed field goal of going 0-16 last year, too. This year, they finished the job, assuring the “Perfect Season” parade will go on as planned Saturday.
In a league designed for parity, the Browns remained a parody to the end, poetically sealing the 28-24 loss after wide-open receiver Corey Coleman dropped a perfect fourth-down pass from DeShone Kizer in the red zone.
As you might recall, Coleman was the player they drafted with the Eagles’ first-round pick last year after passing on Carson Wentz.
How’s that Moneyball plan working out for you, Cleveland?
Now, despite owner Jimmy Haslam’s insistence otherwise, the reasonable next course — also known as the road never traveled — is for coach Hue Jackson to follow the old front office out the door.
I was a big fan of the Jackson hire two years ago, and to his credit, he never lost his beaten-down team. The Browns played hard for him. But that shouldn’t be the standard. When life gave Jackson lemons, he made ... beet juice, turning a bad roster on paper into a worse one on the field, most prominently mismanaging Kizer. (Yes, I’m still confident the 21-year-old Toledo native has an NFL future. Kizer no doubt mixes in a lot of bad decisions with the good, but he is bright and will get better from this. His career-high 314-yard passing day — which included a beautiful 56-yard deep ball in stride to Josh Gordon — and tough runs in this game again showed there is so much good to be mined.)
In a sport in which alignment between the front office and the coaching staff is important, it makes no sense to not allow new general manager John Dorsey to hire his own coach. Tanking or not, I just don’t know how you survive the worst two-year stretch in NFL history.
Especially at such a critical crossroads for the organization.
The opportunity for a fresh start is here, the misery of the past two years positioning the Browns well for the future, with mounds of draft picks — including the Nos. 1 and 4 selections in 2018 — and $118 million in salary cap space. Like the Lions before them, they can evolve from winless to winners in a short amount time. In fact, as long as Dorsey does his job competently, mark it down: Cleveland will be in the 2020 playoffs.
But I suppose that is talk for another day.
On Sunday, after almost two decades of digging, it was hard to see any light at all.
A franchise no stranger to wrenching depths finally hit bottom.
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