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How Hue Jackson will have to sell the 0-16 Browns

By MARY KAY CABOT • Updated Jan 3, 2018 at 6:51 PM

BEREA — Browns coach Hue Jackson knows that 0-16 will be a hard sell for college prospects such as UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen, top free agents and even fans who've jumped off the bandwagon in droves.

What's more, the Browns now have the NFL's worst two-season record ever at 1-31, and worst three-season mark at 4-44.

It's why we've already seen one report, by ESPN, that Rosen would prefer the Giants over the Browns, and even Rosen himself said last week at the Cactus Bowl that he'd rather go to the right team at a lower pick than the wrong team at a higher pick.

He didn't specifically mention the Browns, but he also didn't come out and deny the Giants-over-Browns report. Cleveland has the No. 1 and No. 4 picks in the draft and the Giants have the No. 2.

"I don't really want to comment about the young quarterbacks who may be coming out," he said. "In general, being 0-16, the stigma that comes with that is that we're going to have to do some recruiting everywhere. First of all, not just players, we have to re-recruit our fans. We have to re-recruit everybody who is associated with the Cleveland Browns first and foremost."

Granted, most rookies don't have any choice where they go, but Rosen could pull an Eli Manning and finagle his way to New York, and before the Rosen report there was a rumor that USC's Sam Darnold might not come out to avoid coming to the Browns.

It didn't go so well here for former USC quarterback Cody Kessler, who went 0-8 last year and was inactive much of this season. Kessler, the Browns' third-round pick in 2016 and a product of the short-lived Sashi Brown era, will likely be gone.

Last year's No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett said before the draft that he didn't want to play in the cold, and Deshaun Watson begged Jerry Jones to draft him in a video interview.

Garrett has since come around, and even had some advice for the 2018 No. 1 overall pick after the Bears game.

"Don't be fearful, be grateful," he said. "No matter where you're picked, if you're part of the Browns, or you're part of Chicago, whoever you are, be grateful of the opportunity. There's no curse, there's no problem here. You got to be able to execute and finish games."

Jackson knows he'll have to rely on the Garretts and Christian Kirkseys of his team to carry the banner.

"We have to go out and do a better job with the players and get them to understand really what's here and what we're trying to accomplish and what we're trying to do," Jackson said. "Is there some convincing we're going to have to do? Absolutely. We're in a war for talent on every level right now."

In addition to the college prospects, the Browns will be vying for the top free agents in March, and have the cap space to pay the very best. They'll undoubtedly try to land a veteran quarterback, and will have to promise that good times are just around the bend.

"To re-recruit, I like to tell guys this team is so close," said Kirksey. "The chemistry has grown. We became closer as an organization, as a team, and I always tell guys if they do want to come to Cleveland, the fans, this and that. If you look at other organizations like the Cavaliers, the Indians, those teams weren't always winning. But it takes time to build something great, and that's what we're doing.”

Jackson's message to players and fans will be the same one he's been delivering since the day he blew the doors of the Browns facility after the 2015 season.

"Just get to winning," he said.

The Browns not only have 12 draft picks, including four in the first 35, they have more than $100 million in cap space to spend on their own free agents and others'. Instead of letting top talent get away, they'll be aggressive this time around to get out of the gate quickly in 2018 and put 1-31 in the rearview mirror as fast as possible.

"I do believe without question that this organization needs to get to winning as fast as it can and Hue Jackson needs to get winning as fast as he can because you can't continue to go down this road of 1-31 and losing," Jackson said. "That's unfair to all involved. Like I said, I'm here because I truly believe we're going to win, I truly believe we are going to do the things that support the coach in giving him an opportunity to win."

Now, if he can just convince everyone else.

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