The Cleveland Browns‘ next general manager will inherit a mess. It’s a good mess, as messes go — one that should make this job quite appealing for a talented evaluator.
There are many reasons why this job should scare GM candidates, starting with ownership — it’s not even clear whether the next GM will be able to hire his own head coach. And for all the draft choices the Browns recently made who might stick for the future, the blue-chip difference-makers are in extremely short supply (no Browns players made our recent list of top 25 players under 25 years old).
Despite the obvious talent void, this job still carries appeal. Here’s a look at seven selling points that make this position appealing:
Low benchmark for success
The Browns posted a 1-27 record during Brown’s two seasons on the job. They were 10-22 under previous GM Ray Farmer. They have gone 37-91 in the past 10 seasons (since 2008) for a league-worst win rate of .289.
There is really only one way to go, and that is up. The next GM is not trying to succeed Ron Wolf, George Young, Bill Polian or some other Hall of Fame-caliber team builder. The next GM in Cleveland will look like a rousing success if the Browns even approach .500 over the next season or two.
That is a low bar to clear for earning whatever job security can exist in the NFL.
“If you ever did win there, the town would love you forever,” an evaluator said.
Unreal draft capital
The Browns own two first-round picks, three second-rounders, one third-rounder, two fourth-rounders, as many as two fifths, two sixths and as many as two sevenths — and that is in the 2018 draft alone.
The first-rounders include Cleveland’s own, which could be the No. 1 pick overall, plus a first-rounder acquired from the Houston Texans, whose season fell apart after Deshaun Watson, J.J. Watt, Whitney Mercilus and others suffered injuries.
The next GM in Cleveland will inherit a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity from a draft-capital standpoint, with the potential for two top-10 picks, including the top overall choice.
The outgoing Browns regime proved that owning lots of draft choices does not necessarily equate to finding the types of game-changing talents that teams covet. For example, Myles Garrett might be the only 2016-17 Browns draft choice with elite potential (and even that is in question among evaluators after Garrett has missed multiple games to injury).
The next GM will not be assured success simply because the team owns all those draft choices, but there will be an outsized opportunity to use the draft for team building.
Hard-core fan base
The Browns are highly relevant in Cleveland, win or lose. Fans care. Drumming up interest isn’t going to be a problem. Whereas some GMs must focus, at least some, on reconnecting with an apathetic fan base, the Browns’ next GM can focus more on building the roster. That is what every GM wants to focus on. This is a football job, in other words.
Elias Sports Bureau has the Browns with the NFL’s youngest roster by average age, with a league-low three players in their 30s. There are 21 players who are not yet even 24 years old (only San Francisco has more, with 22). The next GM will not be inheriting tough decisions regarding a long list of declining veterans. This is a chance to start fresh.
With so few veterans on the roster, there are few veteran contracts eating up salary-cap space. The next GM will have maximum flexibility. This is a bad thing in some ways because it means the Browns haven’t had players worthy of expensive deals. It’s a good thing from a flexibility standpoint.
No commitment to lower-tier QB
The Browns do not have a good quarterback, which is bad. They also are not financially committed to a bad one, which is good. The next GM isn’t stuck with a lower-tier quarterback earning upper-tier money. That was the case for Chicago when Ryan Pace took over as GM while the team lacked flexibility with Jay Cutler, for instance.
The AFC North’s future minus Ben
There have been strong and even dominant teams in the AFC North for years, but the landscape could be changing.
Ben Roethlisberger has already talked about retirement and could be on his way out of Pittsburgh sooner rather than later. Baltimore is locked in with Joe Flacco for the time being, but Flacco is not a top-tier quarterback and it would not be shocking if the Ravens moved on from him in the next couple seasons. Cincinnati could be starting over with a new coach.