2007 ruined everything. That year, Cleveland Browns quarterback and last of the near-extinct Giants depicted in HBO's "Game of Thrones" Derek Anderson, a player with a career completion percentage of 53.7, threw for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns. Surrounded by legitimate offensive weapons like deep-threat wide receiver Braylon Edwards and catch-everything tight end Kellen Winslow Jr., Anderson's 2007 campaign was the definition of fool's gold. The Browns went 10-6 that year, but when it mattered most, in the second to last game of the season against the Cincinnati Bengals, Anderson disappeared. Needing a win to secure a spot in the playoffs, Anderson promptly threw four interceptions in a 19-14 loss that officially eliminated the Browns from what would have been their first postseason appearance since 2002.
Because of the Browns' "success" that season, it created something worse than just a false flag of a quarterback. It created expectations, expectations that could never be met. The Browns first two games of the 2008 season were both broadcast on national television, a home-opener dismantling by the Dallas Cowboys followed by a 10-6 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football. The Browns would win four games in total in 2008, head coach Romeo Crennell would be fired, and, well, that was that.
But the expectations remained, season after season, without the rosters to justify them. There was the drafting of Colt McCoy in 2010, followed by the supposed dominant defensive duo of Jabaal Sheard and Phil Taylor the following year. There was the one-year phenomenon that was Peyton Hillis. There was Trent Richardson and the signing of Paul Kruger and the explosion of Josh Gordon. There was Brian Hoyer, then Johnny Manziel, and the 7-9 record in 2014. The mixture of average to above average veterans mixed in with overhyped rookies and younger players. It feels like for the entirety of the past decade, the Browns have always had just enough to create irrational expectations for a fanbase salivating for anything resembling decency while wearing orange and brown.
This season, thank the Football Gods, will be different, in that the Browns will be complete and utter trash. "But Jordan!" you might exclaim. "Haven't the Browns been a bucket of discarded cigarette butts for as long as you've been alive?" Yes. Yes they have. This time, though, they know it.
New Browns coach Hue Jackson, who by my approximation is the 1,000th head coach of the franchise, has no fantasies about what the 2016 Browns roster entails. His best wide receiver is a 5-foot-8 rookie. His quarterback options are a reclamation project that still rocks braids and a rookie whose arm has been said to be made of day old spaghetti. HIs running back is still busy attempting to make up for posting a heinous image to his Instagram account. His defense is relying on the return of a cornerback in Joe Haden who sustained what feels like 13 concussions last season. Things are going to be bad, folks.
And that's totally fine. To understand and accept that the Browns could win a total of three games in 2016 while keeping a rose-colored eye on the future feels liberating, and the Browns front office hasn't attempted to conceal their plans. They let every free agent worth a good god damn walk. Tashaun Gipson, Alex Mack, Travis Benjamin, Mitchell Schwartz: all grazing in greener pastures. They discarded past-their-prime veterans like a package of meat you forgot about and left in your freezer for six months. Donte Whitner and Brian Hartline were cut. Karlos Dansby, too, free to pursue a better shot at the postseason as his career winds down.
In their stead, 14 draft picks, including four wide receivers, a couple defensive ends and multiple other low-risk, potential high reward defensive players, like Scooby Wright, at the backend of the draft. The free agents that they did sign are younger players looking to redeem themselves, like Robert Griffin III and Rahim Moore.
So yeah, the 2016 season is going to be beautifully brutal. But without expectations, in the midst of year one in the rebuilding project that the Browns have needed since Derek Anderson was launching moonballs to Braylon Edwards, it finally feels like the Browns are back on the main highway after spending a decade taking a detour. And 3-13 doesn't sound so bad.
Editors note: Despite everything I've written in this article, I will expect the Browns to win every game and will tweet horrible, disrespectful things on Sunday when they don't.