On December 7th, with four games left in what is currently a winless 2017 Cleveland Browns season, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam pulled the trigger on firing general manager Sashi Brown. It was something that felt inevitable after two speicifc events earlier in the year: first when the head-scratching, last-minute trade for AJ McCarron embarrassingly fell through, then a few weeks later, when Haslam stood side-by-side with Jackson on the field before a game with Cincinnati, smiling as the two engaged in conversation with the backup quarterback they almost brought to Cleveland.
That image essentially sealed the fate of Brown, a man who's tenure at the helm of player selection and acquisition was met with more scrutiny than anyone who previously occupied that chair. That attention was born of, in part, the Browns desire to completely teardown the roster after a drama-filled 2015 season, as well as a desire to use data-driven analysis to help inform player decisions, something people refer to as "analytics," though that word has taken on more negative baggage than it can carry.
As of this writing, the Browns have won exactly one game with Brown as GM. They've also watched two quarterbacks they decided to pass on in the draft, Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson, flourish for their respective teams, though Watson's small sample size doesn't warrant a final conclusion yet.
There's an understanding around the NFL that missing on franchise quarterbacks will cost you your job. The Browns vacated their post at no. 2 overall in the 2016 draft to trade back, handing Wentz to the Eagles and amassing a wealth of picks that will never equal the effect Wentz has had on Philly should his play continue on its upward trajectory.
On the flip side, the Browns can now advertise one of the most enticing GM positions in all the NFL, according to multiple reports from national reporters, and that's precisely because of Brown. Not only will the Browns control this upcoming draft for the second year in a row, with five picks in the first two rounds alone, including the potential to have two picks in the top 10, but their rosters boasts a team that is both incredibly young and incredibly potent. That, again, is because of Brown. With potentially four franchise-changing quarterbacks at the Browns' fingertips at no. 1, and a wealth of offensive and defensive talent lined up for selection after that, the Browns could go from winless to competing for a playoff spot overnight. Brown was promised a 3-year window, and Haslam's itchy trigger finger took that away from him.
Though the body is still fresh, a post-mortem report must be filed. Let's take a look at what Sashi Brown did in his brief time as GM/VP in Cleveland.
The 2016 offseason began with a purge. The Browns decided to let free agents Travis Benjamin, Mitchell Schwartz, Tashaun Gipson, Alex Mack, and Taylor Gabriel walk, moves that were met with heavy criticism. They outright released Karlos Dansby, Brian Hartline and Donte Whitner, veterans who no longer fit with what was now a completely stripped down roster. They signed Demario Davis, then moved to see if Robert Griffin III could revive his career after he "wowed" Jackson in a private workout (Narrator: he would not).
Brown's plan to amass draft picks and take as many shots at players as possible was evident from the very beginning. As the 2016 NFL Draft began, he traded out of the no. 2 overall pick, sending it to Philly for the 8th, 77th and 100th pick overall, as well as the Eagles' first round pick in 2017 and second round pick in 2018. Brown wasn't done moving back, though, as he turned around and traded the 8th overall pick, as well as a sixth round pick, to Tennessee in exchange for the 15th and 76th overall picks, as well as the Titans' second round pick in 2017.
-Traded the Browns 3rd and 5th round picks (77th and 141st) to Carolina in exchange for the Panthers' 3rd, 4th and 5th round picks (93, 129 and 168)
-Traded a 4th round pick (100th) to Oakland for the Raiders’ 4th and 5th round picks (114th and 154th)
-Traded their 7th round pick (223) to Miami in exchange for Jamar Taylor and Miami’s 7th round pick (250)
In terms of actual picks, let's run through each player and how they've performed thus far.
15th overall: Corey Coleman
He's been unable to stay healthy, breaking his hand in both his rookie and sophomore seasons and missing large chunks of time. The concerns coming out of Baylor that Coleman wouldn't be able to adjust to running an NFL route tree have been largely unfounded, and when he has been on the field, Coleman has shown that he's talented enough to be the team's second wide receiver. Maintaining his health remains key.
32nd overall: Emmanuel Ogbah
After a promising rookie year, Ogbah flourished on the edge in his second season until breaking his foot against the Jaguars in Week 11. He was phenomenal against the run, setting the edge as well as any defensive lineman in the NFL, and will form a terrifying pair of rushers opposite Myles Garrett for the foreseeable future.
65th overall: Carl Nassib
This one feels like a swing and a miss. Nassib isn't strong enough to get to the quarterback on a consistent basis, continually over-pursues against the run and his penchant for knocking down passes with his long arms that he showed as a rookie has disappeared in year two.
76th overall: Shon Coleman
Coleman has his deficiencies (it feels like he gets called for at least two holds a game) and needs to get better as a pass blocker, but he's been phenomenal in the run block game and looks to be a nice fit going forward at tackle.
93rd overall: Cody Kessler
The selection of Kessler in the third round will be one of the great mysteries of this first draft. While Jackson took credit for the selection, uttering the infamous "trust me" line when pushed on the reasoning behind it, there's some who believe he was simply covering for an enormous reach by the front office. Whatever the reason, this was a truly terrible selection, because Kessler is, in a word, bad.
99th overall: Joe Schobert
Schobert still has a ways to go to be considered a truly impactful linebacker, but he leads the Browns in tackles this season (and is second in tackles in the entire NFL) and has shown off impressive closing speed after barely being visible in his rookie year. He's not great in coverage, and needs to get better at getting home when he's asked to blitz, but he's made some truly great open field tackles in 2017.
114th overall: Ricardo Louis
Of any of the gaggle of receivers that Brown took in the backend of the 2016 draft, Louis has shown the most promise, though that's not really saying much. He's proven an ability to get open, but drops far too many balls to be relied on. Lessening his usage with Josh Gordon back in the fold should help him, but it remains to be seen if Louis will be a part of the Browns future going forward.
129th overall: Derrick Kindred
This is a gem of a pick. Kindred has flourished as a sort of safety/linebacker hybrid, consistently lining up near the line of scrimmage and making huge plays against the run. You can move him all over the field, blitz him, drop him into zone, etc. He's not great in coverage, but that doesn't need to be his primary function.
154th overall: Jordan Payton
Payton is no longer a member of the Browns, so, that says about all you need to know.
168th overall: Spencer Drango
Drango has done an admirable job filling in for Joe Thomas at left tackle, especially after he was thrown into the fire in his first game as a replacement against Jacksonville. He's steadied himself since then, and is an asset to have on the offensive line going forward.
172nd overall: Rashard Higgins
Higgins hasn't shown anything other than inconsistency at the wide receiver position, and will be hard-pressed to see the field the rest of the year. He does not possess the speed or the route-running ability to consistently get open in the NFL.
173rd overall: Trey Caldwell
Hamstring injuries kept the cornerback from making much of an impression on the Browns, and he was waived in December of 2016
250th overall: Scooby Wright
The phenomenally-named linebacker coming off an injury in college never panned out
Terrelle Pryor opted to sign with Washington after the two sides couldn't come to a contract agreement. Veteran QBs RG3 and Josh McCown were let go. So was cornerback Tramon Williams. Tight end Gary Barnidge was released, as was fan favorite Joe Haden in a move that cause the most uproar of the bunch.
Brown beefed up the offensive line in free agency, signing center JC Tretter and guard Kevin Zeitler. Kenny Britt was brought over from Los Angeles to replace Pryor. Jason McCourty was signed in free agency to boost the cornerback position. The Browns took Brock Osweiler off Houston's hands in exchange for their 6th round pick in the 2017 draft and their second round pick in 2018, only to release Osweiler during training camp.
2017 NFL Draft
1st overall: Myles Garrett
Garrett has been as advertised. His speed off the edge is unmatched, and he possesses the power to bull rush and plow an offensive lineman right out of his way. He's got five sacks despite missing four games due to injury. He's played fairly well against the run, too, and will only improve on that metric. Garrett is a force, and if he can avoid any more major ankle and leg injuries, he'll be a fixture on the Browns defensive line for a long time.
25th overall: Jabrill Peppers
It's been a mixed bag for Jabrill Peppers in his rookie season, thanks to defensive coordinator Gregg Williams playing him out of his position at free safety for most of the season. Acting as the "angel" defender in Williams' defense, aka the last line of defense against the deep ball, Peppers has taken some poor angles trying to bring down defenders as he comes barreling in from 20 yards away. Perhaps even more disappointing is his lack of impact in the return game, and his penchant for dropping punts or inexplicably calling for a fair catch when there's no defender within 10 yards of him. Still, the game has slowed down for him in recent weeks, and he's as sure a tackler as the Browns have on defense.
29th overall: David Njoku
I think Njoku is primed to be a stud. Despite playing just 46 percent of offensive snaps so far this season, Njoku has shaken off a slow start in terms of catching the ball and thrust himself into the conversation for one of the Browns best offensive players. He's made a couple outrageous grabs on the sideline and leads the team with four touchdown receptions. He's even come on as a blocker after struggling mightily early on in the year. Njoku looks like he's the real deal.
52nd overall: DeShone Kizer
Kizer felt like a value pick after tumbling into the second round, but the inconsistencies that plagued him at Notre Dame have remained in his rookie season, and he hasn't shown nearly enough to preclude the Browns from taking a QB no. 1 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. While he makes a handful of "wow" throws every game, his accuracy issues aren't going away, as Kizer is completing an atrocious 52.5 percent of his passes, last in the NFL. His red zone turnovers are worse, and have kept the Browns from getting their first win on multiple occasions. Kizer is very much a work in progress, but who knows if he'll get enough time to evolve into his final form.
65th overall: Larry Ogunjobi
He's played limited snaps (just 24.3 percent of them, in fact), but Ogunjobi has already proven to be a force against the run. Though he still relies heavily on his athleticism and strength rather than technique, once he hones his ability, he should join Garrett and Ogbah in the middle of the Browns defensive line for the foreseeable future.
126th overall: Howard Wilson
We don't know much about Wilson, the cornerback out of Houston, after he fractured his kneecap in training camp.
160th overall: Roderick Johnson
After going through training camp, the Browns placed the former Florida State offensive lineman on injured reserve.
185th overall: Caleb Brantley
Brantley is still a bit of an unknown. He's played limited snaps during his rookie season, recording 11 tackles, one sack and one tackle for loss. He seems to provide useful depth on the defensive line, though after his career at Florida, it's fair to expect much more out of him moving forward.
224th overall: Zane Gonzalez
Gonzalez has missed five kicks in his rookie season, which is entirely too many.
252nd overall: Matthew Dayes
Dayes has really come on as a kick returner, and showed some flashes at running back during the preseason, though he hasn't gotten any carries since Week 1 against Pittsburgh. Still, getting that kind of special teams production from a 7th round pick is a win.
Brown's legacy will always be tied to Wentz and Watson, which comes with the territory when you run a football team. He whiffed on receivers as a whole in the 2016 draft. The "trade" for Brock Osweiler made less and less sense as training camp went on. Swapping Terrelle Pryor out for Kenny Britt has gone terribly, despite Pryor's struggles in Washington. The lack of a veteran quarterback behind (or in front) of Kizer has contributed to the team's inability to win.
But he's also provided the Browns with an incredibly talented and young defensive line. He nabbed Briean Boddy-Calhoun on a waiver claim, and got Jamar Taylor for a 7th round pick. He got a sixth round pick for Justin Gilbert, a fifth-rounder for Barkevious Mingo and a fourth-rounder for a punter. The Kindred selection is the type of pick he should be lauded for. McCourty has had the best season of his career in 2017. And Brown's put the Browns in position through the 2018 Draft to turn things around almost instantly if they hit on a quarterback and continue to add defensive and offensive talent.
There were missteps. There were also enough hits to let Brown finish off what he started.