Some people are fans of the Cleveland Browns. But many, many more people are NOT fans of the Cleveland Browns. This 2022 Defector NFL team preview is for those in the latter group. Read all the previews so far here.
Your team: You Sick Fucks.
Imagine Floridians having the moral upper hand on you.
Your 2021 record: 8-9. The 2020 Browns went 11-5 and then laid a blessed asswhipping upon the Steelers—in Pittsburgh, no less—in a Wild Card game. The Browns even had a decent chance to make the AFC title game after knocking Patrick Mahomes out of their Divisional Round matchup. They didn’t succeed, but still: there was every reason to believe that this team was on solid footing, and that it would only improve upon that newfound success.
Here’s what happened instead:
The 2021 Browns started the season by failing to avenge their playoff loss to Kansas City by blowing a 22-10 halftime lead. They also blew a 27-13 lead to the Chargers, allowing Austin Ekeler to score two decisive TDs in the final three-and-a-half minutes. Their quarterback proved that the only thing more fragile than his shoulder was his ego, and he regressed so badly that I now believe his future lies exclusively in acting. They were swept by the Steelers. The first of those two losses was one in which Pittsburgh had no kicker for the second half. The second one included a fourth-quarter drive in which the Browns’ offense drove a whopping -20 yards downfield. If you’re playing shorthanded, there’s no better opponent to have than these chumps.
There’s less. The Browns lost to the Ravens in a game where they picked off Lamar Jackson not once, not twice, not thrice, but QUICE. They lost to the Raiders at the gun in late December. Had Cleveland beaten Vegas, they would have seized first place in their division. Instead, they ended that game in last place. They watched their equally moribund intrastate rivals not only win the AFC North instead of them, but get to the fucking Super Bowl as well. Their offensive tackles couldn’t stay healthy. Their starting safety got the heave-ho for shoving an opposing coach. They cut Odell Beckham and not only did Odell go on to win a Super Bowl with the Rams, he also would have been MVP of that game had he not gotten injured midway through it. There is nothing positive Cleveland can do that will not be immediately followed by a Same Old Browns moment that makes you want to throw your TV down a laundry chute.
And I haven’t even gotten to the ugly part yet.
Your coach: Kevin Stefanski. Whatever. Let’s get to the ugly …
Your quarterback: Deshaun Watson, who picked the one NFL city where he can’t force every ending to be a happy one. When we last saw Deshaun Watson starting a game, he was the lone bright spot on the Houston Texans’ roster. The lone bright spot in the entire state of Texas, really. Since then, Watson has been sued by 24 women for allegations of sexual misconduct during massage therapy sessions, and “misconduct” is the absolute gentlest way of putting it. He languished at the bottom of the Texans’ depth chart for the entirety of the 2021 season while the Texans figured out what the hell to do with him. Once the season was over, a grand jury declined to bring any criminal charges against Watson, and he has since settled 23 of the 24 lawsuits that were filed. Suddenly I’m not as charmed by this fellow as I once was.
After beating the rap, plenty of other teams wanted in on the Watson derby, but apparently only the Browns were willing to debase themselves fully in order to get him into the fold. They traded three years worth of good draft picks for Watson and then gifted him $230 million guaranteed, no questions asked. They even structured Watson’s contract so that his money would be 99.996 percent protected in the event of a suspension. The Browns talked to exactly zero of Watson’s accusers before making this deal. They didn’t care. They didn’t even bother to put up the façade of caring. Instead, they let the bulk of the scrutiny fall to a newfangled, league-wide disciplinary process that itself has failed in its barely veiled objective to whitewash the asses of everyone involved. And if you’re thinking to yourself, This is the breaking point; fans aren’t gonna stand for this shit anymore, you’re in for a predictable letdown:
Defector’s own Kalyn Kahler was at Browns camp this summer, and what she heard on the ground from fans there was somehow much, much worse:
“Whether he’s guilty or innocent, I really don’t give a crap,” Jim Cecil said. “I am a Browns fan, I just want to win.”
“And he does not seem like that bad of a guy,” Jennifer Cecil, Jim’s wife, added. “Watching him at training camp the past few days, we’ve been watching it on the news, and seeing him sign his shoes and give his shoes away. He seems like such a good guy.”
This team could sign OJ Simpson today and their fans would forgive him. As for Watson himself, he’s alternated between tiresome denials and vacuous non-apologies, burning as much clock as he can until his suspension runs out and he can bask in the unearned adulation that comes with overcoming the NFL’s idea of true adversity.
The Browns will support their new franchise centerpiece throughout all of this because, you see, they know who the REAL Deshaun Watson is. They put in (five percent of) the work. They talked to Deshaun face-to-face. They watched him sign shoes. Why, he even GIVES those shoes away from time to time. For free! Now does that sound like the behavior of serial massage assailant? And did you know that Deshaun occasionally gives money to charity? Sounds like you people should be GRATEFUL whenever he whips his towel off in front of you mid-salute. That towel was chafin’ his skin real bad, you see.
All my life, I have the found the plight of the Browns to be both pitiable and oddly charming. Perhaps you did as well. Even though the Browns have always been dogshit, they were at least a team that was fun to imagine being good one day. But now, over the course of a single offseason, they’ve taken all of that goodwill and thrown it into a burning lake. Has any team gone from so sympathetic to so evil so quickly? This is the first NFL team to get milkshake ducked. Even Aaron Rodgers is appalled by the Browns right now. They even got the league itself to hate them, which is like getting the Manson Family to hate Charles Manson. There are no good surprises with these Browns, and you should know that by now. The 2022 Browns are proof that there can never be such a thing as a feel-story good story in professional sports ever again.
The kicker is that this gambit probably won’t even work out for them. Today, Watson’s suspension was extended from six games to 11 after the NFL appealed the initial suspension ruling to, uh, itself. Browns ownership now believes this matter is closed, because who ISN’T pleased with how this has all ended? Anyway, there goes your season, Cleveland. Again. This is only the beginning of what you deserve for enabling this serpentine fuck.
After serving out those 11 games, Watson won’t have played in nearly two full seasons, but will still be tasked with carrying a franchise that, just like the Texans, won’t have enough resources on hand to help him win ballgames in any manner except single-handedly. The Browns traded their future just to repeat the Texans’ recent past, which is, ironically, the most Browns thing they could have done.
As for the rest of the QB room, the Browns traded Baker Mayfield to Carolina and will start either Jacoby Brissett or a QB TBD for the bulk of 2021, if not longer. Maybe they’ll ask Ben Roethlisberger to un-retire to play for them in the interim.
What’s new that sucks: A few deck chairs got rearranged, so let’s address those here. Center JC Tretter got released, as did wideout Jarvis Landry and second tight end Austin Hooper. The Browns also traded for Chase Winovich, because apparently there’s still some “Let’s be the Patriots!”-ism contaminating the team’s water supply. But the biggest move Cleveland made this offseason—apart from acquiring a neighborly sex offender at quarterback—was trading for Amari Cooper on the downside of his career. Remember when Cleveland traded for Odell and everyone was like HOO SHIT WATCH OUT! This is like that, except this time everyone already knows it’ll be a letdown.
Kareem Hunt wants to be traded, presumably because he’s no longer Cleveland’s biggest threat to womankind. Myles Garrett will get hurt. Denzel Ward is already hurt. Nick Chubb is a year away from becoming a massive salary cap liability. Oh, and did I mention that Jimmy Haslam wants a new stadium? Fuck that guy with Sue Robinson’s gavel.
What has always sucked: The Browns have won 10 fewer games since being reborn in 1999 than the Lions have won in that same timespan. They haven’t won their division since 1989. But you can’t cry out, “We’re snakebitten!” when you’re the snake. Art Modell was right to move you.
Ratto says: If the other 31 owners hate you, that would normally mean you’re either doing something, noble, ethical, or otherwise laudatory. But then you’re not applying owners’ logic, so Jimmy Haslam is sacrificing himself for your education. Guaranteeing every dollar of Deshaun Watson’s contract is by far a more egregious crime than even that of Mark Davis, whose crime is not being worth enough money. Now that you know this, you know how owners’ logic work: Did you cost them money, even in the conceptual realm? If you did, you are a bastard. Jimmy Haslam is a megabastard.
What might not suck: Josh Rosen is currently listed on the roster. Josh Rosen’s presence on any team is always good for a few laughs here and there.
HEAR IT FROM BROWNS FANS!
They’ve managed to engineer a scenario where my preferred outcome is the starting quarterback getting Joe-Theismann’ed and the nightmare is winning a Super Bowl.
I feel ill. Just a gross, sick feeling. Ugh.
Wishing my grandparents had picked a different city.
They took away the only good thing we consistently had: a non-rapist quarterback.
I want a Super Bowl bad, but not like this.
Somehow we made going 1-31 only the second worst thing we’ve done in the past seven years.
I’ve been a Browns fan my whole life. They have sucked that entire time, and when they didn’t suck they collapsed in monumental fashion at the worst possible time. Despite that, it was still fun being a fan. There’s happiness to be found in rooting for the right kind of lovable loser (I live in Chicago now and there are plenty of Cubs fans who will tell you it was way more fun pre-2016, and I think they’re right). The Browns lost through dumb luck, managerial incompetence and the workings of an indifferent universe. But the stadium was always packed, people tailgated like mad before every game, and no matter how awful the team was, the suffering was permeated with constant strain of hope for the future. There was a joyful, aww-shucks belief that eventually we’d win one. That we didn’t deserve this plight and would eventually be made whole.
That’s gone now.
I was born in 1980. The Drive, The Fumble, Belichick, Modell, Tim Couch, Butch Davis, Romeo Crennell, Brandon Weeden, Johnny Manziel, Hue Jackson, 0-16, and Freddie Kitchens couldn’t get me to quit this team. Deshaun Watson has.
I hope the Haslams gave our boy a massage gun to keep him out of trouble.
After the Watson trade, the Steelers aren’t the only team in the division with a terrible towel.
We’ve reached the point where the benign neglect of the Randy Lerner era represents the good old days.
Kudos to the Browns management for knowing, full well, the person they were getting, and then using their willingness to ignore that as added leverage to sign him.
We were bad in the 70s because we kept catching the river on fire. The three times we lost to the Broncos in the AFC title game in the ’80s? Those were retaliation for when we decided it was a good idea to release a million and a half balloons worth of latex directly into Lake Erie, which was such an environmental clusterfuck that people literally died. When we went 1-31? That was for our Lex Luthor billionaire supervillain of an owner scamming truckers out of their fuel points. We can bitch and moan about the injustice of Art Modell moving the team, but we had just elected Jim Jordan for the first time, so is our misery really that undeserved? We do this shit to ourselves.
So even though Deshaun only got suspended for six games, karma is gonna take care of the remaining balance. This is why he will tear every ligament in every limb before the Browns make it to the playoffs again. He’ll be the first player to miss half a season because of a telescoping dick injury he sustained walking into an open manhole.
Leave it to this godforsaken city to abandon Chief Wahoo only to replace him with something just as offensive.
I believed Brady Quinn could win in the NFL. That Trent Richardson could be what Derrick Henry now is. That Myles was a franchise player (point for me). That Baker was the best QB in that draft (point taken away).
Regardless of what happened, I had high hopes. Until this offseason.
I remember when Haslam, who was a minority of the Steelers, bought the team. My wife said he was a mole for Pittsburgh, intent on destroying the Browns. I believe that more and more every passing year.
They straight up murdered my love of football and are currently shitting in its grave.
When I look back on Browns memories, it mostly involves getting blurred-focus drunk if attending in person, or losing interest in games by halftime if offsite.
My three-year-old’s favorite color is currently orange. I decided to really play that up and buy him several Browns shirts to match his old man on gamedays. Most of them are dawg themes (BEWARE OF PUPS, etc.). He loves them! He wears his Browns shirts proudly every week.
Now I’m scrambling to say they’re his Paw Patrol shirts to no avail. It’s fun to know I’m going to have to explain the complexities of sexual assault and the legal system to my kid at an age that’s well below appropriate.
I remember my mom giving my dad a candy jar for Christmas one year, filled with brown and orange jelly beans, labeled “Browns Magic Win Pills!” I don’t remember them working super well. That jar was emptied out and filled with rocks and water to make a kind of sad terrarium. The algae growing on the rocks had more life than the Browns have ever showed.
My best friend and I awoke on Christmas Day, 2005, alone in a Cleveland apartment of a girl I had started dating a few months prior. She wasn’t there. Her roommate wasn’t there. They were both at home with their loving families celebrating Christmas. My friend and I? We chose to spend that holiday at the Browns-Steelers game. Browns’ QB Charlie Frye went 20-for-39 for 183 yards, no TDs, no INTs and was sacked eight times. The Steelers won 41-0.
Twelve seasons later, they went 0-16. I’m 42. I’ve been in an abusive relationship with this team since the late 80s.
The Browns left when I was 10. I couldn’t sleep because my mom was so upset about it, so I wrote a poem in the middle of the night for her and stuck it on the fridge. I only remember the first two lines:
Who put all the Dawgs to sleep?
It was Art Modell, that big creep!
Not having a team at all, again, just feels empty.
For a fun father/son trip, my dad took me to the 2002 season opener against the Chiefs. It was an exciting game that looked like a win at the end, except Dwayne Rudd happened.
After the unsportsmanlike penalty was assessed, Mort Andersen’s old ass stuck the final nail in the Browns’ coffin. This is where the fear set in for dear old Dad. He had to figure out how to get us from our seats to our car without being involved in a potential ten cent beer night 2.0 situation. He grabbed my arm and said, “Don’t stop for anything until we get in the car.” Sixteen-year-old me was fascinated that so many adult males felt it was acceptable to just start fighting on the concourse, exit ramps, gates, side streets and parking lots.
Every inch of progress toward legitimacy gets erased by something so stupid, and yet so debilitating, that any sort of hope seems impossible.
When the Browns came back, my brothers and I would pick one game per year for a road trip. One year we went to New York and I got chlamydia from a girl I met at the Gaslight the night before Kurt Warner & the Giants tore up our JV defense.
Six hundred thousand people in this fucking state voted for either J.D. Vance or Josh Mandel in the Senate primary, and the way that the Browns have handled their QB situation is somehow still the most embarrassing thing about Ohio this year. We can complain about it as much as we want, but we all know deep down that this is who we really are as a people.
If we had pulled off something like this over a year ago, I’d be in ecstasy. Gleefully absorbing all the slack-jawed amazement at our good fortune on every media channel. The Browns would finally have an elite QB to power the greatest roster we may have ever had. This is the monkey’s paw that is being a Cleveland sports fan.
I hope Watson tears both of his ACLs, never plays a snap for us, and we lose every game for the length of his contract. Haslam belongs in jail. Johnny Stanton is cool, though. He plays D&D.
In happier times, I would be writing to you bitching about how Kevin Stefanski tried to kill Baker Mayfield by making him throw the ball 60-70 times a game while Nick Chubb pass-blocked for the two seconds it took Baker to throw the ball into the ground. Maybe my email would have been a vivid retelling of how Baker and the boys let Ben Roethlisberger triumphantly noodle arm his way into a Steelers win in the last home game of his career. On Monday Night in front of a national audience, Baker threw 40 passes, half of which were either intercepted or batted down. He was sacked nine times, mostly by TJ Watt who was iso-ed on our third string right tackle the entire game. Did you know Baker likes to roll right when he feels even a tiny bit of pressure? TJ Watt sure does! Ben’s QBR was 13. We lost by 12.
So in a happier timeline I get to be sad about how we’re wasting the prime of the most physically dominant defender I have ever seen. Instead we’re in the “I will finally see my father cry” timeline.
Deshaun will be our Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee when he opens a battered woman shelter/massage training school.
What makes me the most upset is that my dad passed his love of the Browns down to me, and after he died of liver cancer two years ago—right before the goddamn pandemic—I held onto the Browns as something that made me think fondly of him.
This absolutely shameless Deshaun Watson signing is the end of my support of the Browns. And what’s worse is I feel like I’m losing a part of my dad, too. This whole situation makes me realize how fucked up I’ve been for tying a soulless professional sports corporation to my old man’s legacy, instead of, I don’t know, anything else he taught me. I just wish he were here today so we could renounce this team together, instead of me just stuck with my bitterness and grief.
Submissions for the Defector NFL previews are closed. Next up: Baltimore Ravens.