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Why Your Team Sucks

Why Your Team Sucks 2023: Cleveland Browns

Deshaun Watson #4 of the Cleveland Browns runs a drill during the Cleveland Browns OTAs at CrossCountry Mortgage Campus on May 31, 2023 in Berea, Ohio.
Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Some people are fans of the Cleveland Browns. But many, many more people are NOT fans of the Cleveland Browns. This 2023 Defector NFL team preview is for those in the latter group. Read all the previews so far here.

Your team: Cleveland Browns.

Your 2022 record: 7-10. This was a placeholder season, so forget everything you’re about to read, because many processes were trusted to bring it to you. The Browns’ starting quarterback—some random dickhead, possibly named Fred—was suspended for the first 11 games of the season, due to off-the-field character adversity issues. They had to start Jacoby Brissett in the interim, triggering far more “Jacoby Brissett is quietly putting together a solid season” tweets than anyone could ever need. Brissett would lead them to a 4-7 record and mathematical elimination from playoff contention.

Again, strike all this from your memory. Burn the game tape. Pay no attention to the Browns’ home opener against the Jets, in which they staged the swiftest, most dramatic two-minute collapse since Tower One fell. Here’s what happened in that game: Nick Chubb scored a touchdown to put Cleveland up 30-17 with 1:55 left, when he could have gone down before reaching the goal line to run out the clock and end the game. Kicker Cade York botched the ensuing PAT. A 37-year-old Joe Flacco, who was only starting for the Jets because Zach Wilson was hurt/terrible, then orchestrated a two-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to make it 30-24. The Jets got the onside kick, and then Flacco orchestrated a nine-play, 53-yard touchdown drive, capped off with a touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson on third-and-10:

(Did the Jets convert their own PAT to ice it? You know they did.)

The Jets have this kind of shit done to them. They don’t do it to other people. But again, let’s just say that none of this ever happened. Let’s also pretend we didn’t see Brissett throw a late pick to lose to the Falcons, in a game where Atlanta completed a grand total of seven passes. The Browns also got crushed by New England in a game where the Pats’ starting QB was cheery Italian baker Bailey Zappe. They let the Bills score on every second-half possession, and also blew a 10-0 lead to the Saints at home. Was this the Saints’ first outdoor win of the season, not to mention the coldest game that they had ever played in as a franchise? Yes, but again: not relevant.

Also not relevant: The Browns stoning the Chargers on fourth down late in the game, attempting a 53-yarder to win, and missing it; losing to the Ravens after false starting on a game-tying field goal attempt (and then, naturally, missing it); a run defense uglier than the average Dawg Pound inhabitant; and the team deactivating Jadeveon Clowney for the final game because he thought they were moving him around too much. Doesn’t matter. All part of the plan.

Because by trading away a shitload of picks for a certain-to-be-suspended Deshaun “Fred” Watson a year ago, the Browns also traded away a full season of their existence. But really, how much is any full season of Browns football worth? A meager sum, and one well worth paying to arrive at right now: the first season of the rest of your fandom. Let’s meet everyone who’s gonna be part of it!

Your coach: Kevin Stefanski, who forgot to tell Chubb to go down in that Jets game. Stefanski is responsible for the greatest season in Nü Browns history. That was his first season on the job, in which his team won 11 games and beat Pittsburgh in the first round of the playoffs. But then we get to the fine print, and we see that Cleveland still finished third in the division that season, and that they had a -11 point differential. A fluke of a season, especially when you consider that Baker Mayfield was at the wheel for it.

As for that heartwarming Wild Card victory against the hated Steelers, Stefanski wasn’t even on the sidelines that day because he had COVID-19. Also not there that day? Fans. That’s right: your best moment came during a pandemic season that you couldn’t even watch in person. Who’s to say if this team has ever been real, at any point in time?

Since then, Stefanski has gone 15-19. He’s also gleefully endured the indignity of having his bosses trade for Watson by sitting at press conference after press conference and evading questions about what an awful person Watson is. Your dreamy eyes can only do much heavy lifting, Kevboy. You’re just another Browns coach now. Congratulations.

Under Stefanski is new (term used generously) defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. Jim Schwartz is the respectable Gregg Williams.

Your quarterback: The bad man.

I’m gonna run through Deshaun Watson’s priors quicker than usual. Not because I’m Mr. Brainwash, but because you already know them by heart. You know that Watson is a serial sexual predator. You know no lawsuit filed against him will ever be the last one. You know that nothing he can do from here on out will salvage his reputation, nor get rid of his lingering, terrifying presence in the memories of those he preyed upon. You also know that the Browns traded for Watson and handed him the GDP of Egypt knowing exactly what he did.

You know all of that, so let me use this space to tell you something else: football-wise, Watson sucks now. Cleveland mortgaged its whole future, and any residual lovable-loser goodwill they once had, for Deshaun Watson … and then he came out and played like Mike Glennon.

You might be saying, OK but Drew, that was Watson’s first game back after nearly two full years away from playing. Trust me, he was no better the rest of the way. Watson went 3-3 as a starter and only threw seven touchdown passes. He broke 200 yards twice and threw five interceptions. His best game was one in which he completed nine passes. He was less accurate than the Deadspin Bot. His QBR was 38.3, which was far behind the likes of Andy Dalton (50.7), Marcus Mariota (55.6), and the man who subbed for him last season, Jacoby Brissett (60.0). So if owner Jimmy Haslam thought that sticking to football would cure everything, please remember that winning is what cures everything, not whatever it is that the Browns do.

Behind Watson is former Titans pink slip Joshua Dobbs and fifth-round dartboard QB Dorian Thompson-Robinson. Many “(whispering) The Browns really miss Jacoby Brissett” tweets will ensue.

But again, all of this was by design. The Browns now have Watson for a full season for the first time, which means that the past 24 years of their existence are about to prove worth it. This is what you’ve been waiting for, Browns fans! Get those hopes way up! YOUR LIVES ARE ABOUT TO BE VINDICATED, I PROMISE.

What’s new that sucks: Not content to carry water for just ONE abuser, the Browns are getting America ready for a full season of Jim Brown hagiography. If you think any of this will include acknowledging Brown’s nasty predilection for throwing women off of balconies, you must be new here.

On the field, the Browns are making a reasonable assumption that, at only 27, Watson will shake off the rust and return to form. Already blessed with an incredible O-line (now fortified with free agent G Wes Martin) and the one elite running back who didn’t spend all offseason being treated like floor lint, the Browns used their top two draft picks to get new wideouts. They traded their second-rounder for Jets WR Elijah Moore, who I’d never heard of until he started pissing and moaning about how much he wanted out of New York. Then they used a third-rounder on Cedric Tillman, who has the same name as every NFC East player from the 1980s.

Both men were wise investments, until you consider this team’s history of drafting wideouts. The Nü Browns all-time leading wideout is—and I swear this is true—Kevin Johnson. No, not the disgraced former NBA player. A different Kevin Johnson. Even the Bears are like, Holy fuck reading that fact.

Also here is WR Marquise Goodwin. Temper your optimism accordingly.

Over on defense, the Browns attempted to remake their front by importing a shitload of new defensive linemen. The first one, edge rusher Za’Darius Smith, played like an All-Pro for the first half of 2022, bruised his knee midseason, and then did nothing the rest of the way. The second one is Smith’s former Minnesota teammate, DT Dalvin Tomlinson. Tomlinson has fantastic PFF metrics, but I promise you that you will notice him make an important play once a game at most. And if you think that’s because Tomlinson is the kind of gap-stuffer who does vital shit that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet … well, did you see the Vikings’ defense last season? The top floor of the Four Seasons gave people more room. Get the fuck out of my face, mathboy.

Luckily for you, the Browns also poached guys from OTHER defenses, including DT Maurice Hurst (from San Francisco), S Juan Thornhill (from Kansas City), promising DE Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (from Houston), and CB Rodney McLeod (from Indianapolis). That makeover has been enough for Aaron Schatz's
FTN Almanac to project Cleveland as the third-best team in the AFC this season. Trust me, they’re as shocked by this as you are. When the numbers tell you the Browns are good, the numbers lie. That’s the power of Cleveland: It’s enough to make me distrust math in general.

Why the players think you suck: Because there’s no weight room:

The weight room is not a room at all. Currently, it takes up 15-20 yards of the already small indoor turf practice field.

Given Watson’s history, I think it’s appropriate that the Browns’ entire training setup is the same as a prison yard’s.

What has always sucked: Here’s another place where I’ll keep it brief, because you already know the details by heart. Twenty-four years. Three winning seasons. One playoff victory that no one saw. Tim Couch. Brady Quinn. Their best QB of this century a twerp who starred in more commercials than playoff games. Jesus stayed alive longer after his resurrection than these Browns have. And now they’re attempting to find a new identity by rallying around Polite Jameis Winston.

And these fans are buying into all of it. They’re the dumbest fans in the league, and I’ve met Bears fans, mind you. You people never should have gotten your team back. You could have led fuller, richer lives in the wake of their exodus. Instead, you pissed and moaned for the Nü Browns because you lacked the imagination to, I dunno, read a fucking book. Well, here your Browns are, and isn’t life so fucking grand. Keep talking yourselves into this mess. I’m sure it’ll turn around after your great grandchildren have died. Art Modell was trying to do you slobs a favor. Pissing on his grave is like pissing into your own mouth.

Amari Cooper is a great WR2 and a lousy WR1. David Njoku makes one play every season where you're like, "Wow this guy is awesome!", and then you go look at his stats and he sucks. Chubb is probably going to retire after this season to focus full time on squatting more weight than could ever be useful. Fuck J.D. Vance with a signed copy of his own book.

Ratto says: The Browns find themselves on the cutting edge of NFL policy again, as the league has expanded its personal conduct policy to include more offenses and broader interpretation of those offenses. Why? Because Deshaun Watson's lawyers claimed that Watson's behavior wasn't specifically covered in the old policy. They are the second worst team in football since Jimmy Haslam took over in 2012 (only Jacksonville is worse). Haslam’s only real claim to fame is that his team was the last one to portray itself accurately, as an ongoing shitshow, in Hard Knocks.

What might not suck: THIRD-BEST TEAM IN THE AFC! Map out the parade route!

HEAR IT FROM BROWNS FANS!

Jake:

I asked my wife once if I was happier when we got engaged or after the Browns beat the Steelers in the playoffs two years ago. She didn’t even have to think about it before saying the latter. Now this team makes me feel nothing.

Nick:

I just got a promotional email from the Browns for a five-day fan/alumni cruise. I'd rather be on the Diamond Princess circa early 2020.

John:

At least our owner banded together with the other shithead elite in the city to put on fundraisers for JD fucking Vance.

Brian:

I dropped 32 hard-earned ducats on one of those soft, cotton-poly blend shirts with Brownie the Elf standing defiantly with a football tucked in the crook of his arm, oblivious to Cleveland’s .329 win percentage since their rebirth from the muck of Lake Erie. I fully expect to have burned this shirt by Thanksgiving.

Kappy:

Myles Garrett can't drive worth dick. 

Colin:

There is no morally pure sport, but the Browns have gone to LIV levels with their willingness to settle for shitty actors to take them to the promised land. 

Tom:

You can just feel the desperation this year. The future has been mortgaged. This team is aging quickly, and the only thing they have to show for having Nick Chubb and Miles Garrett on the roster in their prime is a single playoff appearance. Pre-third round draft choices are as scarce as healthy fish in the Cuyahoga. The Browns are run like the Rams, only without the success.

So everybody is pretending like this team is a title contender despite adding a few middling defensive linemen, and some wide receivers that their previous teams were only too happy to part with. Of course fans will cite Deshaun Watson’s suspension as a reason for last year’s struggles but the dirty little secret is Jacoby Brissett was more than serviceable as a fill-in and Watson was hot garbage when he returned.

Two things can be true at the same time: Baker Mayfield was a bust of a #1 draft choice who hit his peak in the divisional round and plunged off a cliff afterwards, and the Browns made a franchise-ruining decision by replacing him with Watson. You don’t have to be in the Baker or Deshaun camp. You can be in the, “Oh shit, Nick Chubb’s contract is coming up soon, there’s no chance we can keep him now” camp. This is what WIN NOW looks like in Cleveland. Desperate, hopeless, forever in denial, and fourth place division finishes.

Eva:

We're the only team with no character/representation on our helmets, and the only stadium that explicitly bans dog food. Neither one of them has a goddamn thing to do with elves.

Jeff:

At least when they sucked in the 70s, they had a WR named Fair Hooker and a DE named Joe Turkey Jones who tried to plant Terry Bradshaw head-first into the turf. 

Jamie:

The best that Myles Garrett can hope for if he stays here is that his career will mimic Joe Thomas's, where he's easily the best player in the league at his position and it will amount to absolutely nothing because this team is owned by Reactionary Ted Knight.

I told myself last spring that I was done, and then I told myself last summer that I would only watch the games that Brissett started. I watched them all anyway. I deserve to be lobotomized.

Matt:

To any Browns fan, I will tell you it just gets better once you give up on this team. The Watson thing did it for me, and I've been so much happier since. I have to watch almost every game because it's on at work, and let me tell you that it's so much more fun when you no longer care if the Browns win. Watson throws an awful INT? I darkly laugh. 

Dr. Dink The Cat:

There is no deeper muck to wallow in.

Brian:

A few years ago, our subreddit was purged of a great deal of content, and I believe more than one moderator, for a combination of racism and mediocre, grim men's-level nudity.

Devon:

I finally did it last year. I quit the Browns. The Mayfield bullshit followed by the Watson trade was too much. I took down all my Browns memorabilia, including the team-signed flag they sent me in Iraq in 2008 (a genuinely cool thing they didn't have to do), and boxed them all up with my Browns shirts, sweatshirts, and hats. I purged the few Browns items I had collected for my preschool daughter, and those went in the trash.

My cousins all tried to find new franchises to root for, with justifications like, "Oh the Bills are rust belt like us, but good!" but I just couldn't do it. My heart wasn't in it. I'm genuinely done. They finally succeeded in breaking me of my Browns fandom curse, and I should be grateful, but I'm just sad. I learned the hard way that there are few worse things than rooting for a very bad NFL team. We used to be able to sit on our high horses, point at Ben Roethlisberger, and live comfortably knowing that at least we weren't disgusting enablers like those asshole Steelers fans. No sir, we're worse. And the Browns haven't even won anything to justify it. Still the laughingstock of the league, while also being the most vile and immoral. Good riddance.

David:

People from Cleveland are dicks.

Matt:

The white helmets look like the default helmet if you were creating a new team on Madden. 

Dalton:

I watched a girl under the age of 14 buy a beer in the stadium and no one batted an eye.

Isaac:

A friend of mine in Los Angeles described Cleveland to me as, “a great place to be from,” because people in other places view Ohio transplants as the ones who were good enough to get out and make something of themselves. 

Vince Guerrieri:

The former Ohio Speaker of the House was sentenced to 20 years in prison, and the former chairman of the Ohio Republican Party got a five-year sentence for their roles in a bribery scandal. The main beneficiary in this scandal was FirstEnergy, which got a bailout for several of its power plants. The company was fined millions of dollars, made wholesale changes in the c-suite and paid millions to take its name off the Browns stadium.

Even they don't want to be associated with the team.

Jared:

They've once again spent a lot of money, time, and effort just to finish fourth in their own division. Being a Browns fan is like rooting for the best Democratic candidate in the primaries.

John:

The first Browns game I ever went to was in 1995 against the Houston Oilers: the first home game since the team announced it was moving after the season. I don’t remember much about the game other than it feeling like a funeral. Hordes of listless, broken people crammed into bench seats warmed only by Starter jackets and about 27 Busch Lights. Twenty-three years later, and you can’t say that much has changed.

Sisyphus has his rock. I have the Cleveland Browns. God damn it.

Stephanie:

When my mom was giving birth to me, she tried to talk her way into a C-section, but the doctor wouldn’t accept, “The Browns are kicking off soon and I don’t want to miss the game” as a reason to perform major surgery.

James:

Throw Jimmy Haslam into a Flying J truck, drive the truck into a river, and then throw the river into space.

Rick:

I can see it so clearly: Watson does not return to form and the team misses the playoffs. Stefanski and/or Berry are fired. The eventual new regime guts the roster except Watson. Watson becomes disgruntled and wants out. Garrett: gone. Ward: gone. Chubb: gone. Haslam: still fucking here. 0-16 again. Hello darkness, my old friend.

Justin:

Still think they win the division this year. 

Submissions for the NFL previews are now closed. Next up: New York Jets.

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