Once again, a quarterback-shaped cloud hangs over Cleveland’s offseason. The Browns may believe that the recently signed Robert Griffin III can be a short-term solution, or they might try to further bolster the roster by taking a quarterback second overall in April’s NFL draft, but they’ll continue to face the same long-term QB questions that have plagued the franchise for 17 years.
For Cleveland’s new Harvard-educated brain trust (executive VP of football operations Sashi Brown, VP of personnel Andrew Berry, and chief strategy officer/Jonah Hill denier Paul DePodesta), however, quarterback is just one shaky spot on a roster in need of wholesale change. The Browns are the blankest canvas a front office could have this side of an expansion team.
Cleveland has plenty of glaring needs, but none greater than wide receiver. At the NFL owners’ meetings last week, new Browns head coach Hue Jackson actually said, “It’s an area we need to address, obviously.” That honesty is comforting; it’s also grim as hell.
Even if the NFL honors Josh Gordon’s reinstatement request — cue the collective finger-crossing — Cleveland will still need another receiver. Jackson noted that he prefers taller options, and while current Browns Andrew Hawkins and Taylor Gabriel have utility, they’re small enough to work in the Keebler tree.
No receiver in this draft class is worthy of the no. 2 pick, but a couple who fit Jackson’s mold may be around when the Browns draft next, at 32: TCU’s Josh Doctson is speedy, 6-foot-2, and capable of some Cirque du Soleil stuff on jump balls down the sideline; and though Michael Thomas’s footwork and route running could use some work, the Ohio State product is certainly built like Jackson’s ideal wideout.
It’d be nice if Cleveland’s problems ended there, but you already know that they don’t. This spring’s free-agent exodus downgraded the Browns’ offensive line from one of the league’s best 18 months ago to Joe Thomas, Joel Bitonio, and Yeah? Ya sure?
Meanwhile, Cleveland’s other line has needed fixing for longer than one offseason. In 2014, the Browns finished 31st in run-defense DVOA; last year, they jumped all the way to 26th. Little victories, I guess. Nose tackle Danny Shelton, last year’s first-round pick, was brought in to help the hunt, but the Browns are still desperate for more talent in the front seven, with a solid run defense remaining their white whale. John Hughes may be responsible for some of my favorite cinematic moments, but I’m not sold on him as a starting defensive end. Ex-Jets linebacker Demario Davis, Cleveland’s 2016 version of a free-agent splash ($4.2 million guaranteed!), is a start, but adding an offense-shredding behemoth like Oregon’s DeForest Buckner in the draft certainly wouldn’t hurt.
After a 3-13 campaign and tumultuous offseason, Cleveland is starving for a solid haul. No team’s draft futility has matched the Browns’ the past five years; whiffing on guys like Phil Taylor, Greg Little, Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Barkevious Mingo, Justin Gilbert, and Johnny Manziel put the team in this mess.
So, yes, finding a quarterback will be the first step, as it is for any franchise. But for the Browns, it’ll be far from the last.
This piece originally appeared in the April 1, 2016, edition of the Ringer newsletter.