There are bad deals — and then there are deals that are so bad a team has to trade a valuable draft asset just to get the awful contract off its books. The latter proved true on Thursday, when amid the early flurry of NFL free-agent moves Houston shipped Brock Osweiler and a second-round pick to Cleveland in order to get rid of much of his $16 million cap number for 2017.
This presumably means that the Texans are clearing the decks to try to get Tony Romo, who would be a perfect fit for a team that last season fielded one of the league’s best defenses, numerous talented skill position players, and one of the worst quarterbacks in NFL history. Signed before the 2016 season, Osweiler’s deal, which guaranteed him $37 million, will go down as one of the worst and funniest in league history after he capped his lone season in Houston by ranking 29th among 30 qualifying quarterbacks in quarterback rating, higher than only Ryan Fitzpatrick (no joke needed).
As soon as news of the trade broke on Thursday, reports began to emerge that the Browns may not even keep Osweiler: The NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported that Cleveland was far more interested in the pick than the player, while ESPN reported that teams have already begun reaching out to Cleveland to register their interest in the league’s, uh, tallest quarterback. Even if the Browns release or move Osweiler, they will still have to pay out some cap dollars, but they’ve deemed that a worthwhile cost for more flexibility in the upcoming draft.
The Browns appear to be going full Sam Hinkie here. They know that Osweiler is not their future at quarterback (he’s no team’s future at quarterback), but they also know that they have $100 million in cap room to burn this year: Taking on a huge cap number in order to acquire a valuable draft asset is genius, and it leaves the Browns with 11 picks in each of the next two drafts, including 10 picks in the first five rounds this year and eight picks in the first five rounds next year.
Since former MLB executive Paul DePodesta took charge of the Cleveland Browns last year, many have wondered how he would attack a sport that is so set in its ways. This is how. Former Packers executive Andrew Brandt, now an ESPN analyst, said the cap-space-for-draft-picks move could “set a new trend.”
Because regardless of what the Browns do with Osweiler, the fact remains that this is a fascinating experiment that no NFL team has really tried. Sure, other teams have been bad for prolonged periods, but no one has really attempted to jump-start a franchise by banking picks en masse. Between this move, sending last year’s no. 2 pick to the Eagles (which they used to draft Carson Wentz), and then trading the Eagles’ no. 8 spot to the Titans (which they used to get a cornerstone offensive lineman), the Browns have acquired an astonishing amount of draft ammo for the coming years. They have Philadelphia’s first-round pick and Tennessee’s second-round pick this year; Philadelphia’s second-round pick and Houston’s second-round pick next year; and even Carolina’s fourth-round pick in 2018 because they traded a punter. A punter!
So sure, the Browns traded for a quarterback who is the living embodiment of their recurring failures, but don’t focus on that. Focus on how shrewd this move really is. If it wasn’t already clear, it is now: The Browns are open for business, willing to take on (even if only temporarily) crappy salaries in exchange for picks. This deal isn’t really about Osweiler; whether he stays or goes, he’s just a bonus (to the extent that a really bad quarterback can be a bonus). This is about starting the Romo watch in Houston — and starting the clock on Bryan Colangelo joining Cleveland in three years.