Are The Cleveland Browns Really Tanking?

By Dick Primo
Joe Banner
Credit: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

So it appears that everyone is asking one question going into Week 2: Are the Cleveland Browns tanking 2013? We’re a game into the season, and all of the optimism has been traded in for conspiracies.

Then again, it’s easy enough to understand. The Browns, a bad team for the past five seasons, came into the past offseason in a good position: Lots of young players and cap space. The fan base was licking its chops waiting for the NFL free agency period to begin.

It started out promising enough when the Browns landed Paul Kruger. But by the time it was over, the excitement from the fans was dampened a little. They had expected a high-prized cornerback to be signed since it was such a glaring hole last year. None was.

Then came the draft when the Browns walked away with Barkevious Mingo and a bunch of draft picks for next year. Worry started creeping in. “On no, not this again!”

But the team talked about an attacking offense and how this year they were going to make good use of the pieces on this team, that last year’s coaches misused everyone.

Alright then! Attacking offense! And a big blitzing defense! That sounds good. Not sure who is going to cover the other teams’ wide receivers, but okay! Let’s do this!

Preseason Games 1 and 2 looked promising. Then came Game 3, the unofficial dress rehearsal: An ugly loss. Browns fans started thinking the worst. “Here we go again!”

As I’ve noted before, many fans were expecting some pretty good things from this team. A few were expecting unrealistic things from this team. And in Week 1 of the regular season, the team came out once again flat and suffered another ugly loss.

Consider the panic button firmly pushed.

It’s hard for fans to believe that any team in the NFL can remain this awful for so many consecutive seasons. There’s a hard salary cap and parity and all of that. Heck, even the Detroit Lions found a way to win.

Since it’s hard to fathom how yet another front office could come in here and turn out the same product of the previous regimes, fans can only come to one logical conclusion: The team is losing on purpose.

Seriously, you could accidentally have a better season now and again than the Browns have had since 2007 ended. How could they be this bad for this long? Well, never mind the trice turned over front office and coaching staff in that five-year period. The fans wanted those moves, so it can’t be that!

But is it true? Could Joe Banner want this team to be bad this year so that they can get a quarterback they actually want in the 2014 draft? Did they purposefully not load up on any players — especially a free agent cornerback to go opposite Joe Haden — so that they would improve their 2014 draft position while simultaneously testing the current roster against the coach’s strategies? They had a chance to test the players during the offseason and preseason. I can’t truly believe that they could be so bad at evaluating talent that they needed regular season games to know for sure.

But that doesn’t mean they weren’t working on losing in order to get high picks in the 2014 draft. That draft is supposed to be deep, at least according to the talking heads on TV who have no accountability for what they predict.

And obviously, the Browns brass isn’t going to say they’re losing on purpose. They can’t tell the fans, “We’re tanking, but still come out to the games and buy more of our awful product.” So it’s up to us to try and make our best guess.

Did Banner, Mike Lombardi and, possibly, Rob Chudzinski purposefully sabotage this team, maybe with ownership’s approval?

It’s hard to say. I find myself to be a pretty rational person, and I don’t typically side with fan hysteria, but I’m not so sure they aren’t right about this. For once the fans are making some sense!

But I’ll say this, too: It’s one game. Maybe we can all calm down for now. I mean, seriously, this team has played one game out of 16. We could give them until the bye week before we start making such accusations, right?

What am I talking about? Am I out of my mind? This is Cleveland! FIRE JOE BANNER!

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