At this point, many Browns fans have already been hoping for the team to lose for weeks to improve its draft positioning in 2012. Personally, I will never condone tanking a season for draft picks, though I'll grudgingly admit that I do understand the logic behind throwing in the towel early for the sake of future picks if the season is already lost.
But whether the Browns adopted the Suicide For Draft Slot strategy, the way they've played ensures they'll have a pretty good position when draft day rolls around next spring.
Currently the Browns are slated to have the fourth pick overall and roughly the 22nd pick overall (from Atlanta).
Generally speaking, it's a little early for mock drafts, particularly because the draft order isn't even set yet.
But as for what we can expect from the Browns in the 2012 NFL draft in the broader sense? Well, this is Cleveland, after all; it's never too early to start waiting 'til next year.
...but it won't be with their first pick overall.
It's no secret that the Browns really love to trade down. We've seen it multiple times in the last few years, and it has delivered mixed results for the team.
In the recent past, the Browns have had a few notable trade down instances. They traded the fifth overall pick in 2009 to the Jets (who used it to draft QB Mark Sanchez), and got back three players (Kenyon Coleman, Abe Elam and Brett Ratliff), none of whom are still with the Browns.
And of course, last spring the Browns traded sixth overall pick in the 2011 draft to the Atlanta Falcons, who wanted WR Julio Jones badly enough to give the Browns five picks—their first- and fourth-round picks in 2012 and three picks in last year's draft.
Both moves made sense at the time for the Browns, though the results down the road have been both good and bad. The 2011 trade with Atlanta can't even be evaluated yet because two of the picks have yet to be made.
Overall, trading down has (for the most part), not worked out too badly for the Browns, which is why we'll likely see it again at some point during the 2012 draft.
That said, there's no reason to panic about that fourth-overall pick. The Browns are no longer in a position where it makes much sense to move out of the fourth slot, unless someone makes them an offer they simply can't refuse. They'll likely hold onto that one, but you should expect to see them trade out in at least one instance with the picks that follow their first one.
Sorry, Colt McCoy haters. There will be no big reveal that the Browns strategy all through 2011 was to Suck for Luck. Or for Robert Griffin III or any other rookie quarterback.
So for those hoping to see McCoy replaced with a hotshot rookie quarterback, prepare to be disappointed.
It's likely that both will be off the board before the Browns even make a selection, and even if Griffin were still available, the Browns have far greater needs at other positions than at quarterback at the moment.
We all know that McCoy's numbers and overall performance have suffered as a result of a terrible offensive line, struggling receivers and questionable play-calling. Obviously, some of the fault is his own as well, but how much of it is really about a lack of talent for McCoy as opposed to the failures of those around him remains to be seen.
In other words, it's tough to evaluate McCoy when it's so difficult to tell what kind of quarterback he would really be if the group around him were better. We should know the answer to that by next season, but no one is going to make that call this winter before the 2012 draft.
This isn't to say that the Browns won't draft a quarterback at all in 2012; it's easily possible that we will see them take one in the later rounds. But as for the first round, the Browns have too many problems in other areas and not enough reasons to give up on McCoy to burn their first pick on a quarterback.
There is always the theory that if, say, Griffin were to be on the board when the Browns pick, it would make sense to take him anyway, with the idea that he could always be traded at a high price later even if the Browns never used him to replace McCoy. There are about a million flaws in that theory, which I won't get into here, but suffice it to say it's highly unlikely the Browns draft a player with their first pick who they have no intention of ever using.
In the 2011 draft, the Browns seemed to favor the approach of improving the defense first, leaving many of the team's offensive issues to be addressed at a later date. While they did draft WR Greg Little in the late second round, their other early picks were spent primarily on improving the defense.
Later in the draft, the Browns moved more toward filling gaps on the offense, but this season, I expect we'll see that strategy flip-flopped and the Browns will go after offensive players first with their higher picks, and fill defensive holes later with picks in the back half of the draft.
Obviously most of the fanbase is clamoring for a marquee wide receiver, but that seems unlikely. Justin Blackmon will likely be off the board when the Browns pick, and there are no other receivers in the draft who are worth a pick as high as fourth overall.
I do think the Browns will draft a receiver, but it will likely be later on in the selection process. If the team decides to pursue acquiring a top-tier receiver (and let's hope that they do), it will likely be through free agency rather than by using their first draft pick.
So what will the Browns do with that first overall pick?
Tough to say at this point. Much of that will be dictated by what the handful of teams picking ahead of them decide to do.
Obviously if Blackmon were still on the board, the Browns might consider selecting him. The more likely scenario though could leave RB Trent Richardson available.
Whether the Browns should spend their first pick on Richardson if he's available depends on whether you think Peyton Hillis will re-sign with the Browns (and be productive and injury free for the bulk of the 2012 season), as well as whether you think Richardson is as good as advertised.
It would be a big risk to take for a team with so many other question marks, particularly when it seems the Browns could afford to re-sign Hillis (thanks to the hit his market value took this year) if they so choose.
So as painful and quite frankly, boring, as it always feels to draft an offensive lineman with one's first overall pick, that may well be the smartest thing the Browns could do when they draft in 2012.
USC's Matt Kalil is likely the top target for the position group, but he'll likely go to St. Louis, who drafts ahead of the Browns and has a line that's easily as bad and probably worse than Cleveland's.
That means the Browns top choices would be Iowa's Riley Reiff or Stanford's Jonathan Martin, both offensive linemen slated to enter the draft this year and projected first-round selections.
It's tough to justify either one as a fourth overall pick (which lends some credence to the theory that the Browns actually could trade down with their first pick for one of them). But then again, after seeing QB Colt McCoy repeatedly smashed to bits by defenders thanks to his Swiss cheese of an offensive line, it's hard not to justify going in this direction with the first pick in the 2012 draft.
...but don't worry, you'll live.
You''ve lived through the last 45 Super bowls the Browns didn't win (or even get to), right?
The Browns will always make us mad. They will do it again during this draft and they will do it during the next one and then next and so forth, as well as over and over again during the season.
We'll be mad at them during the 2012 sraft for trading down or for passing on a wide receiver with elite potential or for leaving Robert Griffin III on the board or some other offense, but that's all part of the process, and in the end, the Browns will likely come away from the 2012 draft having done pretty well.
Not everyone agrees with the Browns specific selections from last year's draft, but we can certainly all agree that the end result netted the team a pretty good return, whether it's in terms of the players taken (particularly those chosen in the early rounds), or the future draft picks acquired from the Falcons.
The Browns do a lot of things wrong, but draft-wise, they've been better than most. We may not always agree with their selections and they may not always wind up choosing the guy who will later turn out to have been the best player on the board, but overall, drafting is a strength, not a weakness, for the Browns.
The Browns haven't improved as significantly or as quickly as we'd hoped over the last two years (even if we knew our hopes, at least for the time table on it, were a bit of a reach), but they've drafted well under Holmgren and Heckert and the team has improved in many areas because of that.
Even after this spring's draft, the Browns will still have a lot of work to do. But you can bet that they'll make some serious progress on draft day in 2012.