Trade with Eagles Puts Browns in Position to Build a Contender

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterApril 20, 2016

Browns GM Sashi Brown pulled off what could be a franchise-changing deal Wednesday.
Browns GM Sashi Brown pulled off what could be a franchise-changing deal Wednesday.Associated Press

The Cleveland Browns just made one of the smartest moves of this year's draft.


(Rewinds the tape. Slaps self. Splashes water in face. Makes sure there's no glitch in the Matrix. Slaps self again. More water. Yep, I'm conscious.)

The last time this was written—"Cleveland makes smart move"—was probably when they drafted Jim Brown in 1957.

The Browns have been such an embarrassment over the past few decades when it comes to the draft, writing that they are doing anything smart is fraught with risk, like re-upping a director for a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles sequel before actually seeing the movie.

After all, the Browns drafted Jonathan Paul Manziel. No need to go much further when looking for putrid, disgraceful, horrid, crappy, incredibly dumb Browns draft decisions.

But what Cleveland did in trading with the Eagles on Wednesday was brilliant.

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They still have to make the picks, but the trade itself was a smart move by the Moneyballers.

This is why: The Browns need picks. They need lots of picks. They need poker chips and bodies and capital to build the team back to respectability.

When you're a doorstop and laughingstock, you need to do something drastic to change things. This is that kind of move. It could be the start of the Browns becoming something they haven't been since the '80s: a Super Bowl-caliber team.

The Browns are embracing the philosophy that draft picks are like lottery tickets. The more you have, the better chance there is of winning the Mega Millions Powerball.

This approach is definitely risky. While a high-ranking source in the Browns organization told me that the team was not crazy about either of the top quarterbacks in this year's draft, Carson Wentz or Jared Goff, the quarterback class next year isn't great and the possible free-agent pass-throwers aren't awesome, either. And we know how valuable the position is.

We also know that the NFL is a team game. The Broncos won the Super Bowl last season not because of a way-past-his-prime Peyton Manning, but because of a loaded and nasty defense. They also had an offensive line to open running lanes, and that protected Manning. The only running lanes opened in Cleveland last season were the ones Manziel used to hit da club.

The Browns could use their new and shiny eighth pick to take Michigan State's Jack Conklin. Start building that offensive line into something special.

Gregory Payan/Associated Press

They have six picks in the top 100. They can get a center, a defensive end, a linebacker, a defensive tackle, a running back. On and on it goes.

The old Browns would have taken a punter with the eighth pick. OK, not a punter. That's not fair. A place-kicker.

Still not fair? OK, they would have used it to pick a quarterback even though they didn't really believe in him.

What I know for certain is that NFL front offices have spent a lot of time privately mocking the new Cleveland front office. Trust me, I've heard the sarcastic comments. Smirking is fully discernible in text messaging.

Well, the Moneyballer dudes did pretty well fleecing the Eagles. The only thing Philadelphia didn't give up was the Rocky statue. The Browns got a first, third and fourth in 2016, a first in 2017 and a second in 2018. You don't need charts or data or draft-pick trade calculators. You need common sense. This may go down as one of the most lopsided trades of all time.

The Eagles are also bucking history. As was reported on ESPN on Wednesday, over the past five years, teams that traded into the top five used those picks on players who were, shall we say, not quite worth the effort. Those players picked were Justin Blackmon, Trent Richardson and Robert Griffin III in 2012, Dion Jordan in 2013 and Sammy Watkins in 2014.

Only Watkins played a single snap in 2015. Jordan and Blackmon were suspended, and Griffin was on the bench.

I know what people will say in response to this column. Sure, nice deal, but now the Browns must actually pick some good players.

That's true, but after this move, you have to feel far more confident that this group knows what it's doing.

The Browns made one of the smartest moves of this year's draft. That's an incredible statement—the football equivalent of the moon landing.

And it's true. Damn, it's actually true.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.