The new Browns GM, Andrew Berry, sprinted out of the gate when NFL free agency opened this month. He certainly made the Browns’ intentions known signing former Atlanta Falcons tight end Austin Hooper and former Titans offensive lineman Jack Conklin. Berry and crew didn’t stop there, however, as the once-more-revised front office shored up a number of positions including safety and defensive line while doing this on a number of one-year contracts. How these moves play out of course remain to be seen.
Some moves we can grade are those by former Browns GM John Dorsey, whose abrupt exit from the team still feels like yesterday. Dorsey made a number of moves in his short stint here in Cleveland, some good, some bad, many debatable…and debate we did. Fellow CST writers Andrew Baillargeon, Jack Iles, Mason Lawlor and myself recently collaborated to form this piece as we argued six of these Dorsey deals and why, at the time, they either equaled pure football brilliance or were a disaster waiting to happen.
The DeShone Kizer Trade
Dorsey’s return on Kizer was more than the Browns would’ve gotten out of Kizer for the 2018 and 2019 seasons. Damarious Randall had a solid 2018, snatching four interceptions and acting as a good compliment to Jabrill Peppers. However, last season was a different story. Despite requesting to be played in the box more and calling out Gregg Williams for not doing so, Randall was bulldozed in the run game. He was benched for reasons still unknown and allegedly refused to practice outside in the cold.
Even if that reveals itself to be false, Randall could be seen getting blown by at the start of games like in San Francisco. He proved to be inept against the run and a better fit to roam in the defensive backfield and cover. In the long term, no team won this trade, as Kizer seems to be a lost cause after his experience with the so-called “quarterback whisperer” Hue Jackson. Randall played and acted his way out of a job in Cleveland last season. At the time, Dorsey was smart to make the move. A competent free safety for a backup quarterback who didn’t win a game is a no-hesitation transaction.
This trade was the great heist of the Dorsey regime. Out of nothing but what I can call desperation, the Browns drafted DeShone Kizer in the second round of the 2017 NFL Draft. He was terrible that year, to be generous. In exchange for swapping of fourth and fifth-round picks, the Browns were able to pick up Demarious Randall for Kizer, in what would become an absolute heist. Throughout 2018 and 2019, Randall was one of the Browns standout defensive players, making several big plays and providing crucial depth throughout injury-laden campaigns. Whenever you can exchange a QB who throws twice as many interceptions as touchdowns for a solid safety, go ahead. JD did just that.
The Kevin Zeitler Trade
Why has it been so hard to nail down talent at the offensive line? On the comforting side of things, the Browns are not the only team in the league to struggle with this. Still, we have had a few guys anchor that line that have been, at the very least, impressive. Joel Bitonio comes to mind, as does Kevin Zeitler.
Now before I continue, hindsight is always 20/20, right? Dorsey sent Zeitler to the Giants for defensive end Olivier Vernon. In 2019, Vernon was a slug for Cleveland. I don’t mean the kind that comes out of a shotgun either. I’m talking about the gastropod which labors about on the ground. However, how many of us actually saw that coming before the season started? Zeitler’s value was well known around the league, but so was Vernon’s. It’s easy to look back and say we shouldn’t have. In the moment though, I was all for it.
As a fan of the Bears when I was a kid, I watched them accomplish a dominating victory in Super Bowl XX with an absolutely blistering defense, easily one of the best ever. That forever planted a seed in my head that you can never have enough highly skilled defensive players on your team. Pairing Vernon up on one side with Myles Garrett on the other was a defensive coordinator’s dream. In the moment the trade for Vernon occurred, thoughts of Dan Hampton and Richard Dent popped in my head. Oh the glory days, but sometimes you just can’t go home again.
In an effort to make the Cleveland defensive line an opposing quarterback’s nightmare, I was all for bringing Vernon to the Browns’ D-line despite the cost of losing Kevin Zeitler. Again, the desired results did not come to fruition in 2019. All indications appeared that sacks would tally quicker than our national debt. If Dorsey knew the future, the deal wouldn’t have occurred, but the defensive potential was too great to turn the other cheek to the trade.
Ah, the Zeitler Trade. This was one of the only things that John Dorsey did that made me scratch my head. In this trade, Kevin Zeitler, a Browns offensive guard, was swapped for Giants’ edge rusher Olivier Vernon. I understand where Dorsey was coming from. I really do. The plan was simple. Take the previous year’s draft pick Austin Corbett and slot him into Zeitler’s spot while Vernon and Myles Garret would form a dominant tandem on the opposite of the ball. But, I did disagree with this plan, as good and coherent as it sounded.
The offensive line was the main reason for the Browns’ success at the tail end of the 2018 season. Baker Mayfield had the time necessary to find his targets downfield when he had extended dropbacks. That wasn’t present in 2019. Injuries were present, but it seemed like there was a Zeitler-shaped hole in the line that was formidable less than a season ago. So, as much as I see the idea, I’ve got to give this trade a thumbs down.
The Jarvis Landry Trade
I vividly remember the draft of 2014 when Jarvis Landry was still on the board heading into the second round. Though he did not possess blazing speed, the receiver had hands of glue in college at LSU, and as a result, was known for being one of the most reliable at his position at the Division I level. Of course, in typical Browns fashion, the team passed over him and went a less successful route drafting cornerback Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel in the first round, both of which are long gone from the league.
In the second round, the Browns did take OL Joel Bitonio who has been an anchor on our offensive line ever since. Nevertheless, the two first-round picks were awful if nothing else and Landry certainly made his case on the field for being first-round quality. Enter John Dorsey as the new GM in 2018 when he basically stole Landry from the Dolphins for a 2018 4th round pick and a 2019 7th round pick. Of all the deals Dorsey made, this by far and away has been the best.
In his two seasons in Cleveland, Jarvis Landry has racked up 164 receptions for a whopping 2,314 yards and ten TD’s. While both his seasons here are his lowest in receptions, the 2019 outing was his best in reception yards at 1,174. Players like Landry are a hot commodity around the league. He’s talented, keeps his nose clean, gets involved in the community and takes care of business on the field. What Dorsey gave up for this deal simply pales in comparison to the gem the Browns got in return.
One of the many strengths the Browns have acquired through many, many years of constant losing is that the team has consistently built up a jaw-dropping amount of draft talent with which to bring in new, young, promising players. Therefore, the decision to part ways with some of that capital for a player who was only productive on a number of terrible Dolphins teams was always a questionable decision. Indeed, Jarvis Landry has assumed some kind of “leadership” role with this team which has amounted to what, exactly?
When the team displayed pathetic instances of poor sportsmanship during 2019, namely Week 1 when Greg Robinson got ejected for kicking a Titans defender in the helmet when Myles Garrett beat up Mason Rudolph with his helmet, or the tirade held by various players towards the end of their loss in Arizona, where was Jarvis Landry? Sure, Landry puts up decent numbers sometimes, but when has he done anything to help the team become a consistent winner?
He has had a capable quarterback, a capable running game to make the opposing team remain honest and he has even had a star wide receiver in Odell Beckham Jr. to draw away double teams and yet Landry has just not clicked with Baker Mayfield yet. Considering the potential to land a really strong player with a mid-round draft pick and the trade for Jarvis Landry ultimately does not bear favorably as we reflect upon former GM John Dorsey’s tenure with the team.
Drafting Baker Mayfield
At the time of the 2018 NFL Draft, the annual quarterback debate centered around Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen, with Josh Allen making a late push to the top half of the first round. The attraction to Mayfield had to do with pinpoint accuracy, the quick release, strong arm talent, razor-sharp decision-making, and clean footwork that helped make up for his lack of height. Aside from that, Mayfield seemed to have the ambition and fearless mentality to become the franchise signal-caller Cleveland desperately needed.
Nearly two years later, that profile still holds up despite a rocky sophomore campaign. Mayfield threw only one more touchdown than interception, saw his completion percentage take a nosedive, and won fewer games than he did in his rookie year. I happen to firmly believe that the coaching shift had much to do with the slump. Abandoning the demanding Gregg Williams and QB coach Ken Zampese for his “buddy coaches” Freddie Kitchens and Ryan Lindley, all of the previously mentioned intangibles faded or disappeared completely. His mechanics were a mess and he played much slower.
I do think number 6 is the same player, but he needs to be pushed to stay sharp and developed. Alex Van Pelt and Kevin Stefanski seem like just the guys that can do it, so I expect Mayfield to return to form and look like he did in his rookie season, where he was arguably a top 10 QB in the league.
The notion that drafting Baker Mayfield could be anything but positive at this stage in his career is silly and presumptuous. Mayfield had a terrific rookie year, and “regression” gives him stats that make or barely beat the NFL average for his position at what was a terrible year for the Browns overall. As we’ve seen an entire season of work to suggest Mayfield has the talent to be the franchise quarterback, like with many other players, we can easily, objectively point to the awful performance of former head coach Freddie Kitchens as being immensely responsible for Mayfield, as well as the entire team, severely underperforming in 2019.
Baker Mayfield has proven to both have a strong, accurate arm, and the ability to scramble and keep a play alive when needed. Because of his horrible coach in 2019, his ability to make and execute on good reads and throws was being hindered. You can clearly tell he was being pressured and coached up in an ineffective offense to rush plays, “forcing” the ball to someone, often Odell Beckham Jr. Combine that with an absolutely makeshift offensive line that has been dramatically improved during the offseason, and it is easy to see why Baker Mayfield was ultimately not a bad draft pick. At the very least, he has only had two seasons of time to prove his worth in the NFL. Even if you don’t believe in him currently as the franchise QB, you need to at least acknowledge that he hasn’t been given enough time to label as a poor draft pick as of yet.
Freddie Kitchens as Head Coach
CST continues its series on assessing the moves of GM John Dorsey during his tenure. I’m going to go out on a limb here to make this claim. At the time, hiring Freddie Kitchens was the right move, as crazy as it sounds, but take a look at it through this lens. Think about the way things were going at the time. Freddie Kitchens had come out of nowhere to be the Browns’ offensive coordinator. Gregg Williams was the head coach, but nobody saw him as a long-term fit. Rightfully so given his role with the Bountygate scandal. There really weren’t great options to fill the vacancy.
Have you ever wondered why the Browns cannot attract established coaches to come to Cleveland? It’s because they fire a coach every 1-2 years. No head coach wants to move his family and risk his reputation in Cleveland when there is no job security. McCarthy was never going to come here. The same reason is why Rivera went straight to Washington instead of listening to other offers. He didn’t want the last head coaching vacancy he had to fill to be in Cleveland. So in the sense that there were no big candidates willing to listen, and Freddie Kitchens was within the organization already and had shown nothing but promise, why not? It was the best move in the situation, regardless of how good the move itself ending up being. A sad state of affairs, but that’s the Browns.
Following the 2018 season finale, John Dorsey addressed the Cleveland media as the guy with all the power in the Browns front office. As usual, owner Jimmy Haslam listened to the guy who had the most credibility at the current moment and that was Dorsey last off-season. Nobody seemed to question the hire of Kitchens, who had called eight games as an offensive coordinator with an offense that was put together by other assistant coaches. On paper, the move made some sense. Freddie had a hand in Mayfield’s second-half improvement and became popular on the offensive side. But once we all remember what it takes to be head coach, it’s not difficult to see why Dorsey was fired from Kansas City and never was a part of a hiring process.
Kitchens was not head coaching material. Just like Dorsey, he showed sloppy tendencies and made decisions based on his instincts. It was reflected in the Browns play: without detail, discipline, or collaboration. I believe the biggest reason Dorsey hired him is that the two are undeniably alike, two gum chewing, old-school football guys. Although there’s nothing wrong with that, a head coach needs to be in charge, a rational thinker, and a competent manager. Freddie only proved he could relate to his quarterback, not manage a collective. This was unquestionably Dorsey’s worst move and deservedly put him at odds with the owners, who entrusted him with all the power he could ask for the last offseason. The 2019 Browns were Dorsey’s team and they disappointed in every way possible.
The OBJ Trade
The Odell Beckham Jr. trade undoubtedly got the Browns a guy they will be able to rely on as a deadly receiving threat for years, one who will consistently continue to perform and perform well. While the haul given up to acquire him was no doubt steep, he has helped to soften the blows in a couple of different ways. The first and definitely most important stems from his production on the field. Even in enduring what many considered to be a “down year” for OBJ, and really, what was a down year for the whole offense, a massive amount of regression from Baker Mayfield, and beyond awful play-calling and general coaching from former head coach Freddie Kitchens, he was able to haul in over 1,000 yards and bring in 74 catches. Now, because we can objectively point to the pitiful performance of Kitchens as being largely responsible for everyone’s underachieving season, it stands to reason that, with a guy with actual play-calling experience at the helm in Kevin Stefanski, Beckham Jr.’s stats and overall production will go up. He didn’t even have all that bad of a season considering how horribly things around him fell apart.
The second reason why Odell Beckham Jr. will undoubtedly go down to be a good acquisition for the Browns stems from a number of things off the field. I’m not talking about his watch, his cleats, his wacky hairdo, or anything like that. I’m talking about what he brings to the team, financially. The team average over 2,000 more fans per game in 2019 than in 2018 and Beckham Jr. absolutely had a lot to do with that, generating hype and giving fans a reason to feel excited. Of course, it would be wrongful to suggest that OBJ by himself was why the team disappointed on the field, and as previously mentioned, he wasn’t even a particularly large part of why the team went 6-10. As such, Beckham Jr is helping to make the team more money via ticket sales, which is an underrated factor GMs look for when acquiring players and/or coaches for their team.
Because of these two reasons, there is simply no way you can argue that John Dorsey made a mistake in acquiring Odell Beckham Jr when he was the Browns’ General Manager.
Oh yes, the much talked about the OBJ trade. Few things swept NFL fans off their feet last season like John Dorsey dealing former Browns first-round pick Jabrill Pepper along with a first and third-round pick to the Giants for the all-pro wideout. Truth be told, I was in disbelief when the trade happened. Hey, Cleveland got its superstar. Was I happy? Sure I was, but I was more leaning toward the side of “I can’t believe this deal actually happened.” Then I saw what we gave up for it.
Jabrill Peppers seemed to have a rocky go of it here in Cleveland off the field in late 2018 when so-called fans started calling him out inside of a CVS he was visiting. Rumors started swirling if he wanted to be here. Still, the former Michigan safety was starting to come into his own becoming a noticeably effective part of the defense. That blistering sack he issued against the Broncos late in the 2018 campaign showed what he was capable of. We had defense. We need defense. We traded away defense. I always struggle with the validation of a deal when I see the Browns trade defense away for offense.
Even if Peppers and the two picks the Giants got from Cleveland don’t end up amounting to much, Odell Beckham Jr., as big of a talent as he is, is also a big distraction. I am going to steal a line someone said to me recently as I truly believe it. This offense runs smoother without him. There is just too much unnecessary worry about getting the ball in his direction enough times to make him happy…and just what number makes him happy? As fellow CST writer Mason Lawlor also pointed out, the wide receiver skipped practices, yelled at his coaches and wore watches during games that cost over a quarter-million dollars. With nonsense like that, this blockbuster deal was one that I really didn’t want when it happened and certainly hasn’t paid off the desired dividends since it has happened.