It’s rare in life that things work out exactly as planned.
It’s even more rare in sports when things work out as planned.
It’s even rarer when things go as planned regarding the Cleveland Browns.
Everyone knows the agony that Cleveland’s fanbase has endured since the team’s return in 1999. The Browns are etched onto a short list of teams that have never even made a Super Bowl appearance including the Lions, Texans and Jaguars.
Cleveland’s misery came to a spectacular culmination in 2017 when the Browns became only the second team in NFL history to go winless.
A 2017-18 season full of almosts, mental lapses and therapy Mondays resulted into a parade of depressed Browns fans circling around First Energy Stadium in protest on a frigidly cold January afternoon.
Nationally, the parade, as well as the team the parade marched for, was mocked and ridiculed as disgraceful to the NFL and the sport of football.
January came to a close, the parade was in the past, and it was nearing time for the NFL Draft where the Browns possessed the first and fourth overall pick.
Having so much draft capital, the Browns could go several different ways as big ticket names such as Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Josh Allen and Saquon Barkley surfaced for the No. 1 overall pick.
For the Browns, “safe picks” certainly existed. Fans wanted to see Sam Darnold or Josh Allen in brown and orange because they are tall, strong typical AFC North quarterbacks. Some fans wanted Penn State standout running back and “generational talent” Barkley, with whatever QB fell to No. 4.
General manager John Dorsey had bigger, brighter plans for the draft.
That plan was Baker Mayfield.
Hailing from Austin, Texas existed a 6-foot Heisman winning quarterback that possessed a swagger, moxie and will to win that was unmatched amongst the other candidates. A chip permanently exists on his shoulder, as he walked onto two different college teams.
“He’s too small, undraftable and Manziel 2.0,” were all rumblings amongst fans and media to stay away from drafting Mayfield.
Were their safer options than Mayfield? Absolutely.
Dorsey could have went with Darnold or Allen and been just fine. But there’s something different with Mayfield. It was his poise and the swagger that made him the No. 1 overall pick. Mayfield, on record, said he wanted to be known as the player to turnaround the Cleveland Browns.
He wasn’t the safest option, but he was the perfect option for the situation the Browns were in. They needed someone to turn them around. Mayfield did just that.
Fast forward to a Week 8 loss in Pittsburgh, Mayfield’s head coach, Hue Jackson was fired.
Mayfield looked “OK” in his five starts with Jackson at the helm, but it wasn’t until the emergence of running back coach Freddie Kitchens as interim offensive coordinator where Mayfield would shine brightest.
The widespread, open offensive style was something Mayfield strived with during his time in college at Oklahoma. Football fans and pundits thought there was no way that style of football would translate to the NFL. Kitchens found a way to make it work for the Browns.
With Kitchens calling the plays, the Browns posted a 5-3 record. Mayfield seemingly effortlessly broke the rookie touchdown record possessed by Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson.
When the season ended, Dorsey and his search committee left no rock unturned, interviewing nearly 10 candidates for their head coaching vacancy.
Ultimately, Kitchens was named the seventeenth head coach of the Browns.
Again, were there safer, more experienced options than someone who came into the season as a running backs coach? Absolutely.
However, they weren’t the perfect fit for the situation. Kitchens, with Mayfield, was the best solution for the Browns.
“I’ve been to one Super Bowl that didn’t end the way I wanted it to and that disappointing memory is what really drives me,” Kitchens said. “Our goal is to work extremely hard to earn the right to raise that Lombardi trophy for our fans and this city.”
Nick Pedone can be reached on Twitter with comments or questions, @NickPedone12. Header Photo: SI