LONDON – The funniest answer to an NFL reporter’s question this week came from the lips of Browns center JC Tretter when asked about the team’s preparations for Sunday’s game against the Vikings in London.
“We just want to make sure we don’t change our normal routine,” he said.
“Normal” for the current Browns regime is 1-22 since the start of last season. “Routine” is 1-22 with Hue Jackson as coach. Status quo is 1-22 with football decisions made by Sashi Brown, a lawyer, and Paul DePodesta, baseball’s “Moneyball” analytics expert.
JC, buddy, change is the only thing Browns fans have to cling to once again as rumors intensify that Peyton Manning’s lifelong family ties to Browns owner and fellow University of Tennessee alum Jimmy Haslam could lead to Manning taking over as Browns general manager as early as next season.
Manning reportedly is a happy stay-at-home dad to 5-year-old twins. But he recently admitted to Peter King of themmqb.com that he’s interested in running an NFL front office. And Fox’s Jay Glazer reported that Manning will be back in the NFL as a GM next season.
Glazer mentioned the Browns, Titans and Rams as possibilities. Partial ownership of a team could be part of closing the deal for Manning if the future first-ballot Hall of Fame quarterback does indeed choose to follow in the footsteps of Hall of Famers such as Denver’s John Elway and Baltimore’s Ozzie Newsome.
Haslam would be wise to pay da man. Since their resurrection as an expansion franchise in 1999, the Browns are notorious for one thing above all else: infamous decisions at quarterback that have led to an amazingly consistent trend of drafting the wrong ones while passing on the right ones.
For those who argue that Manning doesn’t have any experience running an NFL front office, listen to what Hall of Fame executive Bill Polian, the guy who drafted Manning in 1998, told Tony Grossi of ESPN 850 WKNR in Cleveland:
“He’s certainly more qualified than a lot of people doing the job.”
Manning is only 41 and seemingly ready to take on another big challenge after winning Super Bowls with the Colts and Broncos during an illustrious 18-year career. If he throws as much leadership and attention to detail into a GM role as he did into his playing career, he should be able to surround himself with good people, tap into Polian’s franchise-building wisdom in some capacity and, of course, finally identify a quarterback for a Browns team that has started 28 different ones since 1999.
The current Browns regime didn’t create this mess. The Browns have been swinging and missing on QBs since that spring day in 1999 when they selected Tim Couch No. 1 overall.
They took Kellen Winslow II at No. 6 in 2004. The rival Steelers took native Ohioan Ben Roethlisberger at No. 11. Today, Roethlisberger has more wins in Cleveland than any other quarterback since the new stadium opened in 1999.
That, to me, is probably the most painful of many whiffs the Browns have made at quarterback.
The current regime appears to be targeting the quarterback-rich 2018 class. But its track record in 2016-17 suggests reasons for concern.
In 2016, they traded the No. 2 overall pick to Philadelphia. The Eagles took Carson Wentz and gave the Browns a first-rounder in 2017. The Browns took that pick and traded it to Houston, which took Deshaun Watson.
Today, as the winless Browns look forward to another draft, Wentz and Watson are a combined 9-3 with 32 touchdowns and nine interceptions. And the Eagles and Texans are content at QB, while Jackson has benched rookie DeShone Kizer three times.
Yes, becoming Browns GM would be risky for Manning’s reputation. But he also has to consider that he’d have five picks in the first two rounds of a draft that experts are saying could include one of the best quarterback classes in decades.
And there’s also the giant reward that could come with making 1-22 not feel like such a normal routine in Cleveland.
Mark Craig is an NFL and Vikings Insider. Twitter: @markcraigNFL