Browns comedy of errors turning franchise into Shakespearean tragedy

Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.

From bad to worse: The Browns now have gone from torturing us to taunting us.

They are saying, “We can be as bad as we want to be. And the more you complain about it, we’re going to be even badder. Just watch.”

How else to explain the latest chapters in their book How To Drive a Football Franchise Into The Ground?

You want Carson Wentz? Naw, we’re going to trade that pick.

You want Deshaun Watson? Nope, we’re going to trade that pick.

What do you think of Brock Osweiler? Too bad, we’re trading for him.

Those three transactions alone would constitute fireable offenses with most reputable organizations. But in the span of 24 hours, the Browns actually out-did themselves with two more demonstrations of incomprehensible incompetence.

First, they were asleep at the switch when Bill Belichick, in a rare state of desperation, finally made Jimmy Garoppolo available in trade and the Browns watched him dealt to the San Francisco 49ers for the discount price of a second-round pick.

Then they over-reacted and agreed to a ridiculous price for Cincinnati’s AJ McCarron – second- and third-round picks -- only to botch that trade by missing the league deadline for signed paperwork.

“It’s like setting up for a game-winning field goal, and you let the clock run down to five, four, three … and then you call timeout after the clock runs out,” said a league source familiar with what happened.

Scared off: The most egregious of these offenses was the failure to land Garoppolo, who is indisputably the brighter prospect, the most prepared and best-groomed to emerge as the next NFL star quarterback.

The Browns poked around a trade for Garoppolo on draft weekend. But they always tip-toed to the altar of Belichick instead of pursuing Garoppolo aggressively.

When Belichick sent word through his media confidantes that he intended to drive a hard bargain – eliciting the falsehood that Garoppolo would not be traded “under any circumstances” -- the Browns backed off, as if they were fearful of being taken to the cleaners. “They’re not being aggressive,” a source familiar with their trade talks told me then.

Had the Browns assessed Belichick’s situation properly -- that the Patriots couldn’t possibly afford keeping Tom Brady and Garoppolo -- they would have realized a trade was inevitable and they had the resources to outbid any team, by plenty.

Instead, they assumed the reports were accurate and they snoozed while Belichick gave away Garoppolo for a second-round pick.

There is a narrative that the Browns had no chance for Garoppolo because of their rampant dysfunction. That either Belichick was too fond of Garoppolo to send him to football’s Siberia or that Garoppolo’s agent would never agree to a long-term deal with the Browns.

All of that is tripe.

First off, because of their recent history of bungling, the Browns are in the position of having to overpay for everything. Belichick would have taken a first-round pick or two picks in the second round because it was a better trade for the Patriots than he had in hand. The Browns timidly never made a strong pitch for Garoppolo on Monday.

Secondly, the impression that Garoppolo would not agree to a long-term contract with the Browns is a common ploy to set the bar high for negotiations. The only teams that fall for it are those run by amateurs.

More infighting: Why were the Browns seemingly more aggressive in pursuing McCarron? And how could their deal with the Bengals fail to be reported to the league prior to the deadline?

This case, I believe, exposed the counter-productive state of relations between Hue Jackson and the analytics crew headed by Sashi Brown.

McCarron has little value except for the fact that he knows Jackson’s system. I imagine Jackson figured he could win two or three games over the last eight with McCarron, and that might win Jackson not only a third season but also some clout with the Haslams in regards to future personnel decisions.

While Brown reportedly agreed to terms of the deal with the Bengals – second- and third-round picks in 2018; one source told me there was also a future pick in 2019 – Brown also recognized the price was outlandish.

Now, Brown could easily submarine the trade by dawdling and missing the league deadline on purpose. Brown may not be a football guy, but his years as a club legal counsel required him to be up on all the league protocols. While it’s hard to believe he would sabotage his own trade, it’s equally unthinkable that he could slip on reporting it on time. He knows how anal the league is with deadlines.

In the last 24 hours, the Browns have taken more hits on their credibility as an organization to navigate the shark-infested waters of quarterback-hunting.

And now over two years, they have botched lay-up opportunities to add Wentz, or Watson, or Garoppolo.

“That’s the future of the league, right there,” said a league source observing the Browns in bewilderment. “It’s really a Shakespearean tragedy what’s going on over there.”