BEREA, Ohio -- Sashi Brown’s tenure as the Browns vice president of football operations didn’t last long, but in the end it might be more consequential than any since 1999.
That’s because the offseason situation that Brown bequeaths -- involuntarily -- to his successor might be the turning point for a franchise that has been miserable for years.
This offseason, the Browns could have upwards of $100 million in salary-cap space. They will have two picks in the first round of the draft, and both could be in the top 10. They will have three picks in the second round.
That is the most attractive part of the job for new general manager John Dorsey, and he admitted that Friday.
This was Brown’s plan all along. He inherited a roster that had one legitimate player from the four first-round picks in 2014 and 2015: defensive lineman Danny Shelton.
He made the decision that the roster was aged, expensive and lacking, and it would require a long-term build. Owner Jimmy Haslam bought in, calling it a multiyear rebuild the night he announced Brown’s hiring. The emphasis would be on the draft. Brown also decided he would not spend a lot of salary-cap money on veteran players who would not be around for the long term.
It would be a painful process, but he believed he had the support of ownership to proceed.
To a point, he did. When the Browns let four veteran free agents sign elsewhere on the first day of free agency, nobody balked. When they traded out of the second pick in the 2016 draft, there was support because it meant more picks for the future. When they made the bizarre Brock Osweiler deal, they called it creative because it added a second-round draft pick.
But one win in two seasons was the tsunami Brown could not avoid.
So too were the decisions made regarding quarterbacks. Passing on Carson Wentz in 2016, even in a trade initially supported internally, is like iodine in a wound; he has proved he is an MVP candidate and could be a great player for years, and the Browns didn’t take him when they had the chance. The thinking is evident with amassing picks, but taking the wrong quarterback or passing on a good one sets a team back years.
Like any GM, Brown had hits and misses among the 24 draft picks he made.
But defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah has the hallmarks of a very good, every-down player. Shon Coleman could work out at right tackle. Joe Schobert has started all season at middle linebacker and has more than 100 tackles. Spencer Drango has filled in better than expected in the absence of Joe Thomas.
A large issue from the 2016 draft: The four receivers selected have produced next to nothing.
In the 2017 draft, Myles Garrett was the right choice after an internal debate, and David Njoku and Jabrill Peppers have played better as the season has progressed. But for the second year in a row, the Browns passed on a talented quarterback in Deshaun Watson.
The Browns instead took DeShone Kizer in the second round. Kizer started all season, and if he finishes the way he’s been playing and improves his accuracy, he will be in the discussion among potential quarterbacks in the team's future. But when he was healthy, Watson was setting rookie records in Houston.
The failed AJ McCarron trade was just more bad publicity for a team that always seems to find the bumpiest road.
Brown’s first free-agent class was marred by the decisions not to keep Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Tashaun Gipson and Travis Benjamin. Any could have helped the past two years, though Mack was highly unlikely to stay.
In his second offseason, Brown was smart not to overpay Terrelle Pryor, but the antics and failures of Kenny Britt overshadowed everything else. Jason McCourty has played far better than expected, and the Browns have two starting offensive linemen in Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter.
All the while, he was amassing draft picks and hoarding cap room for 2018. He has the Browns in a position to draft a quarterback and sign a veteran QB, and add other players via free agency. The Browns have five draft picks in the first two rounds.
Yet he will watch from afar, which has to be a bitter pill to swallow.
The problem: Coaches aren’t wired for two or three years down the road. They work week to week, game to game and year to year.
They are the ones out front getting the questions, taking the barbs and criticisms and hearing the boos when a team loses.
Imagine if the Browns offered their job to any veteran, confident coach in 2016 and said: Look, the next two years will be tough because we’re building long term and it won’t happen overnight, so you will just have to deal with that.
That coach would have immediately been on the phone to the next team. Coaches are not wired to accept losing on a weekly basis.
And in this case, the reason the Browns lost was because the long-term build, combined with the quarterback/receiver misses, made this roster too young and too lacking in too many key areas to win.
The visions were different. Haslam chose the coaches, which meant adding a traditional football guy to run the show.
Brown is a quality person respected across the league. It surprised many when he got the job in January of 2016, but he had a plan and even the owner admitted before the 2017 season that the plan would show its most positive signs starting in 2018. He stuck to the plan and now has the owner’s kind farewell to show for it.
These have been two miserably painful years for a fan base that deserves far better.
If Dorsey gets this offseason right, that fan base might look back and say: Well, Sashi Brown sure was right about that 2018 thing.