In the week leading up to a game that, in the grand scheme of things, isn’t as marketable as some of the others in the Buffalo Bills season. They’re taking on the winless Cleveland Browns, which is a contest that is likely breeding just as much anxiety amongst the fan base about losing, as it is confidence in facing off against an 0-13 team to secure a victory.
It’s a matchup between two franchises at completely different stages, with two starkly contrasting approaches.
And it got me to thinking, where both of these teams are, who would you rather be: the Bills or the Browns?
I know what some might impulsively be thinking:
“One team is three losses away from going 0-16, and the other still has a chance at the playoffs, you’d want to be the Bills.”
I tend to think the other way.
Of the two, I’d rather be in the Cleveland Browns’ current situation than the on the Buffalo Bills find themselves in. Heck, I’d rather be the Browns than the Bills even if the latter somehow managed to sneak into the playoffs this year. And yes, I know they’re 0-13.
Once you’re done laughing… hear me out.
The Browns are in a fascinating spot because they — for the time being, anyway, are bottoming out the right way. They’re three straight losses away from assuring themselves the No. 1 pick in the draft, and the top pick in every single round, too.
Based on some savvy maneuvering, the Browns have also managed to get themselves — as of December 16th — the 10th overall pick thanks to the trade up by the Philadelphia Eagles last April for North Dakota State quarterback Carson Wentz. With the Eagles reeling the way that they have been, that number could get even better over the final three weeks of the season.
They’ve got an additional second round pick from the Tennessee Titans, and their own third round pick… giving them a grand total of two Top 10 selections, and five picks out of the first 65 in the 2017 draft.
On top of those five picks through the first three rounds, the Browns have a projected seven selections through the last four. They would have had another third or fourth round pick, but that one went to the New England Patriots for outside linebacker and potential defensive building block Jamie Collins.
And hey, just for good measure, they’ve got another nine picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, with three of them coming in the first two rounds.
They’ve stripped their roster, created a ton of cap space in the process, — try, nearly $110 million this coming offseason on for size — and one of the most innovative offensive head coaches (Hue Jackson) in the National Football League.
As Browns offensive tackle Joe Thomas called it on Wednesday to Buffalo reporters, it’s a “deep rebuild.” Although Thomas, who will be 33 years old and has already seen his fair share of trade rumors linked to him, may not be there to see it out — and could even be a piece to help the rebuilding process even further.
While the Browns are the laughingstock of the league for now, they can start implementing their long-term plan for sustained success by developing young players into a raw, but talented roster. It won’t happen overnight, but from most accounts, they’ll be getting the patience to see this thing out.
Then there’s the Bills, who boast a talented roster, and sit only two games out from the playoffs with three games to go. They’ve got multiple high level players in LeSean McCoy, Sammy Watkins, Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, Richie Incognito, and more.
The trouble is, they’ve gotten poor production out of the quarterback position, a Jekyll and Hyde brand of defensive play, and as a result, the Bills’ record doesn’t reflect the talent that exists on paper.
Making matters even more interesting for the future, three of those top five players I listed are either getting to, or nearing the end of their prime. And the Bills, likely winding up in the same boat as the Browns — without the playoffs — have nearly $80 million less in cap space in the upcoming offseason, and one of the lowest amount of players in the league signed to the roster for the 2017 season.
They’ve got a total of 24 scheduled unrestricted free agents in this coming offseason, and 14 of them have started a game in this past season.
The Bills also have a head coach, who at one time was considered innovative on the defensive side of the ball, but through two years has made questionable game day decisions and remains in the bottom half of the league for the second season in a row.
Like the Browns, the Bills seem no closer to a longterm answer at quarterback, but have a $30 million decision hanging over their heads for a quarterback in the coming months that their current head coach is tied to.
The Browns have a plan for the future, and the Bills are trying to figure it out as they go.
Now, to throw some dirt on the Browns theory… they are a long way away from competing and haven’t taken a swing on a quarterback just yet — which is the ultimate question they need to answer. Plus, there’s no guarantee that the people they have in place to make the gobs of draft selections that they have over the next two years, and the same goes for all that cap space in their arsenal, too.
There’s no way of knowing if it will go well, but, they are armed for the future unlike any other franchise in the NFL… and are essentially unmatched in that regard. The Bills, on the other hand, may have to start all over with a new head coach, and a low amount of cap space to bridge the gap on all the 24 potential free agents coming from the Bills roster.
The city of Buffalo is no stranger to the ways of the “tank,” having endured it for several seasons with the Sabres — and finally, that patience is starting to be rewarded with glimpses of what can be with their young, yet talented team.
Without ever having fully taken the medicine of a truly awful year through the almost 17-year playoff drought, perhaps it’s time that the Bills to do just that. Like the Browns, there’s no guarantee it will work — but it’s certainly worked in the past for some franchises.
At the very least, it’s trying something new. Something that hasn’t been seen with the Bills in a very, very long time.
When the Bills line up against the 0-13 Browns on Sunday at New Era Field, you’ll probably see a Buffalo victory, and it will make fans feel good about not losing to a winless team. That feeling, however, is fleeting.
And while it’s a temporary win in what is looking to be another meaningless season, it’s also helping the Browns achieve their ultimate goal of the season: Securing the first overall pick, and determining the future for themselves.
So yes, I’d much rather be the Browns than the Bills right now… and it’s not even close.
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