Character Still Matters: Why the Browns Messed up the Draft Again

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that the Cleveland Browns, always in possession of a good draft pick, will find a way to screw it up. This year was no different. The 2018 NFL Draft began with Cleveland having the first pick. For a team desperately in need of a quarterback, this draft was full of them. Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Baker Mayfield, Josh Allen, and Lamar Jackson all showed promise of being able to play at an elite level. Because of this, the secondary qualities of each quarterback, namely their character, should have been taken more into account by the Browns organization when making the decision to go with Baker Mayfield.

Baker Mayfield’s character has been in the spotlight for some time now. In early 2017, he was arrested in Fayetteville, AK and charged with public intoxication, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest. Though the last charge was dropped, the police camera revealed Mayfield attempting to run from the scene and being tackled by one of the officers. Eventually, a plea deal was reached, but only in the worlds of sports and entertainment does this highly reprehensible behavior get such a lenient pass.

Along with this, there was the iconic “crotch grab” incident late last season against Kansas. Up 27-3 in the 3rd quarter Mayfield taunted the Kansas sideline by grabbing his crotch all while shouting multiple obscenities. You can hear in the clip the announcers say “that’s inappropriate...uncalled for,” and “NFL GM’s (general managers) are going to see that and mark it down.” Evidently John Dorsey didn’t take enough notes on his future pick.

There have been many who have argued that Baker Mayfield has reformed and will not be a repeat of Johnny Manziel. This may be true. Mayfield may have learned from his mistakes, but only time will tell. And while he is not a carbon-copy of Manziel, he is very similar, as notable sportscaster Colin Cowherd observed over a month ago. But I will say this: even if he has reformed, our experiences and actions shape us. It’s not inconceivable that when more pressure is placed on Mayfield, his vices may start to show again.

Alternatively, it has been said that Mayfield was the best selection the Browns could have made. Again, this may be true, but the 2017 NFL season showed that any half-decent quarterback could compete at an elite level provided they had the proper pieces around them. Case Keenum made it to the NFC Championship only to be bested by another middling quarterback, Nick Foles, who ended up winning the Super Bowl. Even Kirk Cousins was able to get the Washington Redskins to one game below .500. So to say that the Browns could not have performed with any other quarterback from this draft is questionable.

Finally—and maybe I am old-fashioned—I am not the kind of person who wants their franchise quarterback running from the cops and grabbing his crotch. I still like to think that having good character is something to be desired and lauded by most organizations, whether it be in sports, entertainment, or politics. Many will say, “As long as he wins, I don’t care what he does,” or some iteration of that (especially in Cleveland). But when vice garners success without impediment it lures the next generation into falsely believing that Machiavellian maxim that the ends justify the means. Now, Mayfield is not out slitting throats, but his poor decisions reflect immature judgement and character. If you break the law, you are supposed to respect lawful authority and accept your punishment, not try and run from it. When you are riled up on the football field, you are supposed respect the other team and win with silent grace, not grab your crotch. We still teach children to have good sportsmanship as a lesson to build good character, yet the more we have athletes, entertainers, and politicians who forgo these traits, the more bad apples we’ll have in our harvest baskets.  

I’ll leave the reader with a picture from the 2018 Draft. The Browns made the first pick with Mayfield nowhere to be found. Instead, he was hanging out poolside with his family, recreating the photo of Brett Favre the night he was drafted. As a contrast, the player Cleveland should have selected, Sam Darnold (who ended up at the New York Jets two picks later), was at the Draft, in a suit and tie, telling reporters, “I’m just going to go do my job, whatever the coaches ask me. I mean, I’m happy to be in the NFL, but now it’s time to go to work.” No flashy gimmicks, no silly photos, no attitude or past history, just a sense of professionalism and hard work. This is the kind of character you want to be a part of any organization.