Cleveland Browns: Will They Draft Character Risks This Year?

The Cleveland Browns have explored a handful of players with character questions in this year’s draft, but what does their track record show?

The Cleveland Browns have made some news on a few fronts as it relates to player character. The first is with who they have invited to the facility as part of their 30 official visits. The second involves newly signed wide receiver Kenny Britt and the less than tactful manner he expressed his disappointment in not being re-signed by the Los Angeles Rams. This brings up the discussion of character and how the Browns view it with the 2017 NFL Draft approaching.

Going in reverse order, Britt decided to introduce and attempt to endear himself to Browns fans by putting both of his feet in his mouth via Instagram. Britt discussed his opinion of Tavon Austin and how he felt about not being re-signed by the Rams.

Without going into all the gory details (you can find them here), Britt more closely resembled the player that couldn’t stay out of trouble in Tennessee than the allegedly reformed player the Browns hoping they are getting that stayed out of trouble and produced for the Rams.

This isn’t illegal or anything, but is just a monumentally stupid misstep by Britt who just signed a four-year, $32 million contract with the Browns. This will likely result in an apology written by Britt’s agent or a team rep that he posts on social media, but for a signing that replaced a popular player in Terrelle Pryor (even though it was Pryor’s own stupid fault he’s not here anymore) that needs to work it’s not off to a rousing start.

Not exactly the first impression a person wants to make at their new job. It gives people reason to be nervous about signing Britt, who has had nine run-ins with the law in his career, even if he’s behaved the last few years with the Rams. And someone in the Browns organization who came over from the Rams (possibly Gregg Williams or Clyde Simmons for example) vouched for Britt’s character, so they don’t look great at the moment either.

Separately, the Browns have been putting in a lot of time with NFL Draft prospects that have been deemed as character risks, most notably Joe Mixon, running back out of Oklahoma. Fairly or not (probably not), Mixon is the face of character questions in this year’s class. Mixon is famous for his role in an incident caught on video where he broke a woman’s jaw a couple years ago.

Mixon paid the price, albeit one that appeared to be part of a fire sale, but such a pick would be met with a ton of deserved criticism from media and fans. There’s all kinds of arguments to be had about what kind of message that sends, what type of team the Browns want to build, or heaven forbid he had another incident while a member of the Browns, but that can wait until it actually comes to pass.

Jan 2, 2017; New Orleans , LA, USA; Oklahoma Sooners running back Joe Mixon (25) carries the ball against Auburn Tigers linebacker Darrell Williams (49) in the second quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

The reality is to this point, the Browns have not drafted a player that has been arrested. In fact, last year the Browns drafted what could be described as a group of eagle scouts in terms of off the field.. Until the Britt signing, for all the moves the Browns made (conservative estimate is a ton) they have only added one player that was arrested. That was Trae Elston for disorderly conduct in college, something for which he apologized publicly.

They’ve also gotten rid of players with issues off the field including Johnny Manziel and Armonty Bryant. Alvin Bailey, who was arrested for a DUI last season, is probably not long for this roster. The decision that’s hanging out there is Josh Gordon if and when he’s reinstated. While the Browns are saying all the right things about keeping Gordon now, they tried to trade him last year before he went to rehab.

Many people point to Hue Jackson’s time with the Cincinnati Bengals as an argument to say the Browns would be inclined to take character risks. The issue with that is it been none other than Jackson himself that has emphasized character since he’s hired by the Browns. It was also Jackson that was the most vocal critic of Manziel before he was released and was pretty clear in how he felt about Gordon last year when he went to rehab.

So yes, the Browns have talked to players like Joe Mixon. Whether this is a legitimate player of interest, due diligence or perhaps even a way to get teams off their trail on what they are doing combined with getting information on a players they could potentially face in the coming years is anyone’s guess.

The Browns have put in a lot of effort to try to bring in certain kinds of players that fit their team athletically, in terms of production and their character. It would be a genuine shock for the Browns, with all of their effort and talks of changing the culture, to then just go the complete opposite direction.

That is not to say that one mistake, one case of horrible judgment means a player is to be written off entirely. Obviously, the Browns are betting Britt is a reformed citizen starting…now! It does suggest that whoever the Cleveland Browns draft, they genuinely believe those players will be focused on being a great football player and won’t be a distraction off the field. If anything, Britt’s less than stellar introduction should only reinforce that as a pillar of their evaluation process.

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