But as an underpinning of what might be to come in Cleveland, that is about to change.
As reported Tuesday, the Browns are finalizing a massive five-year extension worth $125 million with 2017 No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett. That would make the star pass-rusher the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history and keep him in Cleveland through the 2026 season.
The Browns’ woeful past decade, which failed to produce a single winning season, also failed to produce a single long-term building block from the first round. After drafting, and later extending, Haden, Cleveland whiffed consecutively on a series of top picks, including Trent Richardson, Johnny Manziel and Corey Coleman. Without any foundational pieces, the Browns remained in the abyss.
But since taking Garrett, Cleveland has reversed its draft fortunes. And Garrett figures to be first in a rash of looming extensions that could finally elevate the Browns from perpetual punching bag to perennial playoff contender.
Running back Nick Chubb and cornerback Denzel Ward, each with a Pro Bowl appearance already, will be extension eligible after this season. So will quarterback Baker Mayfield, who is out to prove last year’s sophomore slump was a mere aberration after the 2018 No. 1 overall pick broke an NFL rookie record with 27 touchdown passes. In April, Cleveland also added left tackle Jedrick Wills Jr. to its young core with another top-10 selection — a place the Browns are banking they won’t be picking from again for the foreseeable future.
Having locked in Garrett, 24, is a big reason why.
Few defensive players have been as dominant as Garrett since he entered the NFL. Over the past three seasons, Garrett owns the NFL’s fourth-highest sack rate, according to ESPN Stats & Info, averaging 0.82 sacks a game, which trails only Chandler Jones, Aaron Donald and Cameron Jordan.
When Garrett has lined up off the edge, Cleveland has boasted a formidable pass rush, beating its blocks within 2.5 seconds 47% of the time since 2018. That’s a Pass Rush Win Rate that would rank sixth in the NFL over that span.
Garrett doesn’t have to sack quarterbacks to affect them, either. When he’s been off the field, opposing quarterbacks have posted a QBR of 77 against Cleveland, while averaging 7.9 yards per passing attempt since 2017, according to ESPN Stats & Info. But when Garrett has been on the field, the QBR of opposing quarterbacks has plummeted to 53; their yards per attempt to 6.8.
The bedrock of most championship-caliber defenses has been an ability to get to the quarterback. With Garrett, the Browns will have that ability going forward.
To be sure, Garrett needs to be more consistent and disciplined to reach his full potential. He had three games last season without a quarterback hurry, and five without a quarterback knockdown. He also had three personal foul penalties in Cleveland’s first two games in 2019, resulting in more than $50,000 in fines. And then he was suspended the final six games for slugging Mason Rudolph with the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback’s own helmet during a skirmish at the end of their game on Nov. 14. To avoid becoming the next Vontaze Burfict in the eyes of the league, Garrett will have to be cautious, especially this season.
But Garrett’s talent is undeniable. His pass-rushing skill set, virtually unmatched.
The Browns’ first building block is now secured. With still more to come, they are fortifying a promising future that stands to defy its recent ignominious past.