The Cleveland Browns haven’t been to the playoffs since 2002. They will be the only team to finish the entire 2010s decade without a single winning season. It really shouldn’t be surprising that a team defined by ineptitude had a rough season.
But 2019 was supposed to be different.
The Browns were a Super Bowl favorite. After trading for three-time Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Cleveland had 14-1 odds to win its first ever Lombardi Trophy. Only four teams — the Patriots, Chiefs, Saints, and Rams — were given a better chance by oddsmakers. Bets on the Browns poured in.
Those expectations turned out to be too a heavy burden for the Browns to bear. First-year head coach Freddie Kitchens has struggled to deal with the pressure that comes with a talented roster. Browns players haven’t done well handling the frustration that comes with not stringing together wins.
How did all go wrong?
Cleveland’s 2019 season has been a slow-moving train wreck that keeps getting worse as the calendar approaches its end. Here’s all the dysfunction of the Browns in 2019, with the latest drama right at the top:
Dec. 18: Beckham and Landry deny reports that they’ve asked to be rescued
There have been reports of Beckham telling multiple teams to “come get him” out of Cleveland. According to NFL Network reporter Mike Silver, the problem runs much deeper than just one player.
More fallout from the Jarvis Landry tirade during the Browns-Cardinals game: I'm told by two sources that before the game ended, 'multiple' Browns players yelled at the Arizona sideline to 'come get me'--asking to come play for the Cardinals. Landry, I'm told, was one of them.— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) December 16, 2019
The Arizona Cardinals are a four-win team in last place in the NFC West. It says a lot if multiple Browns players would rather play there instead of Cleveland.
Jarvis Landry disputed the report, though.
Beckham also pushed back against talks of him wanting out. He told reporters he plans on being a member of the Browns for the foreseeable future.
Odell Beckham Jr. on the future: “I’m not going anywhere. I’ll be here.” Said “it’s too special” and he wants to see things through with the Browns.— PatMcManamon (@PatMcManamon) December 18, 2019
Beckham signed a five-year, $90 million contract extension with the Giants, but played just one season under that deal before he was traded to the Browns. Now Cleveland has Beckham under contract until after the 2023 season. The Browns can keep Beckham in Cleveland for several years, whether he actually wants to be there or not.
Dec. 15: Landry and Kitchens hash it out in a sideline spat
The tirade that sparked rumors of Landry wanting out came during the Browns’ 38-24 loss to the Cardinals. The receiver was seen having a not-so-friendly conversation with Kitchens on the sideline.
It doesn’t take an expert lip reader to determine Landry wasn’t telling Kitchens he’s doing a great job. Landry later said he “asked for the ball to try to get involved in the game to help.”
Hours before that costly Week 15 loss, NFL Network reporter Ian Rapoport said Kitchens’ job is probably safe:
But as of right now, barring a horrific collapse or circumstance to end the season, it appears the Browns will be moving forward with Kitchens.
The Browns’ playoff hopes were probably toast, regardless. A loss to the Cardinals pushed Cleveland into need-a-miracle territory. It remains to see if that counts as “a horrific collapse or circumstance.”
Dec. 11: Rashard Higgins laughs off Kitchens keeping him off the field
Kitchens defended the lack of snaps for Rashard Higgins, by telling reporters that the Browns receiver didn’t give the team its best chance to win.
#Browns HC Freddie Kitchens on limited snaps for WR Rashard Higgins this past week: "We try to play the players that give us the best chance to win each and every week...and that's strictly a week-to-week thing."— Keith Britton (@KeithBritton86) December 11, 2019
Higgins has just four receptions on the year after breaking out as a reliable target for Baker Mayfield in 2018. He finished that season with 572 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Higgins seemingly responded to Kitchens’ comments with a tweet later that day.
— Wood (@CALLME_WOOD) December 11, 2019
Higgins is due to become a free agent after the 2019 season.
Dec. 8: A report says Beckham is trying to get traded
Jay Glazer of FOX Sports reported that Beckham has made it known he wants out of Cleveland.
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) December 8, 2019
“Odell Beckham has actually told other players and coaches before games and during games ‘Hey, come get me, come get me,’” Glazer says. “I don’t see that relationship ending well for them after this year.”
That report came two days after Beckham insisted on Twitter that he isn’t looking to get out Cleveland.
Ok ... I NEVER said I was not happy in Cleveland, just like everyone else I’m hopeful for better results. Period. Next story plzz ...— Odell Beckham Jr (@obj) December 6, 2019
Rapoport reported that Beckham has been playing through a sports hernia that will require offseason surgery to repair. Mayfield told reporters that the injury “wasn’t handled right.” He immediately backtracked from that comments and tweeted that he didn’t mean to throw the team’s medical staff under the bus.
Nov. 30: A starting safety is mysteriously held out for a key game
Browns safety Damarious Randall was held out of a pivotal divisional game against the Steelers due to what was called “a coaching decision.” It was because of “something that happened during the week,” according to Cleveland.com.
Steelers rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges completed only 14 passes, but racked up 212 yards against the thin Browns secondary in a 20-13 win. Cleveland had a chance to climb back to .500 and deal Pittsburgh a devastating blow. Instead, it put the Steelers in a good position to land a spot in the postseason.
Nov. 15: Myles Garrett gets an indefinite suspension for an ugly fight
The Browns’ 2019 season has been defined by a lack of discipline.
The culmination of that problem was a fight in the final seconds of a 21-7 win for the Browns over the Steelers. More specifically, it was Cleveland’s star pass rusher Myles Garrett ripping off the helmet of Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph and bashing him over the head with it.
Garrett claimed Rudolph used a racial slur, but the NFL said it found no evidence of that claim. Rudolph received a sizable fine, Browns defensive tackle Larry Ogunjobi was suspended one game, and Steelers offensive lineman Maurkice Pouncey was suspended three games.
Garrett unsurprisingly received the worst punishment, an indefinite suspension that runs through the remainder of the 2019 season and potentially beyond. He’ll have to apply for reinstatement during the offseason.
Oct. 7: Baker Mayfield finishes a MNF loss with a 13.4 passer rating
Mayfield finished a 31-3 loss to the 49ers watching from the sideline. In a Monday Night Football showcase, he completed just 8 of 22 passes for 100 yards with two interceptions. Mayfield was pulled with just over five minutes left and the loss dropped the Browns to 2-3.
He was also sacked four times and fumbled twice behind a porous offensive line.
Sept. 8: Browns OT Greg Robinson is ejected for a dangerous kick
The Browns’ season started with dark clouds immediately. The Titans ran away with a 43-13 blowout win and Cleveland’s starting left tackle, Greg Robinson, was ejected for kicking safety Kenny Vaccaro in the face.
welp, the Browns will have to play the second half without their starting left tackle. Greg Robinson ejected for kicking Kenny Vaccaro right in the face pic.twitter.com/y324hpluQ7— Christian D'Andrea (@TrainIsland) September 8, 2019
June 4: Baker Mayfield calls out Duke Johnson for wanting out of Cleveland
Browns running back Duke Johnson showed up for offseason activities, but made it clear that he hoped for a trade out of Cleveland.
That’s not an especially unique situation. Johnson was one of a handful of players across the NFL that held out or voiced displeasure with their current team and/or contract. It also wasn’t too surprising that Kitchens put his foot down and said Johnson was going to be part of the Browns offense, whether he likes it or not.
However, it did raise eyebrows when Mayfield spoke out against his teammate.
#Browns Baker Mayfield on Duke wanting to be traded: “You’re either on this train or your not”— Mary Kay Cabot (@MaryKayCabot) June 4, 2019
That comment reportedly didn’t sit well with everyone in the locker room.
As I just stated on @nflnetwork: According to multiple sources, several veteran Browns players approached Baker Mayfield in the locker room after the young QB's critical comments about RB Duke Johnson to register their displeasure, and they hashed out their differences.— Michael Silver (@MikeSilver) June 13, 2019
The situation was smoothed out for good when Johnson was traded to the Texans in August.
Bad luck has played a factor in the Browns’ subpar season too. Beckham hasn’t been 100 percent for most of, if not all of, the season. Other significant injuries include ones that have kept players like Christian Kirksey, David Njoku, Olivier Vernon, and Morgan Burnett out of action.
But the frustrating year will likely be remembered for the in-fighting and drama that continued to bubble up as the season went on. That cost the Browns a promising season and could also cost Kitchens his job.