This article puts the Cleveland Browns’ current situation in the context of the two other professional sports teams that also employed a “tear it down to the studs” strategy in the last decade: the Houston Astros (starting in 2011) and the Philadelphia 76ers (starting in 2013). As outlined in this article, there are enormous similarities between the Browns’ current plight and where the Astros and 76ers were in the second year of their ultimately successful rebuilds. This article demonstrates how those two franchises were able to pull themselves out of near-identical situations in MLB and the NBA and, in doing so, establish a potential timeline for how we might see the Browns’ rebuild unfold over the next few years.
The Houston Astros won Game 7 of the 2017 World Series last week, marking their first championship in franchise history. The title culminated an incredible seven-year rebuild that saw the Astros strip its roster down to the studs in 2011, suffer through three straight years of 106+ losses, and experience fan apathy that was so bad that nobody—literally, nobody—in Houston watched their games on TV.
On the same day the Astros won the World Series, the owners of the Cleveland Browns made headlines after reportedly going “nuclear” on the front office after a bungled trade for a replacement quarterback. After stripping the club to its studs in 2016, the Browns have subsequently gone 1-23 and there is no guarantee that the front office or the coaching staff will remain in Berea after this season.
It’s not hard to see the contrast.
One franchise burned everything down six years ago and built a championship club upon its ashes. The Astros’ brazen long-term strategy has been vindicated. Whatever feelings of doubt, anxiety and anger that permeated through Houston’s franchise—and fan base—during those years were washed away with the sheer elation of winning Game 7 and hosting a victory parade.
Meanwhile, the Cleveland Browns burned everything down two years ago and are still in the depths of suffering through the darkest moments of the fire’s aftermath. The embers are still smoldering. The ultimate success of the club’s strategy is anything but certain. Doubt, anxiety and anger… they’re all on display right now, from ownership to the coaching staff to the fan base. And none of us know—with any confidence—that one day we’ll be able to say that all of this heartache was worth it.
That is what makes this rebuild so excruciating.
And yet, I often think about a quote from Astros’ general manager Jeff Luhnow in describing the club’s own long, tortuous rebuild:
“When you’re in the middle of it, it seems like it’s never going to end.”
The fact of the matter is that nobody—Sashi Brown included—knows with any certainty that this rebuild will be successful. But to help understand the blueprint that the Browns are following, this article puts Cleveland’s current situation in the context of the two other professional sports teams that also employed a “tear it down to the studs” strategy in the last decade: the Houston Astros (starting in 2011) and the Philadelphia 76ers (starting in 2013). As this article will outline, there are enormous similarities between the Browns’ current plight and where the Astros and 76ers were in the second year of their rebuilds. None of this guarantees that the Browns will have any of the success of the Astros—or even the potential of success of the 76ers—but this article represents a progress report (of sorts) on Cleveland’s rebuild and demonstrates how the other two franchises pulled themselves out of near-identical situations in MLB and the NBA and developed into sustainable contenders.
This article is separated into three sections. The first section—Strategic Commonalities—demonstrates how the Browns, Astros and 76ers all had a lot in common in their initial decisions to tear their respective rosters down to the foundation. The second component—Future Expectations—looks specifically at the timelines offered by the rebuilds in Houston and Philadelphia and what they might mean for the Browns going forward. Finally, the last component—Potential Concerns—offers a non-exhaustive list of all the things that might cause the Browns’ rebuild to go off course from the successful blueprints offered by the Astros and 76ers’ strategies.
The decision to tear down a franchise’s roster to its studs and play the long game by stockpiling young players, prospects and draft picks is, if anything, brazen. It offers a clear signal to fans, season-ticket holders, coaches, league officials and anyone paying attention that the club has no intent of maximizing its win total in the current season. But the three teams studied in this article all had a few things in common when they decided to detonate their franchise and start over:
- A long run of mediocrity prior to the tear-down
The Browns’ futility since returning to Cleveland does not need to be rehashed here. And while the Astros and 76ers may not have reached equivalent depths of futility in the years preceding the decision to detonate, each club was mired in a malaise that did not inspire much hope for the future. After losing in their first trip to the World Series in franchise history in 2005, the Houston Astros went 391-418 between 2006 and 2010, finishing 11+ games out of the division lead in the final four seasons in that stretch. The Philadelphia 76ers were equally mediocre, posting a 367-437 record in the ten seasons between 2003-04 and 2012-13. While the franchise made the playoffs five times during that period, it only posted a winning record twice and was never higher than a sixth seed.
- A roster without much hope
Coming off a 3-13 season in 2015, the Browns had an old and overpaid defense headlined by Karlos Dansby, Travon Williams, Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant and Donte Whitner. Oh, and the offense was quarterbacked by Johnny Manziel. Needless to say, this roster wasn’t going anywhere. But, from a distance, this looks somewhat equivalent to what the Astros were stuck with when they started their rebuild at midseason of 2010, as Houston’s core was well over 30 (Lance Berkman, Roy Oswalt, Carlos Lee). While there were a couple of players in their prime—Hunter Pence and Michael Bourn—the rest of the roster was barren and the farm system was abysmal, ranking dead last in baseball prior to the 2010 season according to Baseball America.
The Philadelphia 76ers had a slightly different problem. Their roster was full of young players, but not one who projected to be a superstar. Prior to their tear-down, the 76ers were led by 23-year old PG Jrue Holiday. But beyond that? Their “core” consisted of three players in their early-to-mid 20s in Thaddeus Young, Evan Turner and Spencer Hawes. All three have had solid NBA careers as role players. But it becomes especially clear in hindsight that this group would have had little potential to compete for a championship in an Eastern Conference while LeBron James has been at the height of his powers in Miami and Cleveland.
- New GM has an academic pedigree and a business background
This is perhaps the most obvious comparison. After firing lifetime baseball lifer Ed Wade as general manager in 2010, the Houston Astros turned to Jeff Luhnow, a former consultant at McKinsey & Company and entrepreneur who graduated with an MBA from Northwestern University. The Philadelphia 76ers hired Sam Hinkie to be their general manager in 2013. Hinkie was also a former consultant (Bain & Company) and sported an MBA from Stanford University. These backgrounds are similar to that of the Browns’ Executive Vice President, as Sashi Brown graduated from Harvard Law and was a lawyer at Wilmer, Cutler, Pickering, Hale and Dorr prior to joining the Jacksonville Jaguars as an attorney in 2005. It’s perhaps no coincidence that the combination of academic pedigree and business background has caused many fans and media members to perceive Hinkie, Luhnow and Brown—legitimately or not—as aloof, elitist and arrogant.
While the education and private-sector careers of Luhnow, Hinkie and Brown appear similar on the surface, there is one difference that tends to get overlooked. Prior to joining the Astros, Luhnow cut his teeth in player development and scouting for nine years with the St. Louis Cardinals prior to being hired as the general manager in Houston. Similarly, Hinkie worked for nine years in the Houston Rockets’ front office—ascending to the role of de facto assistant GM for Darryl Morey—prior to being tabbed to oversee the 76ers rebuild. In contrast, Sashi Brown has been the general counsel in Jacksonville and Cleveland but—unless I’ve missed something—had no official training in scouting and player development prior to ascending to the role of Executive Vice President.
- Every veteran is quickly traded or released
The Browns gutted their roster after the 2015 by “trading” free agents like Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Tashaun Gipson and Travis Benjamin for supplemental draft picks and future cap space (via the NFL’s rollover provision). Every other veteran over the age of 24 from that 2015 club—sans Joe Thomas and long-snapper Charley Hughlett—was off the roster by some form or fashion before the start of the 2017 season. This is the identical blueprint used by the 76ers and Astros. Within 16 months of being hired to run the 76ers, Sam Hinkie had traded, released or failed to re-sign all but one of the players he had inherited from the 2012-13 club; this included Holiday. Jeff Luhnow finished a rebuild started by his predecessor by trading away practically every Astros player over 24 years old who had even a shred of trade value: Pence, Bourn, Lee, Brett Myers, Chris Johnson, Bud Norris, Wandy Rodriguez, J.A. Happ, Mark Melancon and others. In all three places, new management used a flamethrower to purge their respective rosters at breakneck speed.
- Creative front office moves to accumulate future assets
If the Browns’ front office is known for anything at this point, it is their courage—right or wrong— to engage in risky and creative trades to acquire future draft assets. While trading down in the draft has been a staple of successful teams in the NFL for years (e.g., New England), the Browns’ decision to trade out of two first-round picks in consecutive years while needing a quarterback is, if anything, bold. Further, the acquisition of a second-round pick in order to take on Brock Osweiler’s salary from the Houston Texans is a move straight out of the NBA’s playbook. In fact, the 76ers have been using this tactic as a staple of their rebuild, highlighted by their franchise-changing draft-pick heist from the Sacramento Kings that required them to eat $16 million in cap space. While the structure of MLB is vastly different, the Astros have been equally as aggressive in compiling as many future assets as possible. In addition to trading veterans for prospects, Houston has consistently pursued underslot deals with their #1 overall picks to maximize the rest of their draft bonus pool; this is how the Astros were able to sign future MLB All-Star Lance McCullers to a well-overslot signing bonus of $2.5 million much later in the 2012 draft. The Astros are also one of the few teams that have successfully traded for a MLB compensation-round draft pick—the only ones able to be traded under MLB rules—and have been an industry trend setter in pursuing low-level, teenage prospects (e.g., Francis Martes) in trades with other clubs.
The Browns—and their fans—are currently mired in the suffering that similarly accompanied the rebuilds in Houston and Philadelphia. But through the power of hindsight, the examples in MLB and the NBA provide some perspective about what to expect in Cleveland. Certainly, it is difficult—at best—to assert that cross-sport commonalities are relevant in such a small sample, but the emerging commonalities in all three situations offer some optimism that the Browns may be able to follow a similar pathway to competitiveness in the (somewhat) near future.
- Three years as a league laughingstock
Upon tearing it all down, Jimmy Haslam and the rest of the front office have repeatedly pointed to 2018 as the year that they should start contending. After watching the Browns start the 2017 season at 0-8, this proclamation doesn’t look feasible. And maybe we should have known better in the first place. The Houston Astros were MLB’s worst team for three consecutive seasons from 2011 through 2013, losing 106+ games every season for a combined 162-324 (.333 win%) in those three years. The Philadelphia 76ers went 47-199 (.191 win%) in three seasons from 2013-14 through 2015-16. While they weren’t the league’s worst team every year, the 76ers posted the third-worst single-season winning percentage (.122) in NBA history in the third and final year of that run.
- A roster devoid of hope in year two of the rebuild
It is hard not to look at the Browns’ roster and struggle to see the core of a championship club. But this should also have been expected and, in a strange way, it could be argued that the Browns are ahead of where the Astros and 76ers were in the second year of each club’s respective rebuilds. While the Browns have seemingly identified at least one potential franchise cornerstone—Myles Garrett—the cities of Houston and Philadelphia were devoid of anything that might have resembled hope on their teams’ respective rosters. In the second year of the team’s rebuild in 2012, the Astros’ roster looked nearly completely devoid of potential, considering that their lone star in hindsight—Jose Altuve—was the club’s #28 prospect heading into the season. For the Philadelphia 76ers, the second year of their rebuild in 2014-15 also featured a roster thin on hope. The club’s prospects were led by first-round picks Michael Carter-Williams and Nerlens Noel, neither of whom remain on the roster today. In all three situations, the decision to “tear it down to the studs” left the franchise with a young roster that was rather devoid of obvious long-term talent in year two of the rebuild.
- Most fans will become angry and/or apathetic
The mood right now in Cleveland is an equal mix of apoplectic and apathetic. This is to be expected after the team has gone 1-23 over the last two years. But it could be argued that we may not yet have seen the worst of fans’ responses. In Houston, the apathy got so bad that telecasts of Astros’ games drew a 0.0 Nielsen rating. In Philadelphia, attendance at 76ers games was the lowest in the NBA and the public pressure was so bad that Commissioner Adam Silver reportedly stepped in to encourage the 76ers to fire Hinkie and replace him with a more traditional general manager (Bryan Colangelo). Think about those reports. The league commissioner pressured an owner to fire the GM for the good of the league.
Things are bad in Cleveland. Can it get worse? If the lessons of Philadelphia and Houston are any gauge, it is possible. Who knows what will transpire if the club goes 0-16 this season and/or starts 0-8 next season. A parade would be the least of my concerns.
- Some terrible misses at the top of the draft
In listening to coverage of the Browns, I’m not sure what people are more upset about: the 0-8 start to the season or the fact that the Browns passed on Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson. In retrospect, both of those trades look regrettable. Add in the uncertain futures for other top picks like Corey Coleman, Emmanuel Ogbah, Jabrill Peppers and DeShone Kizer and there is plenty of fodder for those who critique the draft records of the current Browns’ front office. And some of this criticism would be well-deserved; I can’t watch an Eagles game anymore without thinking about what might have been. But the Browns are hardly the only rebuilding team to miss badly with some of their early picks.
The best example might be in Houston, where the Astros had the number one pick in three consecutive years (2012-2014) and only got one major leaguer out of those three picks (albeit a really good one in Carlos Correa in 2012). Reread that last sentence. Three #1 overall picks. Just one major leaguer. Houston’s selection of pitcher Mark Appel at #1 overall in 2013 looks especially egregious. In selecting Appel—a debatable pick at the time—the Astros passed on future NL MVP Kris Bryant who was selected by the Cubs just one spot later. The next year, the Astros drafted prep left-hander Brady Aiken #1 overall only to have him fail his physical and not sign with the club after negotiations that could at best be called acrimonious. While Houston was bailed out by MLB rules that allowed it to recoup a failed draft signing with the #2 overall pick a year later—which the Astros used on future starting 3B Alex Bregman—the team’s track record with the top overall pick is rather embarrassing.
While Philadelphia has one of the best young teams in the NBA, it could be argued that the club’s two biggest stars—Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons—simply fell into their lap during the draft in the same way that some have viewed how Myles Garrett landed in Cleveland. In other words, their selections were considered no-brainers. But when the 76ers were faced with an uncertain choice at the top of the draft, they had a number of notorious whiffs in hindsight. For example, picking third overall in the 2015 NBA Draft, Sam Hinkie selected Jahlil Okafor… the same Okafor for whom the team couldn’t find a trade partner to take him off their hands just two years later. One pick after Okafor? The New York Knicks drafted Kristaps Porzingis. Hinkie’s first draft wasn’t much better. In 2013, the 76ers selected Nerlens Noel at #6 and Michael Carter-Williams at #11. Both were later shipped out for future draft picks. Three picks after Carter-Williams, the Milwaukee Bucks picked Giannis Antetokounmpo. In retrospect, these were franchise-changing whiffs in the draft. Even post-Hinkie, the 76ers have struggled as the early returns of their Markelle Fultz-for-Jayson Tatum swap with Boston offer considerable reasons for concern.
The underlying point here is that teams that undertake this type of rebuild don’t always hit on their draft picks. Sometimes their draft-day decisions flame out in spectacular fashion. It’s happened in Cleveland just like it happened in Houston and Philadelphia. The bungled decisions with the Astros and 76ers represent clear missed opportunities and certainly slowed each club’s ascent. But, by themselves, these decisions did somehow ruin the franchise or permanently disrupt the long-run, growth strategy employed by each club.
- The front office will make some unforced errors
The Browns’ front office has made some mistakes in its decision on the 53-man roster. Last fall’s decision to cut Taylor Gabriel from a talent-deficient wide-receiver group was especially embarrassing after he played a key role in helping the Atlanta Falcons reach the Super Bowl. And, to be fair, Sashi Brown has acknowledged that he has made some decisions that he has regretted; I suspect that is one of them. But this kind of unforced error is hardly unique to the Browns. In terms of regrettable decisions, it might be hard to top the Astros’ spring-training release of J.D. Martinez in March 2014. Signed by the Detroit Tigers two days later, Martinez posted a .912 OPS as a full-time regular that season in Detroit and was named an MLB All-Star the following year. In all, Martinez hit .300 with 128 HR and 15.2 WAR in the final four years prior to reaching free agency after the 2017 season. In terms of unforced errors, the Philadelphia 76ers’ selection of Jahlil Okafor at #3 overall in 2015—ahead of Porzingis—is a self-inflicted wound that some consider the undoing of Hinkie’s tenure in Philadelphia. Despite taking two other back-to-the-basket big men in the two preceding drafts, the 76ers’ selection of Okafor left them with a log jam at center during a time when such players have been devalued. As it stands, reports are suggesting that the club is trying to actively trade Okafor and have seemingly yet to find a sufficient return from other teams around the NBA.
- The front office will be perceived to be, at best, a public embarrassment
Houston Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow looks pretty smart now; a victory parade has a tendency to change the public’s perception of a front office’s intelligence. But Luhnow and the Astros suffered a series of headline-grabbing, public embarrassments during their rebuild that undermined their reputations. The Astros’ perceived callousness with Brady Aiken during draft negotiations had national writers calling the front office “trash.” Luhnow suffered another public embarrassment when his failure to change computer passwords allowed his former employer—the St. Louis Cardinals—to hack into Houston’s internal database in what turned out to be a high-profile criminal case. And then there was the time Deadspin published 10 months’ worth of the Astros’ internal e-mails and trade discussions. And that ignores Luhnow’s frayed relationship with one of his managers—whom he later fired—after accusations that the GM was meddling, failing to seek the coach’s input, and attempting to divide the locker room against the coaching staff.
And then there’s Sam Hinkie. You know, the same guy who was such a perceived embarrassment to the NBA that the Commissioner reportedly had a hand in removing him from office. And this was before Hinkie’s 13-page resignation manifesto was made public.
The Browns’ front office has unquestionably made some unfortunate decisions. The trade of Carson Wentz—and Paul DePodesta’s ill-conceived interview much later—were undeniably regrettable. And the reported dust-ups with the coaching staff and the owner over the failed trades for Jimmy Garoppolo and, especially, A.J. McCarron cast the front office in a particularly poor light. These missteps have indeed been an embarrassment and the subsequent criticism is unquestionably deserved. But the lessons from Houston and Philadelphia demonstrate that such criticism will be magnified when those are the same leaders who have engaged in such a brazen strategic plan that all but embraces losing in the short-term. While it is too early to know whether the Browns’ front office will lead the franchise to a championship, the tenures—and the strategic plans—of Luhnow and Hinkie have already been largely vindicated.
- Somebody is going to get fired
Continuity is not something we’re used to seeing in Cleveland under the Browns’ ownership of Jimmy and Dee Haslam. And while pleas for continuity accompany the public’s support for the current Browns’ front office and coaching staff, the plights of the Astros and 76ers suggest that somebody is going to get fired before this rebuilding plan is complete. In Houston, the Astros actually went through four managers during their ascension to competitiveness. Perhaps most tellingly, the Astros fired their second manager—Bo Porter—mid-season in 2014. As outlined at time at Grantland, the firing was not about the manager’s rejection of analytics (the favored tool of the front office), but rather because of incredible tension between the coach and the front office. It’s hard not to see the similarities given the reports of palace intrigue—true or otherwise—currently written about the Browns by both local and national writers. In Philadelphia, the opposite occurred. The team kept its head coach—Brett Brown—through the entire rebuilding plan and instead fired the plan’s architect, Sam Hinkie. Either way, the decision to engage in this type of tear-down is not for the timid, as folks have historically lost their jobs over it regardless of ownership’s best intentions.
- Franchise cornerstones will emerge and inspire hope in year four
After three years of misery, the trajectories of both the Astros and 76ers took substantial steps forward in year four. Highlighting both clubs’ improvements was the emergence of franchise cornerstones that offered hope that contending was in the near future. In 2014, Houston’s fourth year of its rebuild, Jose Altuve exploded to lead the American League in hitting (.341) and spearhead a young nucleus that included Dallas Keuchel (2.93 ERA) and George Springer (20 HR) at the major-league level and top prospect Carlos Correa in the minors. Philadelphia’s fourth year (2016-17) also represented an obvious turning point for the 76ers franchise with the selection of #1 overall pick Ben Simmons and the emergence of a (relatively) healthy Joel Embiid. Combined with a cache of future draft picks, a number of intriguing young players (e.g., Dario Saric), and an envious salary cap situation, the pathway to a possible championship contender became clear.
At this point, it is too early to identify who might represent the core of a possible Browns championship team. Some of those players (e.g., Myles Garrett) may be on the roster already. Others may not. But if Houston and Philadelphia are any guide, the core of a championship team in Cleveland may not become apparent until 2019.
- Respectability in year four, playoffs in year five
In addition to identifying franchise cornerstones, year four of the rebuild in Houston and Philadelphia also marked the clear sign of organizational growth in the win-loss column. After three straight years of losing 106+ games, the Astros went 70-92 in 2014. A year later, the arrival of Carlos Correa from the minors sparked the Astros to an 86-76 record and a spot in the American League playoffs. Similarly, the Philadelphia 76ers were among the worst teams in basketball, losing 63+ games for three straight years. But in year four, the club climbed out of the basement to post a 28-54 record. While the 76ers’ fifth year is still in its infancy, the team currently has a winning record and looks to be a clear playoff contender in the Eastern Conference this season.
- A sustainable future?
The Houston Astros are in an envious position. In addition to just winning the franchise’s first-ever World Series championship, FiveThirtyEight.com assessed that the Astros have the third-best expected record over the next five seasons behind the Los Angeles Dodgers and Cleveland Indians. In other words, the Astros have not only climbed the mountain, but their scouting and player development systems have built the type of “sustainable” winner that Browns’ EVP Sashi Brown has publicly spoke of his intent in building. In Philadelphia, the future certainly looks bright with a team headlined by all-world talents Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, who have shown hints that the pair could work magic together on the hardwood. While the duo is complemented by other young talents and future picks, the sustainability of this club’s success seems more tenuous given Simmons’ and particularly Embiid’s injury histories. If Markelle Fultz doesn’t live up to his billing as a #1 overall pick and there’s a major injury to the one of the team’s top two stars, this team could be on shaky ground. Nevertheless, few teams in the NBA can currently match Philadelphia’s talented young nucleus.
There is absolutely no guarantee that the blueprint laid out by the Astros and 76ers will work in Cleveland. The sample size at this point is simply too small (n=2) to infer that the Astros’ and 76ers’ success will necessarily be predictive that the current Browns’ front office will build a contending club. The tear-it-down-to-the-studs strategy is inherently risky. Too much can go wrong. This might work out. Or this whole experiment might end up as the darkest period of Browns’ history.
We just don’t know yet.
There are innumerous problems that could derail the Browns’ long-term plan. Since many of them are obvious, a non-exhaustive list of the biggest obstacles is presented below:
Poor Drafting: The accumulation of draft picks will be meaningless if the club cannot evaluate talent in the draft; it’s still too early to definitively evaluate the 2016 and 2017 draft classes.
Failure at Quarterback: The strategic plans of the Astros and 76ers were that of “asset accumulation,” but that approach may be relatively meaningless in the NFL if the Browns can’t find an answer at QB.
The Jaguars Dilemma: If the Browns build a championship core but are stuck without an answer at QB, their ultimate ceiling seemingly becomes present-day Jacksonville (currently 40-to-1 to win the Super Bowl).
The Rams Dilemma: If the Browns’ are able to become reasonably competitive without an above-average QB, they’ll eventually pick too low to snare a top-tier draft talent without engaging in a risky deal involving future high-end draft picks (e.g., Los Angeles’ trade-up for Goff last year).
Coaching and Scheme: The Astros’ and 76ers’ front offices could generally focus on collecting talent as a part of their rebuild. But in the NFL, there is a greater imperative on the coaching staff to design effective schemes (not a given) and on the front office to match talent to that scheme (or vice-versa).
Injuries: The risk that a foundational player(s) is beset by career-threatening injuries is much higher in football than baseball or basketball. This would inherently make the tear-it-down-to-the-studs strategy much riskier in football when compared to other sports.
The 53-Man Roster: The 76ers only needed to acquire a few top-end players to become competitive. The Browns, meanwhile, have so many more holes to fill.
The 16-Game Schedule: Because of the number of games played in their respective sports, neither the Astros nor 76ers had to worry about going winless for the entire season. All of these folks are human and the corresponding pressure to avoid historical infamy is seemingly causing some pipes to burst in Berea (e.g., flip-flops at QB, McCarron trade).
A Course Correction from Ownership: A regime change in the Browns’ front office may not, by itself, affect the long-term strategic plan. But if the owners—who have a track record of impatience—eschew the plan and hire a new regime while emphasizing short-term (and potentially short-sighted) goals, the pain of this strategy may all be for naught.
As outlined in this article, there are enormous similarities between the current state of the Cleveland Browns and where the Houston Astros and Philadelphia 76ers were in the second year of their respective rebuilds. Starting from similar depths of competitive misery, the Astros and 76ers stayed true to their long-run visions and have been sufficiently rewarded for their patience; in Houston, that already includes a championship parade. None of this guarantees that the Browns will necessarily follow in these teams’ footprints; so much can still go wrong in Cleveland’s rebuild and the relevance of cross-sport commonalities in such a small sample (n=2) remain entirely unclear. But it is reassuring that the Astros and 76ers started in similar competitive positions, employed a common strategy, made their own egregious mistakes, and still came through on the other side of their respective rebuilds with exciting, championship-caliber teams. As a Browns fan, I am hoping beyond hope that a similar fate awaits us in Cleveland.