Archive for September, 2008

Cleveland Browns Redraft:1995

Tuesday, September 9th, 2008

In anticipation of the 2008 NFL season, and the high expectations of the Cleveand Browns actually making the playoffs, I’ve been looking into the past, especially the draft, and seeing how I would do things differently during the five years that Bill Belichick was head coach. Why this time period? It is primarily due to a series of articles examining the failure of the Belichick era in Cleveland preceding the team’s move to Baltimore. I guess in the back of my mind I’m thinking if the draft (and overall team management) went the way I’m redoing it, the team may never have left following 1995.

The Brown’s drafts under Belichick were nothing short of failures. Jesse Lamovsky stated it best:

The team’s draft record during Belichick’s tenure, although not as famously bad as that of the expansion Browns in 1999 and 2000, left a great deal to be desired. Of the forty-one players taken in the five drafts of the Belichick era, only one- Eric Turner- ever made it to a Pro Bowl. It’s a matter of talent, and the Browns of the early ‘90s were mediocre largely because they had mediocre talent.

After reworking the previous four years, its time to wrap things up with a rework of the 1995 draft. In reality, 1995 was nothing short of a disaster for the Browns. Belichick continued his trend of dumping productive and popular players that he didn’t draft. This offseason, Michael Dean Perry and Eric Metcalf, both whom went to the 1994 Pro Bowl, were gone. Owner Art Modell, always the meddler, signed WR Andre Rison to a huge free agent contract that turned into a major mistake.

The sorry state of the team was only compounded by the complete mismanagement of the draft that year. Looking to draft TE Kyle Brady, the Browns traded up to the tenth spot. However, when Brady was drafted ninth, Belichick didn’t seem to know what to do, and traded back down to the last pick in the draft (as well as picking up additional picks later in that draft and for 1996). With that pick, Belichick took LB Craig Powell, which stunned everyone. Powell, the second best linebacker on his Ohio State team, never amounted to anything in the NFL. Basically, the pick was forfeited. The Browns also lost their second and sixth round picks due to bad player trades the previous year. With all that said, here’s how their 1995 draft materialized:

Round Number Player
1 30 LB Craig Powell
3 84 QB Eric Zeier
3 94 DE Mike Frederick
5 141 DT Pupua Tau
5 171 WR Mike Miller
7 203 WR A.C. Tellison

When I say this draft was a complete waste, here’s my argument. Not one single person made any sort of significant impact for ANY team they played on, much less the Browns. Powell played a total of 14 games in three years, for three different teams. Not what you expect from a first round draft pick. Zeier, although decent, had career stats that equated to a decent single season. In seven years for three teams, Zeier’s career stats are 16 games started, 3,520 passing yards, 16 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Fredrick amassed two sacks during his five-year career. Tau never saw the field during his one year in the league, and neither Miller nor Tellison could make a roster.

There’s a lot about this year that I would do differently. First off, Perry would still be on the team. He was good and popular, and didn’t deserve the exit he received. Metcalf, on the other hand, was expendible. He wasn’t a featured running back, and there was too much talent on our new team at wide receiver with Keenan McCardell, Robert Brooks, Troy Brown and Rod Smith. However, I would try to trade him for something instead of just releasing him. Also, Rison would never have come to Cleveland except as a member of the Brown’s opponent.

Now let’s look at the draft. I honestly don’t know what I would have done with some of these draft day deals that went on. After four years, there really is no areas of need. All we’re looking for at this point is depth and preparing to replace older players we originally drafted. For certain, I wouldn’t have lost the second and sixth round picks with player trades the previous year. However, the other draft pick deals are harder to judge. All remaining picks involved gaining additional picks for the 1996 draft. Looking at the 1996 draft, it was loaded with talent, and making those deals look good. But also knowing that those picks eventually went to the Baltimore Ravens, not the Cleveland Browns, makes it difficult.

The truth is, no one outside Art Modell knew the financial state of the Browns. His income was the Browns, unlike almost every other NFL owner at the time. The team played in a trash bin called a stadium at the time, Modell lost money by the Indians moving into a new stadium (and hence, not renting out the Browns stadium from Modell) and poor free agent acquisitions, and the team was losing. Hopefully our new team would have been more successful, and hence, generated more income. Maybe the winning Browns would have helped convince Cleveland administration to help build a new stadium for the Browns. Or maybe, the winning Browns would have least had helped convince city and NFL leaders to convince Modell to sell the team to someone who would properly invest in the team.

Regardless, the head coach and other football personnel were supposedly in the dark about a potential move to Baltimore. With that fact, we need to make deals good for the team, even if that assumes it plays in Cleveland in 1996. I then make thetrade with Jacksonville, giving up my fourth round pick for the Jaguars 1995 and 1996 fifth round picks. However, I’m still not sure about what to do with the San Francisco deal. Cleveland originally moved up from 26 to 10 (swapping with Atlanta). When Brady came off the board, the Browns then swapped back down with San Francisco, moving from 10 to 30. They also picked up San Francisco’s third and forth round picks, as well as the Niners first round in 1996. Looking at my team’s situation, I’m thinking the deal with Atlanta never goes through, and doesn’t start the chain reaction that occured. So now our new draft picks look like this:

Round Player
1 LB Craig Powell
2 ???
3 QB Eric Zeier
5 DT Pupua Tau
5 WR Mike Miller
6 ???
7 WR A.C. Tellison

That gives us seven picks in the 1995 draft. After four years of stellar redrafting, there really aren’t any holes to fill anywhere, so our philosophy is to grab the best available player and let the chips fall where they may. I also pondered another interesting situation that played out in reality. The Packers had both Brett Favre and Mark Brunell on their team, just like I do. Jacksonville traded their 3rd and 5th round picks to the Packers for Favre. Considering the state of our team, I wouldn’t be interested in that deal. However, I have another deal that I think would work with Jacksonville.

The Jaguars held two first round picks that year, the 2 and 19 picks. They used the 19th pcik on running back James Stewart. In exchange for the 19 pick, I would give Jacksonville Mark Brunell, swap my second round pick with their third round pick (71), and also give them my second fifth round pick (and maybe part with RB Gary Brown as well). To gain a new back up quarterback, I would sign Trent Green, who at this time was playing in the CFL. My new draft board would look like this:

Round Player
1 ???
1 LB Craig Powell
3 ???
3 QB Eric Zeier
5 DT Pupua Tau
6 ???
7 WR A.C. Tellison

I still have seven picks, but with another first round selection, while slightly moving down from the late second to early third round, and giving up a late fifth round pick. Here’s what I would do with those picks:

Round Original Pick New Pick
1 none T Korey Stringer

I’m a mark for Stringer, one since he grew up not far from me (Warren, OH) and played at Ohio State. He was also a stud offensive tackle. Taked with pick 24 by the Vikings, I would get Stringer five picks earlier. This would also enable me to move Larry Allen to his more natural guard position. Stringer became an instant starter for Minnesota, missing only three games, and starting all but two, during his brief six-year career. He was elected to his only Pro Bowl in 2000. Unfortunately he died of heat stroke the following year in training camp.

Round Original Pick New Pick
1 LB Craig Powell OLB Derrick Brooks

Picked 28th overall by Tampa Bay, Brooks has been one of the most dominant linebackers in the NFL. He was selected to the Pro Bowl ten consecutive times, a streak that ended this past season (2007). Suring his career, Brooks has yet to miss a game due to significant injuries. Recently, an ESPN writer also argued that Brooks is a lock in the Hall of Fame.

Round Original Pick New Pick
3 none RB Curtis Martin

Drafted by New England in the third round, Martin is considered one of the best running backs in the history of the NFL. During his 11 years with New England and the New York Jets, he rushed for over 1,000 yards his first ten years, a feat previously only accomplished by Barry Sanders. He likely would have eclipsed 1,000 yards his eleventh year if not for a knee injury that forced him to miss the final four games of the 2005 season (he ran for 735 yards at that point). During his career, Martin averaged 1,281 yards rushing and eight touchdowns per season. He was also elected to five Pro Bowls.

Round Original Pick New Pick
3 QB Eric Zeier MLB Stephen Boyd

Boyd was drafted by the Lions in the fifth round, and played all seven years in Detroit, and bbecame the starting middle linebacker in his second year. During the next four years (1997-2000), Boyd led the Lions in tackles, averaging over 175 tackles per season during that span. He was elected to two Pro Bowls before retiring in 2001 due to a back injury.

Round Original Pick New Pick
5 WR Mike Miller RB Terrell Davis

Playing all seven years with the Broncos, Terrell Davis was a steal in the sixth round. He had n incredible first four years in the NFL before being plagued by injures that eventually ended his career. A three-time Pro Bowler, Davis is only the fourth player in NFL history to rush for over 2,000 yards in a single season (2,008 in 1998), and won the NFL MVP award that year. During those first four years, he averaged over 1,600 yards and 14 touchdowns a season. He was an essentialpart of the Broncos teams that won consecutive Super Bowls in 1997 and 1998. He was elected Super Bowl MVP in 1997 as he rushed for 157 yards, caught 2 passes for 8 yards, and became the first player in Super Bowl history ever to score 3 rushing touchdowns. Along with winning the MV award in 1998, Davis also won his first league rushing title and third consecutive AFC rushing title.

Round Original Pick New Pick
6 none G Adam Timmerman

Drafted by the Packers in the seventh round, Timmerman became a key member to the Green Bay offensive line that appeared in two Super Bowls, winning one of them. He then signed with the Rams in 1999, where he was part of one of the greatest offenses in NFL history, and appeared in two more Super Bowls, winning a second title in 1999. He was elected to the Pro Bowl in 2001.

Round Original Pick New Pick
7 WR A.C. Tellison DT Jason Fisk

Drafted by Minnesota in the seventh round, Fisk played 12 seasons in the NFL, the first four with the Vikings. He signed with Tennessee in 1999 to become a starter, and played in his only Super Bowl with the Titans.

(1991-) 1995 Redraft Summary

With little pressing needs, this draft helped strenghten some areas, most notibly linebacker and offensive line. But the biggest improvement was nabbing two stud running backs that already had a future Pro Bowler from the year before (Jamal Anderson). This year’s group, along with the last four years drafts, has built (at least on paper) one of the most talented teams in the NFL. Here’s a breakdown of the entire five years of redrafts by position with the number of Pro Bowl selections  in ( ):

QB Brett Favre (9), Mark Brunell (3)
FB Kimble Anders (3)
RB Gary Brown, Jamal Anderson (1), Curtis Martin (5), Terrell Davis (3)
WR Keenan McCardell (2), Robert Brooks, Troy Brown (1), Rod Smith (3)
TE Ben Coates (5), Frank Wycheck (3)
C Jay Leeuwenburg, Kevin Mawae (6)
G/T Erik Williams (4), Kendall Gammon, Will Shields (12), Ron Stone (3), Larry Allen (11), Korey Stringer (1) Adam Timmerman (1)
DT Chester McGlockton (4), Santana Dotson, Jason Fisk
DE Michael Sinclair (3), Michael Strahan (7)
MLB Corey Widmer, Ed McDaniel (1), Stephen Boyd (2)
OLB Mo Lewis (3), Bryan Cox (3), Jessie Armstead (5), Jason Gildon (3), Derrick Brooks (10)
CB Aeneas Williams (8), Mark McMillian, Dale Carter (4)
SS Blaine Bishop (4), Rodney Harrison (2)
FS Merton Hanks (4), John Lynch (9)
P Mitch Berger (2)

I think this would be considered one of, if not the best, five-year drafts in NFL history. It’s a group not only loaded with talent (150 Pro Bowl appearances), but longevity (at least ten players still active during the 2008 season). The selections by position are also spaced out fairly well. Only the outside linebacker position has more than four selections over the five years (average of one per draft). I lumped the offensive guard and tackle positions because a couple of players were versatile enough to play either spot. Combined, I drafted seven players to fill four starting positions, with three players in reserve. The only position I didn’t draft was a kicker.

Would this team have won at least one Super Bowl, much less a number of them? Who knows, but with this talent, it was possible. Would Bill Cowher have done a better job coaching than Bill Belichick? Again, who knows, but he at least wouldn’t have alienated the existing veterans and media (and consequently, the fans) the way Belichick did. Would this team, with its potential for winning, have gotten the Browns a new stadium or new owner, or both? Would it at least have kept them from moving to Baltimore? Again, who knows, but I like the chances. In wrapping up this series, it seems appropriate to quote Shakespeare from Hamlet:

“To sleep, perchance to dream-ay, there’s the rub.”

Cleveland Browns Redraft:1994

Friday, September 5th, 2008

After pondering the immense failure of Bill Belichick as head coach of the Cleveland Browns during the 1990s, I’ve gone back and looked at one aspect of that five-year tenure, the draft. Being the football nerd I am, I’m playing the role of fantasy general manager and redoing their 1991-1995 draft picks. Wishful thinking, yes, but I wonder if the draft played out the way I redid it, maybe the Browns would have never left in 1996. And maybe the long-eluded Super Bowl championship would have finally found a home in northeastern Ohio.

I’m up to 1994, the only winning season under Belichick in Cleveland. The Browns finished 11-5 that year, one game behind the Steelers in the Central Divison, and a wildcard entry in the playoffs. Cleveland fielded one of the strongest defenses in the league that year. Vinny Testaverde was the starting quarterback after the ugy divorce between fan-favorite Bernie Kosar and the head coach the previous season. After beating the Patriots in the Wildcard game, Cleveland faced their long-time nemesis in Pittsburgh. Unfortunately for the Browns, the results were the same as the regular season (Pittsburgh won both contests) with a sound tumping by the Steelers.

Cleveland’s draft before the 1994 season was average at best. First off, Cleveland traded away their second round picks in 1994 and 1995 to Philadelphia in order to move up into the last spot of the first round. They had also lost their fourth round pick to Miami in a trade the previous year for OL Gene Williams (I don’t remember him either). That left them with six picks in the 1994 draft. Here’s what they did with them:

Round Number Player
1 9 CB Antonio Langham
1 29 WR Derrick Alexander
3 75 DT Romeo Bandison
5 141 DB Issac Booth
6 171 FB Robert Strait
7 203 OL Hamza Hewitt

Langham and Alexander both has good careers, although neither will see the Hall of Fame unless they buy a ticket. Bandison and Booth barely played during their short careers, and Strait and Hewitt never made it on the roster.

Now let’s take over. First off, the two draft trades that cost the Browns their two second round picks and their fourth round pick would never have happened. That gives us a pick in each of the seven rounds of the draft. So let’s look at our needs coming into the 1994 draft. Here’s our starting roster, based on draft picks only, at this point:

Offense Defense
QB Brett Favre (9) DT Chester McGlockton (4)
FB Kimble Anders (3) DT Santana Dotson
RB Gary Brown DE Michael Sinclair (3)
WR Keenan McCardell (2) DE Michael Strahan (7)
WR Donald Driver MLB Ed McDaniel (1)
TE Ben Coates (5) OLB Mo Lewis (3)
C Jay Leeuwenburg OLB Bryan Cox (3)
G Will Shields (12) CB Aeneas Williams (8)
G Ron Stone (3) CB Dale Carter (4)
T Erik Williams (4) SS Blaine Bishop (4)
T none taken FS Merton Hanks (4)

The numbers in ( ) indicate how many Pro Bowls each player has appeared in during their actual NFL careers. We also have depth at wide receiver (Troy Brown), tight end (Frank Wycheck), linebacker (Corey Widmer, Jesse Armstead), cornerback (Mark McMillan) and free safety (John Lynch). Our areas of biggest need are running back and offensive line, especially tackle and center. Here’s our new draft board. I’m omitting round numbers at this point because I’m assuming our new, Pro Bowl-laiden roster would have performed better than the original 1993 team (7-9). Hence, we would end up picking later in the rounds:

Round Player
1 CB Antonio Langham
2 ???
3 DT Romeo Bandison
4 ???
5 DB Issac Booth
6 FB Robert Strait
7 OL Hamza Hewitt

Let’s go at it and complete our rebuilding of the Browns:

Round Original Pick New Pick
1 CB Antonio Langham C Kevin Mawae

Drafted in the second round by Seattle, Mawae is considered one of the top centers in the past decade. He was elected to the Pro Bowl on six consecutive occasions (1999-2004) while playing for the Seahawks and Jets. In 2006, he signed a free agent contract with the Titans, where he continues to play today.

Round Original Pick New Pick
2 none T/G Larry Allen

Originally drafted by the Cowboys in the middle of the second round, Larry Allen (along with tackle Erik Williams) became the cornerstone of the great offensive line for Dallas during their three Super Bowl Championships during the 1990s. Able to play both guard and tackle, Allen played 13 years, 11 with the Cowboys, and made the Pro Bowl 11 consecutive years (1995-2006).

Round Original Pick New Pick
3 DT Romeo Bandison LB Jason Gildon

Jason Gildon was picked by the Steelers in the third round, and is versatile enough to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He is Pittsburgh’s all-time leader in sacks with 77, and went to the Pro Bowl three times (2000, 2001, 2002). He averaged nearly 11 sacks a season from 1998-2002. Although not a need, Gildon is a defensive terror that can’t be passed up. Bonus points for hurting the Steelers.

Round Original Pick New Pick
4 none SS Rodney Harrison

Again, another position of strength, but I’m a believer in taking the best talent available unless there is a serious need, and Harrison is too good of a player to not take. Drafed by San Diego in the fifth round, Harrison became a starter in 1997 and made the Pro Bowl twice (1998, 2001). He was cut by the Chargers following the 2002 season in a salary cap move, and signed with the Patriots, where he won two Super Bowls. Harrison is the only player in NFL history with 30 INTs and 30 sacks.

Round Original Pick New Pick
5 DB Issac Booth P Mitch Berger

I haven’t really paid much attention to special teams in these drafts, so this is a good spot to address them. Mitch Berger was taken by the Eagles in the late sixth round, but really came into prominence when he signed with Minnesota following the 1995 season. He played with the Vikings for five years, and made the Pro Bowl in 1999. He spent one year with the Rams before signing with New Orleans, where he played for another five years and made his second Pro Bowl in 2004. He is currently playing with the Steelers.

Round Original Pick New Pick
6 FB Robert Strait RB Jamal Anderson

I finally address my last glaring weakness, running back. In hindsight, Jamal Anderson was the second best running back to come out of the 1994 draft (Marshall Faulk was the best and picked second overall). The only reason I waited until the sixth round to take him is because he originally wasn’t selected until the last round (7th) by Atlanta, so I had almost the whole draft to wait for him. Anderson played eight years for the Falcons before retiring following the 2001 season after an ACL tear, amassing 5,336 rushing yards, 156 receptions for 1,645 yards, and 41 touchdowns. Inventor of the Dirty Bird touchdown celebration, Anderson made the Pro Bowl in 1998 when he ran for an NFL single-season record 410 times for 1,846 yards and 14 touchdowns. That year, the Falcons made their only Super Bowl appearance, losing to the Broncos. He ran for 96 yards for a 5.3 average in the Super Bowl.

Round Original Pick New Pick
7 OL Hamza Hewitt WR Rod Smith

Undrafted, Rod Smith signed with the Broncos in 1994, where he played 13 years and became a favorite target of Elway and Plummer. Becoming a starter in 1997, Smith averaged 75 receptions for 1,000 yards and six touchdowns during his last 11 years, and only missed three games during his career. He’s had two seasons of at least 100 receptions (2000: 100; 2001: 113), and his reception total in 2001 led the league. In Super Bowl XXXIII, Smith had 5 receptions for 152 yards, the fourth highest total in Super Bowl history. He also was elected to three Pro Bowls.

1994 Redraft Summary

Coming into this draft, I identified two areas of need: offensive line and running back. With three of our seven picks, I’ve more than adequately addressed those. Kevin Mawae and Larry Allen bring a combined 17 Pro Bowls to a line that already has 19 Pro Bowl appearances, giving us 36 Pro Bowls among center Mawae, guards Ron Stone and Will Shields, and tackles Allen and Erik Williams. That is a loaded offensive line. Jamal Anderson also gives us another Pro Bowl running back in the backfield (along with FB Anders). Add another Pro Bowl wide receiver (Smith) to a fine collection of pass catchers (Donald Driver, Keenan McCardell, Troy Brown, TE Ben Coates, TE Frank Wycheck) and a future Hall of Fame quarterback iin Brett Favre, and we have one of the most talented offenses in the history of the league.

We strengthened an already dominating defense with depth at linebacker and strong safety, and added a future Pro Bowl punter in Berger. Although with this team, Berger may never get in a game. If you can come up with a better championship-contending team, I would like to see it. There is no reason this team shouldn’t have won at least three or four Super Bowls, and we still have one more year to go.