Cleveland Browns Redraft:1999

I’m a Cleveland Browns fan. Always have been. That said, following my favorite team has been more heartache than celebration. The move to Baltimore to become the Ravens was the worst, worse than the AFC Championship games against the Broncos. Since the team was “reborn” in 1999, its been more heartache. In nine years, the team has had two winning seasons, one playoff appearance (where they blew a huge lead and lost), three head coaches, two general managers (three if you count Davis as one as coach), up until this past year only one Pro Bowl player, and a huge amount of disappointment.

During the draft season in April, I began thinking how horrible of a job the Browns have done drafting players during those first six years, and seeing why the team has struggled as much as they have. The more I thought about it, and looked through the draft histories on nfl.com, the more that point hit home. For my own sanity, I decided to play Fantasy GM and go back in time to correct the problem.

I’m going to make a lot of assumptions. First, that the available players don’t change very much based on the changed picks of the Browns. I’m also assuming that the Browns draft position doesn’t change much the first couple of years from what they actually were (especially 2000 and 2001 drafts). Also that the players would have been just as productive with the Browns as they were with the teams that they actually played for. I’m also going to assume I can make a blockbuster draft deal in 1999 and sign a couple of free agents (one particularly) that went somewhere else in 1999 and had productive careers.

I also contemplated the idea of starting the franchise a year earlier in 1998. The Browns would have been off to an incredible start with a draft for the ages (based on 1999 draft picks). Imagine drafting Peyton Manning (QB, eight Pro Bowls), Patrick Surtain (CB, three Pro Bowls), Jeremiah Trotter (OLB, four Pro Bowls), Ahman Green (RB, four Pro Bowls), Hines Ward (WR, four Pro Bowls), Matt Birk (C, six Pro Bowls), London Fletcher (MLB, three Pro Bowls), and a couple of other solid starters. But since the team came about in 1999, that’s where I’ll start.

Front Office and Coaching Staff

Looking back, here’s where the problems all started. Dwight Clark as General Manager was a complete disaster. He was horrible in hiring both coaches and drafting players. In his stead, I would bring in Kevin Colbert as Director of Football Operations. He’s been nothing short of spectacular in that role with the Steelers. Here’s a great example of why the Steelers are one of the best franchises in the NFL — they hire great people to run the organization.

Next would be the head coach. The Brown’s first new coach, Chris Palmer was a disappointment. Few may remember that he was the ugly stepchild choice for coach. The Browns were pushing hard for Brian Billick to take the head coaching job. But when he said he wanted to interview for the Ravens position before making a decision, Policy threw a tantrum and said that he was no longer considered a candidate. I’m not a fan of Billick, nor was I ever. But there were several other better candidates than Palmer to turn to. My initial list of candidates (in order of preference) would be these five coaches:

  • Andy Reid. Quarterbacks Coach and Assistant Head Coach with the Packers, Reid was hired ass head coach by the Eagles in 1999. Although initially criticized by the fans as a bad choice, Reid was amassed seven winning seasons, five division championships, and a Super Bowl appearance in ten years.
  • Marvin Lewis. Defensive Coordinator for the Ravens, Lewis built the Baltimore defense into one of the most dominating forces in league history. He missed out on several head coaching positions before being hired by the Bengals in 2003. Although he’s only had one winning season in six years, the struggles are more due to the poor ownership and questionable personnel decisions than his coaching ability.
  • Russ Grimm. In my opinion, one of the most underrated assistants in the NFL during the last decade. Grimm has interviewed for a number of head coaching positions, but not winning any of them. He’s established himself as one of the best offensive line coaches in the league, and well deserving of a head coaching opportunity.
  • Jim Haslett. Defensive Coordinator of the Steelers, Haslett would be hired by the Saints as head coach in 2000. He is the only Saints coach in their history to win a playoff game. After six years, Haslett was let go by New Orleans following a dreadful year that few head coaches could have been successful with the adversity the Saints faced in 2005.
  • Gary Kubiak. Offensive Coordinator for the Broncos, Kubiak helped build one of the most effective offenses in the NFL for nearly a decade, despite having massive personnel turnover during that period. He became the Texans second coach in their brief history in 2006, and has gradually improved the team each year.

Free Agent Signings

Now let’s tackle the players. First off, we need to get an element of veteran leadership. The advantage of a “new” team is that you don’t have any money locked up in players salaries yet, so you have more to work with than most, if not all, other teams in the league. Here are a couple of key players I would aggressively pursue:

  • LB Jamir Miller. Cleveland did sign Miller from Arizona to be the cornerstone of their defense, and the investment paid off. Granted, the defense wasn’t great during the three years Miller played with the Browns (before an Achilles injury forced his retirement), but he was effective. Miller was elected to his only Pro Bowl following the 2001 season, and was the “new” Browns’ only Pro Bowl player until 2007.
  • CB Corey Fuller. Another actual Browns signing, Fuller did a good job during his three years with the Browns.
  • G Adam Timmerman. Timmerman was a key blocker for the Packers and Brett Favre during their Super Bowl runs in the ’90s, and signed with the Rams in 1999, where he played a key part in transforming their offense into the “Greatest Show on Turf.” He would come at a high price, but worth the money to be the veteran anchor on the offensive line. Timmerman made his only Pro Bowl appearance in 2001 with the Rams.
  • C Jeff Saturday. Saturday originally signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 1998, but was waived before the season started. He signed with Indianapolis the following offseason, where he went on to protect Peyton Manning since, earning three consecutive Pro Bowl selections (2005-2007).
  • QB Kerry Collins. The Browns need a veteran quarterback, at the very least to get clobbered until a true franchise QB can be drafted and protected behind a decent offensive line. Cleveland traded for Ty Detmer, and that was a disaster. Detmer was benched following the season opener, and watched as potential-franchise QB Tim Couch got clobbered behind a terrible line. I considered other free agent QBs such as Rich Gannon and Trent Green, whom both went on to have great careers with other teams since. But Collins is the most mobile of the three, which is important, and he had the most to prove at this point. He was a high draft pick for the Panthers and actually took them to the playoffs in his second year. However, 1998 was a disastrous year for him, both on and off the field. Collins would have come cheap, and would work hard to move past the previous year.
  • QB Jeff Garcia. Garcia was never drafted by the NFL and spent his first five years as a professional in the Canadian Football League. He signed with San Francisco in the 98-99 offseason, became the Niner’s full-time starter the following season, and has had a very good career. Although I would tab Collins as my starter, Garcia would make a good back-up.
  • QB Jake Delhomme. Undrafted in 1997, Delhomme spent the next couple of years on the Saints practice squad, participating in NFL Europe. He eventually left as a free agent to sign with Carolina and become their starter ever since.
  • K Phil Dawson. Another actual signing that worked out for the Browns. Dawson has been one of the few bright spots during an otherwise disappointing return of the Browns to the NFL.
  • P Chris Gardocki Originally signed by Cleveland as well, Gardocki, along with Dawson, were some of the most consistent kickers during the Browns early years since returning to the league.

Expansion Draft

With a core of quality veterans in place, let’s now turn our attention to the draft. Cleveland started out with an expansion draft, picking from the castaways and over-priced, past-their-prime veterans that the other teams made available. Needless to say, the Browns got very little from this other than players to fill out their roster. There was one oversight though. The St. Louis Rams made available a little-known quarterback that played primarily in the Arena League, Kurt Warner. I would make him a priority in the expansion draft, giving me four good quarterbacks on the team before I even hit the draft. Assuming Trent Green would still suffer his season-ending injury in preseason, I would then be willing to trade Warner back to St. Louis for future draft picks and/or ILB London Fletcher.

Pre-Draft Trades

The Browns traded two fourth round picks and a fifth round pick to San Francisco for a later fourth rounder, QB Ty Detmer and FB Marc Edwards. Neither trade worked out for Cleveland, so let’s scrap that deal. They also gave up a sixth round pick and two seventh-rounders to Chicago for a sixth-rounder. I’ll go through with that trade, as well as the one with Seattle, giving up an early sixth round pick for two later in that round.

The big draft trade in 1999 was between the New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins. The Saints, under the direction of head coach Mike Ditka, swapped first round picks with the Redskins, and also parted with the remainder of their 1999 draft picks (3-7) and their first and third picks in 2000 to move up seven spots to select RB Ricky Williams. History shows they originally tried to pull off the trade with Cincinnati (3rd pick) for all their 1999 picks, 2000 and 2001 first round picks, and 2002 second round pick. I’m assuming I can make the exact deal offered to the Bengals, and slide down to the twelfth slot in the first round while picking up additional picks in rounds 3-7. I would also lobby for giving up the 2002 pick in exchange for defensive tackle La’Roi Glover.

I would also attempt to make a couple of trades to build a solid running game from the start. The first deal would be with Seattle for running back Ahman Green, a 1998 draft pick that played very little his rookie year. Seattle traded him to Green Bay the following year for a fifth-round pick and DB Greg Vinson, and also giving up a sixth-round pick. I would offer the fourth and seventh round picks from the New Orleans trade for Green. The other trade I would try to do would be giving up my last fourth round pick (110) to Kansas City for fullback Tony Richardson. Richardson was undrafted in 1994 and signed with the Cheifs in 1995. He would eventually be elected to four Pro Bowls (2003, 2004, 2005, 2007) blocking for Priest Holmes and Adrian Peterson.

Another trade I would attempt is with the Buffalo Bills. I would offer my fifth-round pick (148) for DT Pat Williams. Williams, an undrafted free agent the Bills signed in 1997, played very little to this point of his career. He, however, earned a starting spot by 2001 and played well. He signed with the VikingsĀ  in 2005 and was elected to the Pro Bowl three times since. Another deal that I would attempt, although may be harder to pull off, is trading for De Jason Taylor at Miami. After his second year in the league, Taylor had an impressive 1998 season with nine sacks. I would be willing to part with one of the later third-round picks for Taylor. With those deals in place, here’s the draft picks I have (original Browns selections shown):

Round Number Player
1 12 (from New Orleans)
2 32 WR Kevin Johnson
2 45 LB Rahim Abdullah
3 62 DB Daylon McCutcheon
3 71 (from New Orleans)
3 78 DB Marquis Smith
4 99 (originally traded to SF)
5 139 (originally traded to SF)
5 144 (from New Orleans)
6 174 DT Marcus Spriggs
6 179 (from New Orleans)
6 187 LB Kendall Ogle
6 191 TE James Dearth
7 207 RB Madre Hill

That gives me 15 total picks in the draft, seven more than the original Browns draft. Looking back at the actual 1999 draft, its not exaggerating to say it was a disaster. Out of the original eleven picks, only four players had a career lasting longer than five years (Johnson, McCutcheon, Rainer and Dearth), and only one still active (Dearth). None of them came close to making the Pro Bowl. Let’s see what it could have been like:

1999 Redraft

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
1 12 none DE Jevon Kearse

Drafted by the Tennessee Titans as the 16th pick of the first round, Kearse showed his skilled immediately as a rookie, recording 14.5 sacks and eight forced fumbles, and named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. He was also named Defensive Rookie of the Month all but one month during the 1999 season. Kearse netted at least 10 sacks during his first three years, which earned him Pro Bowl selections in 1999, 2000, and 2001. He missed most of the 2002 season with a season-opening injury, but returned in 2003 to make 9.5 sacks.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
2 32 WR Kevin Johnson T Jon Jansen

Although Johnson was a good choice and a productive player, but I believe in the philosophy that new need to start with building your lines. We started with defense in round 1, now we move to the offensive side. Jansen was a solid starter immediately for the Redskins, and didn’t miss a single game until 2004, when he ruptured his left Achilles in preseason. He then came back in 2005 and missed only one game the next two years, then broke his ankle in the season opener of 2007 and was out for the rest of that year.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
2 45 LB Rahim Abdullah G Randy Thomas

A second round pick, Thomas started immediately for the Jets, and has been a solid anchor for the Jets and Redskins throughout his career. During his four years with the Jets, he started every game but three (in 2001) due to an injury. In 2003, Thomas signed with Washington, playing in all but three games his first four years with the team. In only played in three games during the 2007 season, but returned in 2008 to start every game that year.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
3 62 DB Daylon McCutcheon OLB Joey Porter

Porter was drafted by the Steelers and was a starter from 2000 to 2006, when he signed with the Dolphins, where he continues to play. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2002, 2004, 2005 and 2008.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
3 71 none WR Marty Booker

Drafted by the Bears in the third round, Booker had his breakout year in 2001 when he caught 100 passes for 1,071 yards and eight scores. The following year he nabbed 97 receptions for 1,189 yards and six touchdowns, and earned his only Pro Bowl selection. He signed with Miami in 2004, where he played for four years before returning to Chicago in 2008.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
3 78 DB Marquis Smith CB Mike McKenzie

Taken in the third round, Mike McKenzie was an instant starter at cornerback with the Packers until traded to New Orleans in 2004. He is still a starting cornerback with the Saints.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
4 99 none DE Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith was drafted by Pittsburgh and became their regular starter in 2000. He went to the Pro Bowl in 2005 as an injury replacement.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
5 139 none ILB Eric Barton

Drafted in the fifth round, Eric Barton became a starter for the Raiders in 2002, and signed with the Jets in 2004. From 2002 to 2006, he amassed over 100 tackles each season except for 2005, when he only played in four games due to injury.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
5 144 none DT Kelly Gregg

Gregg was originally drafted by the Bengals in the sixth round, but was cut during training camp, and signed with the Eagles. He signed with the Ravens in 2001, and became the starter at Nose Tackle in 2002. Since then, he averages over 66 tackles and 2.5 sacks per year.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
6 174 DT Marcus Spriggs TE Desmond Clark

Drafted in the sixth round by Denver, Desmond Clark has had a productive career with Denver, Miami and Chicago throughout his nine-year career. Since signing with Chicago in 2003, he’s missed only four games and averages 30 catches for 414 yards and three touchdowns. He was voted as a Pro Bowl alternate in 2005.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
6 179 none WR Donald Driver

Drafted in the 7th round, Driver is a three-time Pro Bowler (2002, 2006, 2007) with career statistics of 577 receptions, 7989 yards and 43 touchdowns. He has at least 70 catches and over 1,000 yards six of the past seven years.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
6 187 LB Kendall Ogle C Todd McClure

McClure was originally drafted by the Falcons in the 7th round and became the starting Center midway through the 2000 season (he missed all of 1999 with an ACL tear), and has missed one game since. He’s started every game since 2002.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
6 191 TE James Dearth G Jamar Nesbit

Undrafted, Jamar Nesbit became a starter for Carolina in 2000, and missed only two games until he left for Jacksonville in 2003. Moving to New Orleans in 2004, he is an anchor on the Saints offensive line, playing in every game from 2003-2007. In 2008 he missed nine games due to injury.

Round Number Original Pick New Pick
7 207 RB Madre Hill LS Mike Schneck

Mike Schneck was undrafted and signed with the Steelers in 1999, where he played until 2004. He then played with Buffalo for two years before signing with Atlanta in 2007. He went to the Pro Bowl as a special teams selection in 2005.

1999 Wrapup:

With fifteen picks, three have made multiple Pro Bowl appearances (Kearse, Porter, Driver), with four others making it once (Booker, Smith, Morey, Schneck). The redraft duplicatesĀ  just about every single position taken in the actual 1999 draft (one less linebacker and defensive back), but also addresses two areas the actual draft didn’t cover, defensive end and offensive line. That’s big, considering how many talented offensive linemen came out of that draft. So in comparison, the redraft puts the actual picks of 1999 to shame. Granted, any team can look back and see what they overlooked. But its clear by looking at this initial draft, the Browns did a horrible job of evaluating talent that first year in attempting to build a team. Outside of a few players, you can even go so far as saying this first draft was a complete waste of time and hurt the team more than helped. Next, we’ll tackle year 2 with the 2000 draft.

5 Responses to “Cleveland Browns Redraft:1999”

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