Cleveland Browns Redraft:1995

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.”

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