"Living at risk is jumping off the cliff and building your wings on the way down."—Ray Bradbury
When the Atlanta Falcons traded with the Cleveland Browns to acquire Julio Jones at 6th overall in the 2011 NFL Draft, the move consisted of a playoff team aggressively pursuing their man.
The 2007 Cleveland Browns finished 4-12 the year before. When Brady Quinn dropped to 22nd overall, Cleveland saw an opportunity to feed red meat to its fan base by giving them the Ohio native many wanted at third overall, while simultaneously following draft fundamentals and getting a great left tackle in Joe Thomas.
You can't have it both ways.
When the Browns managed to miss the playoffs at 10-6 in 2007, they entered the offseason badly in need of the necessary defensive pieces to get over the hump and though the offense thrived around a young passing nucleus, Jamal Lewis needed a protege.
Then the bottom fell out in 2008 as the Browns didn't draft until the 4th round and Romeo Crennel went from 10-win hero to 12-loss zero in a matter of months. Without new blood on defense or any upgrades to the running game, the Browns disintegrated as Pro Bowlers Derek Anderson, Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards simultaneously flamed out.
Notably, Jamal Lewis remained a consummate professional and reached 1,000 yards for the seventh and final time in his decorated career.
Cleveland won't need to trade up to No. 22 overall this year as a result of trading out of that top 10 pick in 2011. But with two selections in the first round to start, the Browns should trade out of the top 10 until they win enough games to draft later.
The Browns simply cannot lose with more first round picks, which is why they're blatantly shopping their fourth overall selection.
In that 2007-2008 stretch the Browns learned many lessons, some of which seems paradoxical:
- First, the case of Jamal Lewis strongly supports the case for Trent Richardson: the Ravens drafted Lewis at fifth overall in 2000 and 9 months later lifted the Lombardi Trophy. Lewis also won a national championship with an SEC powerhouse and the Browns would have been lucky to have him earlier in his career.
- Drafting around the ball (Joe Thomas, Alex Mack, Phil Taylor) may disappoint casual fans, but wins games in the long term.
- The higher you draft a bust (think Braylon Edwards), the more dollars, reps and years you lose to that investment.
- Unlike the Crennel/Savage group, the Holmgren/Heckert/Shurmur regime know they have beyond this season to save their jobs. 2014 will be their last chance to win the requisite 7 games to avoid getting canned, but this leadership group won't be fired after this season unless the team regresses substantially.
For that reason, it would behoove them to load up as many first round selections as possible for the next two years. Better two or three first rounders in the middle-to-end than perennially selecting in the top five.
While Trent Richardson and Morris Claiborne could both live up to their "once-in-a-generation," billing, after a 12 loss season and with time to rebuild, the Cleveland Browns clearly want to maximize the value of their fourth overall slot.
History indicates that means trading down.
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