The Cleveland Browns have quite a decorated history of wide receivers. Dub Jones, Dante Lavelli, Marion Motley, Gary Collins, Paul Warfield, Dave Logan and Webster Slaughter are among some of the greatest to ever play in Cleveland.
However, the Browns have also had their fair share of problematic wideouts as well. Who can forget Quincy Morgan, Kevin Johnson, Andre Rison, Dennis Northcutt and even Donte Stallworth? Well, if you haven't forgotten them, you've certainly spent the past few years trying your hardest.
Yet, through this mixed bag of gems and busts, no receiver has been as enigmatic and complicated as the Browns' current No. 1 target. Yes, when it comes to an overall inexplicable and thought provoking career path, it gets no better than Braylon Edwards.
If you've been following Cleveland football for the past few years, I don't have to tell you what it is about "B-Easy" that makes him so perplexing.
You probably saw his rookie season in 2005, where he showed quite a bit of potential before being sidelined due to injury. In the years following, you watched Edwards blossom from a pretty good receiver on a terrible team to a breath taking, record breaking, highlight making touchdown machine.
Yes, after the breakthrough 2007 season, which ended at the Pro Bowl, hopes were high for Edwards coming into 2008.
And then, it happened.
On the first ball thrown to him, Edwards broke open for a long fade route against Dallas in the season opener. It would've been a sure touchdown, a catch which could've changed the tune of the game.
Instead, it slipped through Edwards' hands.
This sight, met with groans so loud you could hear them in Canada, became the broken record of the Browns '08 season. By the end of the year, Edwards was a marked man in Cleveland.
Fans turned on him. They let him hear it anytime he dropped a ball he undoubtedly would've hung onto in years previous. By the end of the season, No. 17 jerseys were becoming an endangered species at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
He threw more gas on the fire when he claimed fans were only hard on him because he played at the University of Michigan. As 2008 came to an end, Edwards had put together one of his worst seasons as a pro, both on the field and off.
Now, Edwards is embarking on what could be the most important season of his professional career. In the final year of his current contract with Cleveland, 2009 will be the utter definition of "make or break."
Every player in any sport knows the importance of a contract season. Edwards' will have one final year to prove to the Browns and the rest of the NFL that he is indeed a player who deserves top dollar. A year full of impact plays and incredible stats will result in huge contract offers from around the league. A poor season will lead to salary cuts, as the world will see how, more often than not, Edwards just doesn't merit a blockbuster deal.
So, with this in mind, which Braylon Edwards will Browns fans be seeing this year? Will he be breaking touchdown records again? Or will he be trying to see just how many times a receiver can lead the league in drops and still retain his position as No. 1 wideout?
Its no secret how Browns fans feel about Edwards. They've grown tired of his antics and wish he'd just shut up and catch the ball. When trade rumors began to surface regarding a deal sending Edwards to New York, many people in Cleveland were ready to say good riddance.
Coming into this season, Edwards will no doubt still receive skepticism throughout Browns Town. However, he could change this tune by simply showing off the skills fans came to love two years ago.
There are a few reasons to believe Edwards may break out of his current funk this year.
Let's face it, nobody understands the importance of this season quite like Edwards. He knows everyone in the NFL will be keeping tabs on his stats, deciding whether or not he'll deserve big money as a free agent in 2010.
Due to this fact, Edwards will undoubtedly try his hardest to show his critics how his stats in 2007 were not a mirage. Knowing how no team will give millions of dollars to a wideout with a severe case of the "dropsies," he may spend much of this offseason working on his hands so as to become a more reliable target.
If this is indeed the case, it seems as though he has a good coaching staff to dig him out of the hole he's put himself in.
During the team's OTAs and voluntary mini-camps, head coach Eric Mangini worked with his staff in attempting to solve another Browns mystery--linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. In attempts to make him more effective, Mangini and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan moved Wimbley around on the field, testing his ability in different positions. Where the previous regime seemed intent on waiting for Wimbley to figure out his own problems, the new personnel is seeing what they can do to unlock the talent hidden in a once-threatening linebacker.
I struggle to believe this staff won't try the same thing with Edwards.
Say what you want about how awful last year was, but the idea of Edwards being a great receiver still isn't terribly inconceivable. I know this, and so does the Browns front office.
With this in mind, I think the coaches will do what they can to get their big-name receiver back to his productive ways.
The new bosses already seem to be effecting Edwards. In his post-practice interviews, he just sounds like a different player. His quotes aren't laced with the "me first" attitude contained in each press conference from last year. Heck, even after being forced to practice in the rain, Edwards came up with reasons as to how it could benefit the team as a whole.
Mangini's discipline will most likely yield results for Edwards on the field, and it may also give him a different perspective mentally. He won't feel the need to run around barefoot at practice, and he'll be spending a lot of time studying the new routes and plays being implemented by offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, as the excuse of having a new coach certainly won't earn him a pass for a terrible season.
However, while Edwards will certainly try his hardest to earn a big paycheck this year, there are more than a few factors playing against him.
The biggest enemy Edwards will face this year will be pressure. Pressure to perform to the best of his capabilities, and pressure to do this on a weekly basis.
This will be quite a task, as I believe it was the same burden which became too heavy for him last year.
During the 2008 campaign, the Browns were expected to bust out of the AFC cellar, which lead to them being scheduled for five primetime games. Of all the players on the roster, Edwards was the one who was supposed to anchor fantasy teams throughout the country.
Unfortunately, the spotlight became too bright for the Browns wideout. He talked multiple times throughout the year about how he was putting too much weight on his own shoulders when it came to playing his best. His stats continued to do anything but disprove this.
While the Browns won't be gracing Monday Night Football as much as last year, his upcoming contract expiration may be even more of a task than performing for a huge TV audience.
He'll also spend 2009 facing more defensive pressure than ever before.
Regardless of his off-year last season, most defensive coordinators around the league aren't going to sleep on Edwards. They've seen what he can do when he's on his game, and they won't risk letting him find a rhythm on the field.
However, the biggest reason for the tough coverage he'll receive has nothing to do with his ability to be an impact player. Instead, it'll be because there are no other legitimate receiving threats in Cleveland.
Rookies Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi are untested, David Patten is on the wrong side of 30, and while tight end Steve Heiden can be reliable, he won't give defensive coordinators nightmares.
This being said, Edwards will be a prime target for coverage regardless of how many drops he accumulates. Try as he may, he'll never be able to convice opposing teams to yell, "TRIPLE COVERAGE ON MIKE FURREY!"
So, will Braylon Edwards put his best foot forward this year? I'd like to believe so.
But, will his task of becoming an impact player be more difficult than ever before? Definitely.
Its his last chance to prove he's not an overrated prima donna, and if he comes through on top, nobody benefits more than the Browns.