Three games into the season, it became apparent to anyone who did not already know that the Cleveland Browns were not going to the playoffs. To even that casual observer who watched the disasters against the Minnesota Vikings, Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens, the Browns were completely overmatched.
With the trading of Braylon Edwards to the New York Jets, the team is now even more devoid of talent.
As a result, I have been paying even closer attention to the college football scene to see if there is anyone out there that could potentially help this organization in the near future.
To the frustration of my spouse, the television set has been on picture-to-picture from noon to past midnight the last three Saturdays. And my internet has been on overdrive as I scour the scouting reports for potential free agents, college seniors, and college juniors who may choose to leave their college experience behind.
Conventional wisdom says that the Cleveland organization should scrap the Derek Anderson and/or Brady Quinn experiments and look to use the top pick (which seems assured to be top seven) on a big name quarterback. I say “conventional wisdom” is wrong.
The Cleveland Browns section of B/R has been lighting up with calls for Jimmy Clausen, Tim Tebow, Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford or Tony Pike.
In the same breath, many are saying that Eric Mangini has “ruined” Brady Quinn or that DA “is not the future of this franchise.” All that may or may not be true, but there is one axiom that I have heard from a number of general managers who are considered to be the top of their craft:
“NEVER DRAFT FOR NEED!”
The fact is, not one of the aforementioned quarterback prospects is a sure thing. Each has his strengths, but all have question marks.
The truth is, if you look at the most successful franchises over the past ten years – aside from one (the Indianapolis Colts), they all built their teams with solid talent BEFORE settling on a quarterback.
The Pittsburg Steelers,New York Giants, New England Patriots,Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ravens, and St. Louis Rams (nine of the last 10 NFL Champions) all forged ahead by building superior defenses, accumulating numerous playmakers on offense, or both - before picking the quarterback that would lead them to the promised land.
The Steelers first Super Bowl with Ben Roethlisberger at the helm was largely won behind the strength of a power running game and a stingy defense.
The Patriots first Super Bowl with Tom Brady was the result of a playmaking, opportunistic defense. And on top of that, Brady was a sixth round pick.
Eli Manning had a terrific run down the stretch for the Giants, but it was the Giants ferocious defense and solid run game that kept them afloat for most of the season.
The Buccaneers and Ravens won Super Bowls with career journeyman; and the Rams won their Super Bowl with a guy who was working check-out lines at a grocery store before becoming famous.
For all those reasons, I implore the Browns franchise to build a strong defense and run game before deciding to switch gears at quarterback. And if Anderson or Quinn are not “the guy,” at least refrain from using a top pick on who you “think” will be the guy.
Let’s take a look at the two quarterbacks who were chosen early in the draft this year with the hope that they would turn around their respective franchise’s fortunes.
The Lions chose Matt Stafford with the first pick. In the limited time he hasn’t been injured, Stafford has played relatively well for a rookie. But the Lions, despite having one of the top two or three wide receivers in the game, are far from turning their team into a playoff contender.
The Jets drafted Mark Sanchez. Sanchez has a 5:10 interception to touchdown ratio and his team is no better off with him than without him. The Jets were a 9-7 team in 2008 and it appears that they may even fall short of that in 2009.
This is not a popular opinion in Browns circles because fans are so tired of losing they think that a top-rated college quarterback will be the miracle cure. But football is a 48-man sport, and this team is about 35 short (if not more).
The one thing that I am encouraged by is the fact that I think this Browns organization understands that. They are piling up draft choices like a squirrel hoards nuts to prepare for the winter.
Something that fans should also prepare themselves for is that the landscape is about to change in the NFL with a new collective bargaining agreement on the horizon.
NFL owners are getting ready to play hard ball on issues such as revenue sharing, rookie salaries, the salary cap, and restrictions on free agency.
As result, small and medium market clubs are less likely to rebuild their teams through free agency. In fact, there will most likely be very little player movement even among large market teams.
NFL GM’s are starting to follow the Patriots blue print of avoiding the top 10 of the draft like it’s the plague. The reason is that they want to avoid paying big contracts to roll-of-the-dice rookies.
If you do “miss” on a player you are devoting a great deal of your salary structure to, you can set your football team back three to five years. That is why I commend this organization for working so hard to accumulate draft choices in rounds two through five.
There is strength in numbers, and it is a lot easier to cut short-term contracts that are not working out, than to eat the salary of a player on a four-year, multi-million dollar contract. It is not only difficult to cut the player in the latter category, but that player also becomes untradeable because his signing bonus cannot be spread out over the term of his deal.
This scenario hits a team two ways: 1.) You have a player under-performing; and 2.) you cannot replace said player because there is not enough money left.
The fact is, there is not one single player in the up-coming draft that can completely turn this franchise around. There are needs at wide receiver, tight end, offensive guard, offensive tackle, running back, defensive end, outside linebacker, middle linebacker, corner back and safety (in addition to quarterback).
If the Browns do decide to turnover the quarterback position, I would recommend keeping Anderson or Quinn and drafting a QB in the second round or later…slowly groom him…and make sure the pieces are in place before throwing him to the wolves.
My final message to the team…
If you cannot trade out of the top pick in next April’s draft, draft the best available player. But please…please…please!…do not draft a quarterback unless he IS the best available player!