While it is true that the Colts just lost the Super Bowl, they were the winningest team of the last decade. It does not take too much examination to figure out why the Colts are successful. They score lots of points, have talented players, have stability in the front office and throughout the coaching staff, and probably the greatest quarterback ever to play the game.
If you dig deeper, however, you will discover that the Colts almost never get involved in free agency, and they haven't necessarily had the greatest drafts as far as depth is concerned. The way the Colts have been successful is through drafting extremely well in the first round and keeping their core players intact. Let's examine the Indianapolis Colts record in the first round since 1996:
1996 - WR Marvin Harrison (19th)
1997 - OT Tarik Glenn (19th)
1998 - QB Peyton Manning (1st)
1999 - RB Edgerrin James (4th)
2000 - LB Rob Morris (28th)
2001 - WR Reggie Wayne (30th)
2002 - DE Dwight Freeney (11th)
2003 - TE Dallas Clark (24th)
2004 - No pick in first round but selected S Bob Sanders 44th overall
2005 - CB Marlin Jackson (29th)
2006 - RB Joseph Addai (30th)
With the exception of Rob Morris, each of these players have played pivotal roles for the Colts. I'm not going to count the number of combined Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections the players have tallied. You know their names and what they have contributed to the Colts.
You should also notice that most the picks are offensive players. In today's NFL, the path to consistent excellence is offensive firepower. While this often centers on good quarterback play, the Colts certainly did their work to surround Manning with excellent playmakers.
When Manning came into the league, he was protected by a franchise left tackle in Tarik Glenn and had a future hall of fame receiver in Marvin Harrison. The year after selecting Manning they gave him another weapon in Edgerrin James. They missed with Rob Morris, but they gave Manning even more weapons the next few years with Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark.
I believe that it is certainly true that Peyton Manning improves everybody around him. I also believe that the players around Peyton Manning early in his career made him better as well. Good players become great players when they are surrounded by other talented performers.
To provide a contrast, here is a list of the Browns' first round picks since their return to the league:
1999 - QB Tim Couch (1st)
2000 - DE Courtney Brown (1st)
2001 - DT Gerrard Warren (3rd)
2002 - RB William Green (16th)
2003 - C Jeff Faine (21st)
2004 - TE Kellen Winslow (6th)
2005 - WE Bralyon Edwards (3rd)
2006 - LB Kamerion Wimbley (13th)
2007 - OT Joe Thomas (3rd) and QB Brady Quinn (22nd)
2008 - none
2009 - C Alex Mack (21st)
While there are certainly several subplots with a devastating history of injuries and careers ruined by injury, the lack of success at acquiring the fundamental building blocks in the first round has ruined the Browns chances at success.
The Browns also failed to put any playmakers around the quarterback they drafted with the intention to be the franchise player, Tim Couch. By the time they drafted Kellen Winslow and Braylon Edwards he was on his way out of the league. They never drafted a tackle to protect his blindside and the beatings he took are a result of that.
I'm not saying that Tim Couch was the second coming of Peyton Manning or even a good quarterback, but I am saying that the Browns administration never gave him the tools necessary to be successful.
The verdict is still out on a number of the recent picks. Alex Mack seems like a great player in the making, and if so, the Browns have at least an average line. I won't get into the Brady Quinn debate in this article, as that has been run into the ground already.
This year, as the draft nears and we all contemplate who might be selected in the first round and who the quarterback of the future is going to be, ask yourself, do we have the talent in place to make a quarterback successful?
If not, the Browns need to follow the Colts example and add offensive talent through the draft. I, for one, am not ready to jump on the Joe Haden bandwagon.