Braylon Edwards and the Cleveland Browns: How Did It Come to This?

Kendall MurrayCorrespondent IApril 5, 2009

NASHVILLE, TN - DECEMBER 07:  Receiver Braylon Edwards #17 of the Cleveland Browns reacts in the final minutes of play during their 28-9 loss to the Tennessee Titans on December 7, 2008 at LP Field in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

I want to like Braylon Edwards. I really do. And actually, I do like him most of the time.

But during the 2008 season of the Cleveland Browns, I saw a Braylon that I was not proud of. One that had a strong negative effect on his team and his relationship with Browns fans.

Because of this, I am torn.

You see, trade rumors involving Edwards have been swirling. 

Eric Mangini has made it known that he has no interest in malcontents. His dealing of Kellen Winslow to Tampa made that point very clear.

Edwards seems to be the next logical choice to go, and I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.

You see, Browns fans were upset last season. The team that had shown great promise the previous year became a huge disappointment. When these things happen, coaches, players, fans...we all look for someone to blame.

Enter Braylon Edwards.

During his first two seasons in Cleveland, the much-hyped receiver showed flashes of his ability. He also showed questionable maturity.

In one memorable 2006 incident that found its way onto ESPN, Edwards was shown yelling at then-Browns’ quarterback Charlie Frye and grabbing him by the shoulder. Edwards had to be restrained by teammates and coaches.

But in 2007, he had a breakout season. He caught 80 balls for a team record 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns on his way to his first Pro Bowl. More importantly, he lit up the highlight reels with spectacular catches and endeared himself to the faithful.

One of my personal favorites was a recurring play where Edwards ran an outside curl route. Quarterback Derek Anderson would put the ball high over Edwards’ outside shoulder, with the defender sitting on his inside shoulder. Edwards was so tall and could leap so high, the cornerback didn’t stand a chance. The play was unstoppable.

Another play that captivated Browns fans came against the Baltimore Ravens. Edwards appeared to fly past three-time Pro Bowler Chris McAlister on his way to a 78-yard touchdown.

But it wasn’t just the touchdown that connected with Browns fans. 

In his post-game interview, Edwards mentioned that he had noticed something about McAlister on film that he thought they could exploit. The idea of the superstar wide receiver studying film (combined with the image of the spectacular play) rang true to the hard-working blue collar fans of Cleveland.

He also talked a lot about how he had worked very hard in the offseason to get better. He wanted to be the best in the game. His play backed up those comments.

Edwards was the toast of the town. Sure, he dropped too many balls and committed the occasional “mental lapse” penalty, but he was young and he more than made up for those mistakes with all his positive plays and hard work.

Then came the 2008 preseason. 

Edwards was jogging barefoot alongside new acquisition Dante Stallworth, who was wearing cleats. Stallworth accidentally stepped on and punctured Edwards’ foot and the injury sidelined him for the rest of training camp, including the last three preseason games.

In interviews, Edwards was nonchalant about the injury, saying that it was “no big deal.” After the injury had healed and he had been cleared to practice, he said, “I have a week to get in some kind of shape so it shouldn’t be too hard.”

This wasn’t characteristic of the guy who had been so eager to work on his game during the previous preseason. I have to admit, I didn’t give the comments much thought at the time. Looking back, maybe this was a clue of things to come.

Then, the season began.

There were high expectations for the Browns—the only team in the league with 10 wins in the previous season that didn’t make the playoffs. 

They had a half-dozen young Pro Bowlers and a schedule that included five nationally televised night games. There were even media experts predicting that the Browns would go to the Super Bowl. This was to be the return to the national spotlight that Cleveland fans had waited a long time for.

Edwards was seen in local and national media, discussing the Browns high-profile schedule. He talked about how the Browns had earned respect last season. They were now being rewarded. He clearly relished the spotlight.

The season opener was a big one for the Browns. It was a home game and it was against the Dallas Cowboys.

It was a marquee matchup of two of last season’s best offenses and their Pro Bowl players. It was Tony Romo vs. Derek Anderson, Jason Witten vs. Kellen Winslow, and most notably Terrell Owens vs. Braylon Edwards.

The atmosphere was electric and the fans were raucous. This was, of course, the Browns’ coming out party.

Edwards’ game started innocently enough. With the Cowboys already up 7-0, Edwards caught the first ball that came his way, a quick throw at the line of scrimmage. The play didn’t really work as planned, since he was immediately tackled and gained only two yards, but that didn’t matter so much. He got his fist catch of the season.

Two plays later, Anderson threw a perfect strike to a leaping Edwards 23 yards down the left sideline. The defender had his back turned and Edwards was in perfect position to catch the ball.

It bounced off his hands.

Browns fans were accustomed to a few drops from Edwards. We also knew that he would get the next one and help bring home a victory. That’s how it went with this young and talented receiver.

But three plays later, Edwards dropped another one.

On this play, he got out ahead of his man deep in the middle of the field. Anderson again threw a perfect strike, but Edwards short-armed the ball and it tipped off his fingers. Aside from the drop, it was a perfectly executed play that would have resulted in a touchdown.

Browns fans let out a collective sigh. The general sentiment was still positive toward the star receiver, as most fans just felt bad for him. We just wanted him to focus, get back out there, and get the next one.

Three plays later, Anderson and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski showed confidence in Edwards. They went right back at him and he made the catch for 12 yards, one yard shy of a first down.

Later in the same drive, Edwards drew a pass interference call on Adam “Pacman” Jones that helped put the Browns in position to score a game-tying touchdown. Edwards had beat Jones on the play and the cornerback had no choice but to grab him in order to prevent a touchdown. Surely, Edwards was fine.

On the Cowboys next drive, Romo threw a 35-yard pass to Owens for another Cowboy touchdown. The play looked almost identical to the one in which Edwards dropped his second pass of the game. 

Owens celebrated with an elaborate touchdown display that paid tribute to the Olympic Games. The celebration drew an unsportsman-like conduct penalty. Owens didn’t care, of course, and continued to taunt the Cleveland fans by mocking LeBron James’ pre-game talcum powder ritual from the sideline.

Edwards could not have been happy knowing that he had dropped his chance to beat Owens to the punch. He had his own connection to the Olympics. He and eight-time gold medal-winning swimmer Michael Phelps had made a well-publicized bet in which Edwards claimed he would score twice as many touchdowns on the season as Phelps’ gold medal total.

Here was Edwards’ opportunity to show what he was made of. He had made some early mistakes and he and his fans had been shown up by Owens.

On his next opportunity, a third down inside slant pattern, Edwards dropped another pass. This time, the throw wasn’t perfect—a bit too high, but in the words of FOX analyst and Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman, “Still, one that Braylon Edwards could have caught.”

During the next drive, Edwards (and his positive fan sentiment) unraveled. He incurred two penalties for an illegal shift. On the play in which the second penalty occurred, Anderson hit him right in the numbers on a slant route, but Edwards bobbled and then dropped the ball.

The boo birds started to come out. In less than one half of play, Edwards had dropped four passes (one that didn’t count because of a penalty...on Edwards) and committed two penalties for moving while the Browns had another player in motion.

In less than 30 minutes of game time, he had managed to turn an adoring fanbase into an angry mob of Anti-Braylon sentiment. Aikman, who was sometimes accused of talking about the Cowboys too much during broadcasts, jumped on the story of the moment—Edwards’ inability to catch the football.

The Browns finished the half trailing the Cowboys 21-7, and boos rained down from the filled seats of Cleveland Browns Stadium. Most of those were directed at Edwards.

In the second half, despite trailing badly and needing to score touchdowns to get back in the game, the Browns only threw in Edwards' direction one more time. On that play, Anderson overthrew him.

His only contribution to the remainder of the game was a false start penalty, which of course drew jeers from the home crowd.

By game’s end, Edwards had two catches for 14 yards and committed three penalties for a loss of 15.

In the local and national media, the Browns’ defense received quite a bit of criticism for their play in the 28-10 loss. But the angry words were reserved for Edwards, who was now seen as someone who ran his mouth instead of producing on the field.

His every move went under the microscope. 

In his next game at home against the Steelers, Edwards dropped three more balls. Not one of them would have been an easy catch. The first was thrown a bit behind him, and on the other two plays, he was hit immediately by defenders.

These facts fell on the deaf ears of Browns fans, as he had lost the benefit of the doubt. The boos came out again.

Over the course of the remainder of the season, Edwards began to return to form. He began to produce highlight-worthy catches, and the support of many, but not all, of his fans returned.

His drops diminished considerably, but not completely. It seemed as if every drop came during a nationally televised game, or against a key division rival, or on a crucial late-game third down play. Many of them occurred in front of the home crowd.

Fan sentiment on the star wideout was split. Many fans supported him and wore his No. 17 jerseys proudly. Others scrutinized him on every play and booed loudly with every mistake.

For his part, Edwards said all the right things early on. He clearly felt bad about the drops and penalties and vowed to improve. As the season progressed, his media sessions became shorter and more contentious as the Browns slowly fell out of playoff contention.

Late in the season, long after the Browns were out of the hunt in the AFC and the local media started to point fingers at where they thought the problems were, Edwards revealed his displeasure. 

“I’ve learned being here, I’m very unappreciated. Not in the organization, just in the eyes of the fans, the city. Since day one, I’ve been a marked man, coming from Michigan. It’s just gone that way. Even when things are good, there’s heckles.”

He clearly sounded like a guy who didn’t want to be in Cleveland.

During the last game of the season, he clearly sulked on the sideline between each offensive series as the team worked to get running back Jamal Lewis to 1,000 yards for the season. Lewis had entered the game 92 yards shy of the mark, while Edwards was 132 yards shy of 1,000 yards receiving. 

Lewis finished the game with 94 yards and pats on the back from his teammates and coaches. Edwards caught one ball for five yards, as fourth-string quarterback Bruce Gradkowski struggled to amass only 18 yards passing on the afternoon.

The Browns finished the season at 4-12, and head coach Romeo Crennel, to whom Edwards had often referred as a “father figure,” was fired.

Since Eric Mangini took over as head coach, he has been cleaning house. He has already traded one disgruntled pass catcher in Kellen Winslow and added 10 free agents, all of whom are seen as team-first guys.

Trade discussions were bound to surround Edwards, and some rumors involving the Giants and Eagles have already emerged.

So, as a Browns fan, how should I feel about this?

On the one hand, he is a top-tier talent at wide receiver. He is big and strong and runs crisp routes. He has the ability to get open and outleap most defensive backs. Despite an alarming number of drops, he also has the ability to make spectacular one-handed grabs and catch balls that seem uncatchable.

He’s also young and still developing and has yet to reach his prime. He’ll likely learn from his mistakes and come out stronger.

In the community, he has been everything he should be and more. He began the Braylon Edwards Foundation, through which, among other things, he pledged $1 million in scholarship money to kids in Cleveland schools. He has been active with various charities, both in Northeast Ohio and his home state of Michigan.

He clearly wants to be great and do great things, both on and off the field.

On the other hand, when things got tough during a trying season, he failed to step up in the big spot. He has a tendency toward the “stupid” penalty, such as unsportsman-like conduct or taunting. He also wasn’t a consistent leader, a fact he showed in the last few games of 2008.

He’s made comments that suggest he is unhappy in Cleveland, a fact that is all the more important considering that he can become a free agent after the 2009 season. If he doesn’t want to stay, then the Browns will get nothing for him in return when he leaves. 

If he is to be traded, now seems like the best time to do it.

He also doesn’t seem to be the type of player that Mangini has been trying to bring in. Edwards can come off as being selfish, as he did during the last game of the season. If Mangini is trying to “change the culture” of the locker room by purging malcontents, wouldn’t Edwards’ departure help?

As I weigh the positives and negatives of keeping vs. trading this player, I am torn. I go back and forth.

The trade rumors suggest that Edwards is available, but only for a high price.

If the rumors are to be believed, the Browns have turned down a second and a fifth-round pick plus either Mario Manningham or Domenik Hixon from the Giants. Other reports suggest that they have turned down a first and a third-round pick.

I don’t believe in the idea that he must go. I believe that he can be successful in Cleveland as long as the team can find a way to win. Winning can cure a lot of ills in professional sports. 

I also believe that the fans will embrace him if he can manage to reduce his drops and penalties and stop dwelling on the Michigan thing. Former Wolverine center Steve Everitt was one of the most popular Browns of the early '90s.

I, for one, am a Browns and Buckeyes fan who actually hoped that the Browns would draft Edwards. The fact that he played for “that school up North” has had no bearing on my opinion of him.

I also don’t believe that he absolutely cannot be traded. If some team is willing to let go of two high picks and a starting-caliber receiver, Mangini absolutely should consider it—especially considering that Edwards could walk after next season.

I think a big part of the decision will come down to Edwards’ mind set. He has shown in the past that he sometimes speaks or acts with poor judgement in the heat of the moment, only to soften his stance upon further reflection.

Mangini had said at one point that he planned to meet with each of his players during the voluntary workouts, which Edwards has attended. Presumably, the two men have met and the coach has a sense of what his receiver is thinking about the upcoming season. 

It’s difficult to speculate about that conversation, but if Mangini thinks his mind is in the right place and he can contribute to the team with more than just talent, then Edwards stands a greater chance of being on the roster on opening day.

But if Mangini thinks that Edwards doesn’t want to be there or comes off as selfish, I think a deal will be much more likely.

Unfortunately, if a deal is made, Edwards will likely blast the city of Cleveland and its fans, turning the relationship from contentious to nasty. He would then become the player that Browns fans love to hate.

I, for one, hope that his meeting with Mangini goes well and he remains with the Cleveland Browns for a long time.

Like I said at the outset, I want to like Braylon Edwards.


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