By MICHAEL HEINBACH
There were several factors that led to the Cleveland Browns' disappointing 2008 season that forced the franchise to downshift into its fourth major overhaul since the team was reborn in 1999.
The Browns' return to their all-too familiar home in the neighborhood of NFL bottom feeders was more painful than usual because it came in the face of great expectations following the 2007 season's surprising 10-6 finish.
Some pointed the finger at head coach Romeo Crennel, while others sought out general manager Phil Savage's mishandling of draft picks.
Team owner Randy Lerner chose that pair to shoulder the blame and dismissed both following a dismal end to the season that saw not a single offensive touchdown scored over the team's final six games.
There were countless injuries, a difficult schedule and the kind of luck true Cleveland sports fans aren't just accustomed to, they expect it.
"If it wasn't for bad luck, I wouldn't have no luck at all."
But the most tangible microcosm of the 2008 Cleveland Browns' struggles came in the performance of wide receiver Braylon Edwards.
Following a breakout Pro Bowl season in which he caught 80 passes for 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns, 2008 saw Edwards revert into a shell of his former self.
In his defense, Edwards played on an offense that featured a line that did a spot-on impression of Swiss cheese while killing any hope of a consistent running game.
The O-line consistently gave quarterbacks Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, and third-stringer Ken Dorsey no more than three seconds to get rid of the ball before being devoured by opposing defenders. As a result, each QB ended the season on injured reserve.
But stats don't lie and Edwards caught just three touchdown passes in 2008 while totaling 55 receptions for 873 yards in his worst effort since his rookie season of 2005.
Though not an official statistic, those keeping track had Edwards dropping more passes than any other NFL receiver.
Edwards often made the tough grab on a pass he had to stretch for, but hit him in the hands and it was as if he couldn't catch pneumonia while floating naked in Lake Erie in January.
In my eyes, Edwards had two strikes against him before he played a single down for the orange and brown.
The first was that he was a brash trash-talker in college at hated Michigan and though I was willing to give Edwards a pass on his collegiate allegiance if he produced in Cleveland, I'd spent the previous two falls despising him.
The second is a little petty on my part and not entirely his fault, but choosing to wear Brian Sipe's hallowed No. 17 jersey (why isn't that number retired?) showed a lack of respect for the history of the franchise.
Enter new head coach Eric Mangini, who like Crennel is a Bill Belichick disciple, but has far less tolerance for playing fast and loose with the football. He made that abundantly clear last week in a press conference during the team's mini-camp.
"If you put the ball on the ground, you run," Mangini said in explaining one of his favorite his practice techniques. "If you get a penalty, you run. There's nothing more valuable than the football."
Those words are music to a Browns fan's ears, but that philosophy made Edwards expendable in the eyes of his new coach and general manager George Kokinis.
The pair attempted to trade Edwards away on draft day and still appear ready to do so for the right price after stockpiling receivers though the draft and free agency.
So what to do with young Mr. Edwards? It should be noted that Edwards himself was extremely disappointed with his performance last season.
If that's not motivation enough for him to come back with a renewed effort, Edwards is in a contract year, so his future net worth will be determined by his actions on and off the field this season.
I say keep shopping him around, but if there aren't any takers willing to part with legitimate NFL talent or the right amount of future draft picks, give Edwards one last chance to prove he can be the elite NFL receiver he was in 2007. Hopefully, we've already seen his worst.