This season, whenever I believe a team is eliminated from the playoffs, thus making their season (and decade) over, I will write their obituary.
Today I present to you the Cleveland Browns of the 00's.
Cleveland Brown fans began the new millennium with a lot more optimism than they had five years prior. The franchises three year absence from the league was resolved in 1999 when the team became the 31st franchise in the National Football League. They also drafted Tim Couch to be their quarterback of the future, and had a head coach in Chris Palmer that they believed in, and in the 2000 NFL draft with the first overall selection the team chose DE Courtney Brown out of Penn State, a move meant to shore up the teams 29th ranked defense.
The 2000 season began with some hope as the Browns started their season 2-1, including wins against their rivals; the Steelers and the Bengals. Unfortunately the Browns would win only one more game the rest of the season, a week 11 contest against the New England Patriots. To add a greater dagger to Browns fans hearts; the Baltimore Ravens, also known as the team formerly known as the Cleveland Browns, won Super Bowl XXXV with arguably the greatest defense of all time.
Though the media expected nothing from the franchise, the Browns showed little improvement from 1999 to 2000, and head coach Chris Palmer was fired when the team heard that University of Miami head coach Butch Davis would be interested in leading the Browns.
Davis and the Browns entered the 2001 draft with their eyes on building the defense; for the second year in a row the team drafted defensive line help early; selecting Defensive End Gerrard Warren from Florida over TCU Running Back LaDanian Tomlinson and DE's Andre Carter and Richard Seymour. Dispite the poor draft pick, Davis and the Browns showed tremendous improvement in the 2001 season; catapulting the team to a 7-9 record and a respectable 15th ranked defense.
The Browns kicked off 2002 with some hype and a game against the Kansas City Chiefs. With 10 seconds left in the game and a 2 point lead, Browns LB Dwayne Rudd sacked KC QB Trent Green for a seemingly game winning tackle. After the sack, Rudd got up and flung his helmet off. The helmet toss was seen as premature by the officials who penalized Rudd and the Browns. The Chiefs were given the opportunity to kick a field goal and beat the Browns by one point.
Despite the 0-1 record, it was believe that if the Browns could get Tim Couch to develop as a Quarterback for the 2002 season, the team would do damage in the regular season, and potentially make the post season. As a starter that season, Couch would go 8-6, but his play was generally below average. Never the less, the Browns would go 9-7 and earn themselves a place in the AFC playoffs where they'd travel to Pittsburgh to play their nemesis Pittsburgh Steelers. Overall, Butch Davis was looking to be the next great head coach in the NFL, and the Browns looked to join the ranks of the Patriots, Colts, and Steelers as the teams to watch in the AFC for the 00's.
Couch would be hurt for the Wild Card weekend game in Pittsburgh, but backup QB Kelly Holcomb was up to the task. It would take a massive 22 point 4th quarter from the Tommy Maddox lead Pittsburgh Steelers to eliminate the Browns. The final score was 36-33, but the Cleveland Browns entered 2003 with lots of optimism and new found playoff experience.
Although expectations were high, the Browns would wobble through 2003, never actually catching rhythm. The season began with a QB controversy between Holcomb and Couch which Holcomb would eventually win; Even with that the offense continued to regress. It looked more likely as if the Tim Couch experiment was going to be a failure. The 2003 Browns would go 5-11, and Butch Davis suddenly ended up on the coaching hot seat for 2004. In the first round of the 2004 draft Davis would select TE Kellen Winslow Jr, a player which Davis recruited at the University of Miami. Though extremely talented, Winslow was notorious for having a major attitude.
For the start of the 2004 season, Davis brought in former San Francisco QB Jeff Garcia to lead the team. This did little to get anything going for the Browns. Also hurting Davis was the fact that Winslow got injured in week 2 and was placed on IR. Following a loss to the New York Jets in November, Davis was forced to resign.
For the 2005 season the Browns hired Romeo Crennel, an accomplished defensive mind from the Parcells-Bellichick coaching lineage. This move would go on to define the teams decade. Crennel would address the teams QB situation by drafting QB Charlie Frye in the third round of the draft, as well as signing veteran Super Bowl winning QB Trent Dilfer. This did little to help the Browns offense which finished last in the NFL. The 2005 Browns were little better, if not worse than the the 2004 Browns.
Things looked bleak for the 2006 Browns, and under Charlie Frye and Crennel the team fell flat on it's face. A 4-12 record for the franchise would come fully loaded with another low draft pick. Crennel needed to get it right this time or his head coaching career would likely be over.
The 2007 draft was a mark of glory for Crennel and the Browns. The team would use its #3 overall pick to select Joe Thomas, a Tackle out of Wisconsin who would go on to make the Pro Bowl immediately in his career. The team also traded back into the first round to acquire highly touted QB Brady Quinn out of Notre Dame. The Browns also traded Charlie Frye to the Seahawks where he is currently their third string QB.
The 2007 Browns put together the teams best single season of the decade. Unknown QB Derek Anderson took over the QB duties from Frye and performed brilliantly, putting up over 3,700 yards en route to a 10-5 record as a starter. Anderson's arm would be accompanied by Winslow, and wide receiver Braylon Edwards in Honolulu that February; Joe Thomas and KR Josh Cribbs would also join their fellow teammates in the Pro Bowl. A 10-6 record would be enough to give the Browns their best single season since 1994, but it wasn't enough to get the team to the playoffs.
Entering the 2008 season the Browns were finally back on a platform with the Colts and Patriots. People were comparing the Browns offensive weaponry to that of the Bellichick and Dungy lead teams. Unfortunately for the Browns, the Cinderella story of Derek Anderson came to a screeching end, and Brady Quinn got hurt. The Browns would fall to 4-12, and Romeo Crennel would be fired and replaced by Eric Mangini, another member of the Parcells-Bellichick coaching lineage.
The 2009 season began with a lot of new faces in Cleveland. Kellen Winslow was off to Tampa, and it was time for Brady Quinn to begin the season as Cleveland's starter, however, that would last only a few short weeks. By week 3 Derek Anderson was back under center and by week 7's end the 2009 Brown's season was over.
Entering 2010 the team looks to keep Mangini and the rebuilding process going. The team traded Braylon Edwards to the Jets, Mangini's former team, which before the season Mangini acquired QB Brett Ratliff from. It's unknown whether or not the team will go to Ratliff in 2009, but it's expected he'll be given an opportunity in 2010 to earn the job; it's almost a given that Quinn and Anderson will both be gone by the start of the 2010 season.
To sum up the Browns decade, the only way to be optimistic is to ask the question "is it better to have an awful NFL franchise than no franchise at all?" Most in Cleveland would respond "yes," because after all, we've seen franchises come back from worse.
Though the Browns never caught up to the Colts, Patriots, or rival Steelers; and the team never came close to winning a Super Bowl like their alter-ego Ravens did, the Browns decade was still in many ways a success. Although the team didn't reestablish itself as a winner, the teams fan base reestablished itself as one of the most respected in the league, and playing in Cleveland is still something no team wants to do in the winter. If the Browns and Mangini can get the right core of players in Cleveland, and establish the team as a power running team with a solid defense, this team could eventually join the ranks of the elite. That probably won't be in 2010 though.
MVP of the Decade: Joe Thomas
Notable Players: Tim Couch, Josh Cribbs, Jamir Miller, Phil Dawson, Derek Anderson, Kellen Winslow, Andra Davis, Braylon Edwards, William Green, Joe Thomas, Gerard Warren, Ryan Pontbriand, D'Qwell Jackson, Dennis Northcutt, Courtney Brown, Dwayne Rudd, Kevin Johnson
Throwback Jersey That Will Be Cool in 15 Years: 2006 Kellen Winslow
Editors Note: It has been brought to my attention that Quarterback Charlie Frye is currently on the Oakland Raiders behind Bruce Gradkowski on the depth chart. Thank you Hal for bringing this to my attention and I want to let all readers know that I completely appreciate it when you inform me of any errors in the blog. Thanks for reading!