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First-round trades have doomed the Browns in their new era

Apr 22, 2013 -- 8:26am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

The Morning Kickoff …

Trade winds blowing: My No. 1 takeaway from the final pre-draft press conference hosted by Browns CEO Joe Banner was that he wants to trade down from the sixth overall spot in the first round. By Thursday, he will have talked to all 31 other teams to gauge interest, he said.

A trade down most likely would not occur until the Browns are on the clock. By then, the desire could be wishful thinking.

Oakland (third), Philadelphia (fourth) and Detroit (fifth) also would like to move down. But each would command more in return because each is sitting higher than the Browns, and each should have a compelling need player or two available who would be tough to pass on.

The defensive tackle-depleted Raiders could choose between Florida’s Shariff Floyd and Utah’s Star Lotulelei, the Eagles can nab one of the top three offensive tackles or Chip Kelly’s freakish pass rusher from Oregon, Dion Jordan, and the Lions might not be able to turn their backs on BYU’s man-child defensive end Ziggy Ansah or Alabama’s pro-trained cornerback Dee Milliner.

The Browns might not have a similarly difficult decision. Banner appears poised to wheel and deal. He supervised, if not spearheaded, seven first-round trades in 14 drafts as Eagles owner Jeff Lurie’s top administrator – four to go up, three to go down.

I think a trade down is the most likely scenario for the Browns on Thursday. I would not discount two trade downs, in fact, to net the Browns from two to four extra picks.

This is all exciting to talk about it. But the recent history of first-round trades by the Browns has contributed to their collective demise. Four different regimes preceding Banner’s have either whiffed or tapped out lightly to the mound in their draft-day at bats.

The scorecard:

The Butch Davis regime: Davis was in his fourth Browns draft in 2004. Incredibly, he had failed to secure any of his star Hurricane recruits in three years, such as Dan Morgan and Santana Moss (2001); Jeremy Shockey, Ed Reed and Clinton Portis (2002); and Andre Johnson and Willis McGahee (2003).

In 2004, Davis first made a failed pitch to Oakland for the No. 2 spot to nab offensive lineman Robert Gallery before turning his eyes to the stars of his last recruiting class at Miami  -- Sean Taylor and Kellen Winslow Jr. Davis couldn’t pry the No. 5 pick from Washington for Taylor, whom he wanted, so he reached to come away with Winslow.

Davis panicked and gave the Lions the fifth pick in the second round, No. 37 overall, to move up one spot and take Winslow. Certainly Winslow had a better career than Detroit’s pick, receiver Roy Williams. And the Lions blew the No. 37 selection, too, on bust-out linebacker Teddy Lehman. But it was a bad trade.

The Phil Savage regime: Savage made two first-round trades in four years. Neither worked out.

The one involving Brady Quinn in 2007 with Dallas proved fairly inconsequential in the whole scheme of things. Like every young Browns quarterback, Quinn was failed by the organization and amounted to nothing but a footnote – one of 18 to start at the position since 1999. The trade sent the Browns’ 2008 No. 1 to Dallas, which squandered it on little Arkansas scatback Felix Jones. Double dumb.

The more consequential trade came the year before, when Savage committed GM cardinal sins by 1. Trading within his division and, 2. Trading with his mentor.

Savage held the 12th pick, Baltimore GM Ozzie Newsome had the 13th. Savage was in his second season of trying to convert the Browns to a 3-4 defense. Savage could have justified either highly graded player available – defensive tackle Haloti Ngata or defensive end Kamerion Wimbley. Run stopper v. pass rusher. After bouncing it off coach Romeo Crennel, Savage flipped spots with Newsome, who wanted Ngata, for the price of a sixth-round pick. Wimbley had 11 sacks as a rookie, but never made the Pro Bowl, while Ngata turned into a perennial all-star. Bill Belichick later told Newsome Ngata was the best player in the draft. Time has proved him right.

The Eric Mangini regime: When Mangini took over in 2009, he didn’t like what he saw. Owning the No. 5 pick, he saw an opportunity to populate his roster with extra picks and familiar role players from his former team, the Jets.

Mangini agreed to trade the fifth pick to the Jets for three players – defensive end Kenyon Coleman, safety Abe Elam and No. 3 quarterback Brett Ratliff – plus the Jets’ first-, (17th overall) and second-round picks.

Then Mangini dropped down from No. 17 to No. 19 for a sixth-round pick. Then he dropped down from No. 19 to No. 21 for another sixth-round pick and chose center Alex Mack.

By virtue of a previous trade of Winslow to Tampa Bay, Mangini wound up with three second-round picks and three in the sixth round. None of those six players helped the cause. Among the future stars Mangini let slide by through that early activity were Clay Matthews 3, Percy Harvin, Brian Cushing and Hakeem Nicks. The second-round Browns selections were, of course, Brian Robiskie, Mohamed Massaquoi and David Veikune.

The Tom Heckert regime: Heckert made two bold trades in three years.

The second one – last year – was derided by a certain future Browns GM as a panic-stricken disaster, but it was hardly that. Whether or not the Browns were bluffed into giving up picks in the fourth, fifth and seventh rounds to move up one spot ahead of Minnesota to take Trent Richardson is not important. Those were incidental, surplus picks -- the Browns had 13 -- and the Vikings netted virtually nothing with them. They were a small price to pay for the insurance of not losing Richardson, who will prove to be a great back.

Heckert’s signature trade was the year before, when he moved down from No. 6 to No. 26 for Atlanta’s first-, second- and sixth-round picks that year and its first-round pick in 2012. The Falcons wanted Julio Jones, who has emerged as a true elite receiver.

It turned out the Browns wanted defensive tackle Phil Taylor. They then had to give up their third-round pick to move up five spots and nab Taylor at No. 21. The third-round pick dealt to Kansas City, Justin Houston, is a pretty good pass rusher who, ironically, would fit beautifully in the current defensive system. With the other Falcons' picks, Heckert chose receiver Greg Little and fullback Owen Marecic.

I have been a consistently severe critic of this trade, but the final grade depends on Brandon Weeden, whom the Browns selected with Atlanta’s No. 1 in 2012.

Weeden would have establish himself as the team’s franchise quarterback this year to turn the trade in the Browns’ favor.

Add them all up and you can see that trading in the first round has not been the team’s forte in its expansion era.

So good luck, Joe Banner. We’re all counting on you.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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