By Tony Grossi
The Morning Kickoff …
Brownout at wideout: Most Browns fans associate 1964 with the last Browns NFL Championship team. There’s another reason that 1964 sticks out in Browns history. It was the last year the Browns drafted a superstar wide receiver.
His name was Paul Warfield, of course, and he had a Hall of Fame career. Warfield was a rookie on the Browns’ last NFL Championship team. He was graceful on and off the field, tough to cover and ran like a deer. Warfield went on to experience two Super Bowl championships – and a third Super Bowl appearance -- with the Miami Dolphins.
Warfield was traded in 1970 to the Dolphins for the third pick in the draft, which the Browns used on quarterback Mike Phipps. It was the football equivalent of the Cleveland Indians’ trade of Rocky Colavito. It sucked the blood out of the fans and the franchise.
It is fitting that the worst trade in Browns’ history involves their best wide receiver. The Browns have never recovered at the position. Call it the Curse of Paul Warfield.
The curse: Since Warfield, the Browns have drafted 68 wide receivers. Do you know how many of them had even one all-star season? Two – Webster Slaughter in 1989 and Braylon Edwards in 2007.
First-round follies: Warfield was a first-round pick, the 11th overall. The only other times the Browns called the name of a receiver in the first round was for Steve Holden in 1973, Willis Adams in 1979, Derrick Alexander in 1994, and Edwards in 2005.
Second-round syndrome: No matter the regime in power, the Browns have been infatuated in recent times with picking receivers in the second round.
The receivers taken there include: Ron Brown (1983), Slaughter (1986), Lawyer Tillman (1989), Patrick Rowe (1992), Kevin Johnson (1999), Dennis Northcutt (2000), Quincy Morgan (2001), Andre Davis (2002), Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi (2009) and Greg Little (2011).
Now what: This history is relevant because the Browns stand at the crossroads as their next draft approaches. Their offense is predicated on passing the ball and their wide receiver situation is bleak. ESPN draft expert Mel Kiper called their skilled position roster – mostly at wide receiver – the worst in the NFL.
“That’s his opinion. I don’t think so,” responded Browns GM Tom Heckert. “Can we use help there? No question. But I don’t agree with that. It is what it is.”
Asked to assess the team’s wide receiver situation, Heckert praised Little for leading the team with 61 catches as a rookie and said Massaquoi has to come back healthy after an awful 2011 season.
“The rest of it, we’ll have to figure out what happens here in the draft,” Heckert said.
Aside from quarterback – another sore point for the Browns – wide receiver is the most glamorous and impactful position currently in the NFL.
The Browns failed to lessen the urgency of this vital team need in free agency. A year ago, Heckert passed on Alabama’s Julio Jones, the second-ranked receiver in the 2011 draft, and traded the No. 6 overall pick to Atlanta. This year there is no receiver ranked as highly as Jones.
The Curse of Paul Warfield continues.
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 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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