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Puskas: Browns’ draft limps home after good start



Published: Sun, April 28, 2013 @ 12:00 a.m.

There has been so little for Cleveland Browns fans to enjoy from September to January each year since the franchise returned in 1999.

The odd unexpected nugget, like the Browns’ still-inexplicable 35-14 rout of the New York Giants on a Monday night in 2008.

The playoff season of 2002, when the Browns broke the bank with free-agent signings to try to get a dying Al Lerner a playoff team.

The year-to-year consistency of kicker Phil Dawson, who was the last of the original 1999 Browns still here when the 2012 season ended.

Browns fans deserve more than that, just like Dawson — allowed to walk as a free agent a few months ago by the team’s new brass — deserved more during his stellar career in the losing vacuum that has been Cleveland football.

Dawson is likely to get it in San Francisco, where the 49ers nearly won the last Super Bowl and are stockpiling talent the way the Browns have racked up bitter defeats since 1999.

But through it all, Browns fans have had hope. Each year, that hope is represented by the NFL draft. On Saturday, the new regime took away some of that with two odd mid-draft moves.

The Browns suddenly decided the middle of the draft — rounds four and five — didn’t have much for them. They traded their fourth-round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers — their biggest rival — and then dealt their fifth-round selection to the Indianapolis Colts. Each deal brought the Browns an extra 2014 draft pick.

Those were curious moves by a team that admittedly always seems to need more bodies and has all kinds of salary-cap room to play with right now.

But consider: Cleveland wasn’t going to make the playoffs in 2013 on the strength of the players the Browns might have picked up in rounds four and five. Think about the franchise’s history with first-round selections.

Some years, there are tangible results. Left tackle Joe Thomas and cornerback Joe Haden have been perhaps the best selections the Browns have made since 1999.

But for every pick that paid off, there seem several that went bust. Poor Tim Couch never had a chance. Courtney Brown was a physical specimen — and a walking injury.

Gerard Warren? Bust. William Green? Bust. Kellen Winslow Jr.? Bust. Braylon Edwards? Bust. Brady Quinn? Bust.

Are you seeing a pattern here?

But the Browns’ litany of draft mistakes has never seemed to dampen Cleveland fans’ enthusiasm for draft day. Thomas and Haden have been solid. Alex Mack and Phil Taylor seem OK. Trent Richardson played hurt much of last season, but when healthy, projects as a beast. But it’s still too early to know if Richardson or Brandon Weeden will eventually turn out to be good first-round picks from the 2012 draft. Of course, by the time we find out about Weeden, he’ll be too old to play any longer.

The new regime began this year’s draft on Thursday night with LSU defensive end Barkevious Mingo. Complaints were few. On Friday, the Browns selected cornerback Leon McFadden in the third round and traded for Miami Dolphins wide receiver Davone Bess. Remember, the Browns used their second-round pick last year when they took wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft.

All that considered, most Browns fans were happy with the first three rounds of this year’s draft. They were looking forward to more Saturday, the way they always look forward to draft picks.

Some teams have the Super Bowl. Cleveland fans have the draft.

CEO Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi are preaching patience. There is no quick fix for this languishing franchise. But other teams seem able to improve significantly from year to year.

The Browns just seem to mark the passage of time from one draft to the next, with precious little in between. And with the team’s track record, can we legitimately expect next year’s extra picks to make a difference?

Puskas is The Vindicator’s sports editor. Write him at epuskas@vindy.com and follow him on Twitter, @edpuskas85.


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