The Cleveland Browns have not had a franchise quarterback since the days of Bernie Kosar. That statement changes from being an interesting fact to one that is depressing when you realize that Kosar’s best days with the club were nearly three decades ago.
Cleveland’s QB woes have not been due to a lack of effort. The Browns have started 20 different quarterbacks since the franchise returned to the NFL in 1999 following what was a shocking move to Baltimore. From Tim Couch to Jeff Garcia to Jason Campbell and everyone in between, Cleveland has yet to find a true CEO for the team’s offense.
The law of averages says it has to happen someday; right? Until it does, here are 10 quarterbacks the Browns once had the opportunity to draft, but decided to pass on.
10. Tim Tebow: 2010 – 25th overall pick
I am not at all a delusional football fan who sits and worships at the church of Tebow. That said, he did what no Cleveland quarterback has achieved in the past 15 years.
He won a division title, and he then threw a game-winning touchdown pass in a home playoff game.
The Browns used the 38th selection of the 2010 draft to grab safety T.J. Ward. Ward gave the team two good seasons, his rookie campaign and 2013, but he only appeared in 22 games from 2011 through 2012, and he left the club via free agency in March.
Tebow is currently out of the league, but nobody can say what might have been had he not been hung out to dry by both the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets. Maybe, just maybe had Cleveland used the Ward pick to move up and draft Tebow, the Browns could have struck gold.
9. Andy Dalton: 2011 – 35th overall
Dalton has not yet taken that next step and proven himself to be a franchise quarterback. He may never get there. Dalton, who has played in all of Cincy’s regular season games over the past three years, has a career rating of only 85.7. He has averaged over 16 interceptions per season.
He has also played in three postseason games.
Rather than taking a shot on Dalton or on any other quarterback on the board, the Browns chose defensive tackle Phil Taylor with the 21st pick. Taylor, in three years, has accumulated 99 combined tackles, seven sacks and one forced fumble. I’d take Dalton over that Taylor’s production any day of the week, but hey, that’s just me.
8. Tom Brady: 2000 – 199th overall
Nobody who pays even a little attention to the NFL needs me to go into depth about this miss. Brady is a three-time Super Bowl champion. He will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. Some already consider him to be the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
It’s both harsh and unfair to hit at the Browns for not taking the former Michigan QB back in 2000. Literally every team in the league passed…and passed…and passed again when presented with the option to draft Brady. His being taken in the final round is one of the best draft picks to ever occur in any sport.
7. Donovan McNabb: 1999 – 2nd overall
Cleveland’s draft woes began in year one of the restarted franchise. The Browns went with Tim Couch from Kentucky over McNabb, and the immobile Couch took beating after beating when playing behind poor excuses for NFL offensive lines. McNabb, meanwhile, played in multiple conference championship games and in a Super Bowl.
It’s impossible to know what might have been had Cleveland given McNabb the keys to the offense way back when. Perhaps McNabb wouldn’t have found success in that situation due to the fact that those Browns teams were nothing short of awful. Still, knowing all that we know now, I doubt there is a person out there who wouldn’t go back and take McNabb over Couch if presented with the option.
6. Russell Wilson: 2012 – 75th overall
Wilson has only been in the league for two seasons. He may never again play as well as he did last season. He is also right now a better quarterback than any that is currently on the roster of the Browns.
Cleveland’s decisions two springs ago made for one of the worst first rounds any NFL team has ever had. The Browns grabbed running back Trent Richardson with the third overall pick, and they then moved up to get quarterback Brandon Weeden with the 22nd selection.
The Browns have since parted ways with both players. Richardson was traded to the Indianapolis Colts in September 2013, and Weeden was cut by the club earlier this offseason. Wilson, meanwhile, won the Super Bowl last February.
5. Nick Foles: 2012 – 88th overall
Remember all that I wrote about the Browns not drafting Russell Wilson? It applies here. That, along with the fact that Cleveland selected DT John Hughes one pick before the Eagles grabbed Nick Foles, makes this one sting for fans of the Browns just a little more.
Foles remains an unproven commodity, but you have to be impressed with the numbers he put up in 2013. He completed 64 percent of his passes, he tossed 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions, and his QB rating was 119.2. Even the biggest Brian Hoyer fan out there would have to admit that he would take Foles in Cleveland brown and orange.
4. Colin Kaepernick: 2011 – 36th overall
One pick. The Browns were one pick away from having a chance at Kaepernick before he was chosen by the 49ers. Kaepernick is somewhat of a polarizing figure in that not all analysts and not all fans are convinced that he can be an elite quarterback following what was an up-and-down campaign.
I am not a skeptic.
Kaepernick has the size and the arm to win in the AFC North. He is elusive, and he showed in 2013 that he can last for an entire regular season as a starter. Oh, what could have been for the Browns.
3. Drew Brees: 2001 – 32nd overall
Once again, the Browns were one pick too late. While they took Gerard Warren, who was an absolute bust, with the third overall pick and then drafted wide receiver Quincy Morgan at No. 33, Drew Brees was taken by the San Diego Chargers at the start of the second round.
Brees’ scouting reports out of college mirror those of to-be rookie QB Johnny Manziel. Manziel could only hope to turn into what Brees has become. Brees would be the greatest quarterback of his era had he not had both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning as competition. The veteran of 13 NFL seasons has tossed for over 51,000 passing yards, he’s thrown for 363 regular season touchdowns, and he will be enshrined in Canton.
2. Ben Roethlisberger: 2004 – 11th overall
While the Browns drafted tight end Kellen Winslow, who was his own worst enemy in a variety of ways while in Cleveland, the Pittsburgh Steelers grabbed Big Ben later on in the first round of the 2004 draft. Roethlisberger has terrorized the Browns over the past decade, and he remains the best quarterback in the AFC North.
Roethlisberger also possesses two Super Bowl rings.
It could be argued that Big Ben is the ultimate “one who got away,” so much so that some Cleveland fans want the team to draft UCF QB Blake Bortles, deemed by some to be Roethlisberger version 2.0. They don’t want to be burned again.
1. Aaron Rodgers: 2005 – 24th overall
While the idea of Roethlisberger leading the Browns to glory makes for a tasty story, it’s Rodgers who tops this list. Looking back and remembering the ’05 draft, Cleveland putting together what would have been a relatively inexpensive package in order to move back up into the first round and take Rodgers in the early twenties is a painful “coulda, woulda, shoulda” deal. Had that occurred, the Browns would have paired Braylon Edwards with a top QB, one who has proven that he can win in cold weather and win big games.
Such a gutsy yet reasonable transaction would have made the Browns instant contenders. It would have changed the fate of the club, and may have even prevented Roethlisberger and the Steelers from winning those two Super Bowl titles. That Browns regime failed to see a golden opportunity on that day, and the team has suffered for it ever since.