Erik Cassano’s column about the Indians’ approach to compiling
a bullpen, particularly under John Hart and Mark Shapiro, could just
have easily been written about the Cleveland Browns and their approach
to building an offensive line. The comparison couldn’t be more
The bullpen was the Indians biggest
problem last season, although infield defense gave it a run for its
money. Shapiro went into his usual bag of tricks to try and rectify
the situation, meaning he found at-risk players with some measure of
past success to plug the gap. As Erik points out, it’s a rather
questionable philosophy given the bullpen’s importance to the team’s
In much the same way, though,
the Browns have gone about following a similar strategy for an equally
critical component of their own success. Like the bullpen, the
success of an offensive line is in inverse proportion to how often it’s
noticed. The Browns offensive line was noteworthy last year only
because of the penalties it caused, the blocks it missed and the sacks
With the 2007 free agency period
set to begin on March 2nd and the college draft set for April
28-29, there is a fair amount of speculation over whether the Browns
would consider drafting Wisconsin tackle Joe Thomas. Don’t bet
on it. GM Phil Savage seems squarely from the Ernie Accorsi mode
(or Mark Shapiro for comparison’s sake) intent on building an offensive
line from the scrap heap that is late round picks and undrafted free
agents. As that hasn’t worked, the Browns have been reduced
to the always iffy free agent market.
What is puzzling is why Savage
continues down such a well worn path of failure. If you examine
all of the Browns drafts since 1980 to last year, the Browns rarely
have attempted to legitimately address their chronic needs on the offensive
line. They’ve never once used a first, second or third round
pick on a left tackle (or a right tackle for that matter) and what low
round picks they’ve spent in those 20 drafts (excluding the hiatus
years) on the offensive line all have been centers.
What is also telling is that when
they have spent draft picks on linemen, they’ve rarely made a good
choice. Either such players are more mercurial in nature than
most or the Browns are lousy at scouting. Gee, wonder which it is?
In most years, the Browns seem to draft one or two linemen, generally
in the later rounds. The few starters they’ve obtained have
generally been with late round picks, which is what Savage probably
looks at, among others, when crafting his line strategy. But on
the other hand, if you’re only drafting linemen in the later rounds
and your line has been perpetually lousy, eventually someone has to
play. Thus Savage ought to simply ignore this rather dubious fact
when drawing conclusions.
When it comes to the Browns, defining
success is always a moving target. In considering the offensive
line and for purposes of illustration, we can define success as a player
who has lasted more than two seasons in the NFL. Here then is
the list of linemen drafted by the Browns since 1980 that meets this
rather generous criteria:
Mike Baab (5th round)- played 11 seasons
Bill Contz (5th round)- played 6 seasons
Paul Farren (12th round)- played 9 seasons
Gregg Rakoczy (2nd round)- played 6 seasons
Frank Winters (10th round)-played 16 seasons (only 2 in Cleveland!)
Ed King (2nd round)-played 6 seasons
Steve Everitt (1st round)-played 7 seasons
Herman Arvie (5th round)-played 4 seasons
Paul Zukauskas (7th round)-played 4 seasons
Melvin Fowler (3rd round)- still active, with Buffalo
Gonzalez (7th round)-played 4 seasons
Jeff Faine (1st round)-still active
In perusing this list, easily
the most successful lineman drafted by the Browns was Frank Winters.
Unfortunately but typical for Cleveland, his success was realized in
Green Bay after spending only two years in Cleveland. Second is
Mike Baab, who anchored the Browns line in the early and mid-1980s followed
closely by Paul Farren. After that, the list is hardly impressive.
On the other hand, the list of draft failures is nearly twice as long.
Perhaps because the cupboard was
so bare when he got here (and remains so today), Savage has continued
the trend of his predecessors, foregoing any effort to use early round
picks on linemen. Under Savage the Browns have drafted 3 linemen:
Andrew Hoffman (2005, 6th round, now on practice squad);
Jonathan Dunn (2005, 7th round, no longer in football); and,
Isaac Sowells (2006, 4th round, still on roster).
But sooner or later, this area
of critical needs has to be addressed in a more legitimate manner.
When you look at all the lineman currently on the Browns roster, a few
key facts hit you squarely in the nose. First, except for the
aforementioned Sowells, who played sparingly, and Huffman, who is on
the practice squad, none were drafted and developed by Cleveland, which
is not a surprise given the stats noted above. Second, there are
no first round picks on the roster, only two second round picks (LeCharles
Bentley, with New Orleans; Cosey Coleman, with Tampa Bay)and two 4th
round picks (Nat Dorsey with Miami and Ryan Tucker with St. Louis).
The rest were either 6th or 7th round picks or
signed as undrafted free agents. While many great lines have been
built with players of all backgrounds and stripes, the lack of pedigree
by the Browns line probably makes its lack of success inevitable.