Dorsey trying to buck Browns quarterback history
The Cleveland Browns will be the talk of the NFL on Thursday night when the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft opens at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
The Browns hold the No. 1 overall selection in the first round (as well as pick No. 4) and general manager John Dorsey is almost a lock to select a quarterback with the opening pick of the night.
The correct pick would be Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield, who possess the on-field production and moxie that teams look for in a franchise quarterback. If the Browns are scared off by Mayfield not being the “ideal” height for an NFL quarterback, Dorsey may turn to the safe pick, presumably USC’s Sam Darnold, who presumably has franchise quarterback written all over him, just as long as you ignore all the turnovers.
There have even been rumors that Dorsey will selection Wyoming’s Josh Allen, despite every piece of historical evidence pointing to Allen being the worst pick the Browns could make.
Whoever it is, when the Browns turn in the card and the selection is made, that player will become the eighth quarterback the team has selected in the first round of the regular draft in franchise history.
As the debate rages over which player the Browns should select – and make no mistake, that debate will not cool down anytime soon – let’s take a look back at the first-round quarterbacks the Browns believed to be the answer over the years.
(These summaries are all taken from our original series on the quarterbacks, which first appeared in 2014).
Harry Agganis: 1952, No. 12 Overall
The Cleveland Browns finished the 1951 NFL season with a record of 11-1 and made their second consecutive appearance in the NFL Championship Game, a 24-17 loss to the Los Angeles Rams
Following the season Browns head coach Paul Brown decided it was a good time to start looking for the team’s next quarterback. That quest ultimately led Brown to Boston University and Harry Agganis, known as “The Golden Greek.”
Agganis was a heavily recruited player after being a three-sport star at Lynn (Mass.) Classical High School, with 75 colleges vying for his services. Wanting to stay close to his widowed mother, Agganis eventually decided to attend Boston University.
At BU, Agganis was a star on both the football and baseball teams during his first two years. During his sophomore season, Agganis set a school record with 15 touchdown passes, led the nation in punting and was a second team All-American selection at quarterback.
When the NFL Draft was held on Jan. 17, 1952, the Browns were in possession of two first-round picks – their own at No. 12 and the No. 10 pick, acquired from Detroit in a trade. With their first pick the Browns selected Bert Rechichar out of Tennessee, who would spend just one season with the Browns. The team used their second first-round draft pick to select Agganis.
While the Browns were offering a $25,000 signing bonus, Agganis was also drawing interest from the Boston Red Sox, who wanted the local icon to play first base for his hometown team. Agganis’ love of Boston led him to turn down the Browns and sign with the Red Sox instead.
After spending a year in the minors, Agganis made the Red Sox for the 1954 season. He batted .251 in 434 at bats as a rookie, hitting 11 home runs and driving in 57 runs. His second season saw him improve his batting average to .313 as the cleanup hitter in the Red Sox lineup.
But in May of that year, he was hospitalized with viral pneumonia and spent almost two weeks in the hospital. He was able to rejoin the Red Sox while the team was on a road trip, but he fell ill once again and returned to Boston. On June 27, 1955, he died from a pulmonary embolism at the age of 25.
Agganis’ legacy continues today as the athletic stadium at Camp LeJeune, a public square in his hometown of Lynn, a street on Boston University’s Charles River campus and a scholarship are all named in his honor. The school also holds events in the on-campus Agganis Arena.
The Agganis Foundation was founded in 1955 to provide college scholarships to deserving student-athletes.
Bobby Garrett: 1954, No. 1 Overall
The Cleveland Browns closed out the 1953 NFL season by losing the NFL Championship Game to the Detroit Lions by the score of 17-16. The loss was the Browns third consecutive in the title game, as a roster that dominated the All-American Football Conference and the NFL was starting to age.
At that time in NFL history, rather than award the No. 1 overall pick to the league’s worst team – the Chicago Cardinals – the league held a lottery and, despite going 11-1 and appearing in the league title game, the Browns won the first overall selection.
Armed with that pick, Cleveland head coach Paul Brown went in search for a successor to Otto Graham, knowing that the 32-year-old Graham might only have a few years left in the league.
The draft that year was not a particularly strong one – no Hall of Famers were selected and only six players picked in the first four rounds would go on to be Pro Bowlers, but if there was a safe pick it appeared to be Stanford quarterback Bobby Garrett.
Garrett was an All-American at Stanford and, as a senior, earned the W.J. Voit Memorial Trophy as the West Coast’s most outstanding player. That season, he led Stanford to a 21-20 upset of fourth-ranked UCLA, throwing three touchdowns and kicking all the extra points. He capped off the year by being named MVP of the 1954 Hula Bowl.
On Jan. 28, 1954, the Browns made Garrett the No. 1 overall pick in the draft; that much is a fact. What came next is a matter of debate depending on who you talk to.
Garrett was in the Army ROTC at Stanford, and with the United States still involved in the Korean War, was not sure if or when he would be called to active duty. It wasn’t until after the NFL Draft that Paul Brown reportedly found out that Garrett would have to serve two years in the military before he could start his professional football career.
Not wanting to wait for Garrett, the Browns traded him – before training camp had even started – to Green Bay. Garrett appeared in nine games for the Packers, completing 15-of-30 passes for 143 yards and an interception.
He then spent two years in the military before the Packers traded him in August of 1957 – back to Cleveland of all places. The Browns sent six players to Green Bay – quarterback Babe Parilli, end Carlton Massey, halfbacks John Petitbon and Billy Kinard, tackle John Macerelli and center Sam Palumbo – for Garrett and linebacker Roger Zatkoff.
According to an article on Stanford’s website, the return to Cleveland finished off any chance of Garrett having an NFL career because Paul Brown could not deal with the fact that Garrett had a speech impediment – he stuttered.
The criticism became so relentless that, during a preseason trip to the West Coast, Garrett walked into a coaches meeting and told Brown that he was heading home for good.
That decision surprised Brown and, according to Garrett’s son, Bill, led the Hall-of-Fame coach to spread word around the league that Garrett couldn’t cut it because of his stutter.
Mike Phipps: 1970, No. 3 Overall
Heading into the 1970 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns believed they were in need of a drastic makeover at the quarterback position.
The franchise that was once synonymous with championships had not won a title since 1964, and even though quarterback Bill Nelsen had led the team to the conference championship game in 1968 and 1969 (making the Pro Bowl that latter year), his knees were bad (four surgeries on his right, two on his left) and Browns owner Art Modell decided it was time to get some insurance in case Nelsen went down with a career-ending injury.
The problem, from the Browns perspective, is that they did not hold a high enough draft pick to have a chance at one of the top three quarterbacks in the 1970 draft – Louisiana Tech’s Terry Bradshaw, San Diego State’s Dennis Shaw and Purdue’s Mike Phipps.
On the day of the draft, Modell traded future Hall-of-Fame wide receiver Paul Warfield, who had caught 22 touchdown passes over the previous two seasons, to the Miami Dolphins for their first-round pick. The deal was conditional on the Dolphins selecting a quarterback when their turn came up in the first round, which they did with Phipps.
Phipps was coming off a successful three-year run with the Boilermakers. He led Purdue to three consecutive 8-2 seasons, making him the winningest quarterback in school history at the time. Purdue earned a share of the 1967 Big Ten Championship, finishing ninth in the Associated Press poll. His senior year, he was a unanimous All-America selection and runner-up in the Heisman Trophy balloting while setting school records for passing yards (2,527) and touchdown passes (23).
Phipps started one game in each of his first two seasons before taking over as the starting quarterback in 1972 and leading the Browns to a 10-3 record while making 13 starts. Cleveland returned to the playoffs but Phipps was just nine-of-23 with five interceptions as the Browns lost to the Dolphins, 20-14.
That season would turn out to be the highpoint of Phipps’ time in Cleveland.
Over the next four years, Phipps would only make 36 starts and throw 25 touchdown passes against 56 interceptions. In 1976, his last year in Cleveland, Phipps was injured in the season-opener against the New York Jets and would only make one additional start that season.
There was a happy ending to Phipps’ tenure in Cleveland, at least as far as the Browns were concerned. On draft day in 1977, the Browns traded Phipps to Chicago for the Bears’ fourth-round choice that year and a first-round choice in 1978 – a pick the Browns used to draft Hall-of-Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome.
Tim Couch: 1999, No. 1 Overall
The NFL Draft in the spring of 1999 was a special time for the Cleveland Browns. After a three-year hiatus, the Browns were back in Cleveland, albeit as an expansion team.
While the NFL did the Browns and new owner Al Lerner no favors in re-establishing the Browns, the one area they did try to help out with was the draft, as the NFL awarded the Browns the No. 1 overall pick in what turned out to be a talented draft class.
Ultimately the choice came down to two players: Akili Smith, who only made 11 starts at Oregon, but wowed teams by throwing for 43 touchdowns against just 14 interceptions; and Tim Couch, who was leaving Kentucky as a junior after being named First Team All-SEC and First Team All-American.
The Browns chose Couch, opting for the experience passer over a player, in Smith, who would play just 22 games in four years with Cincinnati and be out of the league by 2003.
There was a lot to like about Couch, who was elected to the University of Kentucky’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007. In addition to being an All-American, he led the Wildcats to the Outback Bowl following his junior season (their first bowl bid in 13 years), was a Heisman Trophy finalist, led Kentucky past Alabama for the first time in 75 years, and is the school’s all-time leading passer. He threw for 8.772 yards, completed 67 percent of his passes and threw 76 touchdown passes.
Couch spent his five years in Cleveland handing the ball off to the likes of Travis Prentice, William Green and James Jackson, and throwing to such noted receivers as Leslie Shepherd, Darrin Chiaverini, David Patten, Quincy Morgan and Andre’ Davis.
The offensive line was even worse, as Couch was sacked 56 times as a rookie and an average of 3.1 times per game through his first three seasons.
Despite all that, Couch wasn’t a bad quarterback when he was healthy. He completed more than 60 percent of his passes twice in his career (just missing out two more times), and remains the last Cleveland quarterback to lead the team to the playoffs (which he missed with an injury, naturally) and beat the Steelers in Pittsburgh (a shocking 33-13 victory on a Sunday night in 2003).
All those sacks and all those hits he took while running from opposing defenses finally caught up with Couch after the 2003 season – his final one in the NFL. The Browns wanted Couch to take pay cut and, when Couch declined, the team released their former No. 1 pick.
Brady Quinn: 2007, No. 22 overall
Following the release of former No. 1 overall pick Tim Couch following the 2003 season, the Browns had gone through six quarterbacks – Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Kelly Holcomb, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye and Derek Anderson – in the ensuing three years.
Clearly, it was time to do something about the situation. There was just one problem: the 2007 draft class was not a memorable one for quarterbacks. JaMarcus Russell out of LSU was considered the consensus cream of the crop, but after that teams were looking at the likes of Kevin Kolb, John Beck and Drew Stanton (now Cleveland’s backup quarterback).
Oakland selected Russell with the No. 1 overall pick and, after Detroit selected wide receiver Calvin Johnson with the second pick, the Browns were up. General manager Phil Savage made what was arguably the best draft pick since the team returned in 1999, selecting left tackle Joe Thomas.
After that, a strange thing happened. Eighteen teams went on the clock after the Browns selected Thomas and every one of them passed on one of the available quarterbacks.
Then Savage got what, both at the time and now in hindsight, was a really bad idea.
Misreading what was going on, Savage decided to make a move back into the first round so he could select a quarterback. According to a 2007 USA Today article on the draft, Savage started working on Buffalo (who held the No. 12 pick) and went down the list until he found a taker in the Dallas Cowboys.
Savage traded Cleveland’s second-round pick in 2007 and its first-round pick in 2008 to Dallas to move back into the first round and select Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn with the No. 22 pick.
In four seasons at Notre Dame, Quinn set 36 school records; won 29 games as the starting quarterback, tying a school record; and finished his collegiate career ranked in the top 10 in NCAA Division I history in career pass attempts, passing yards and touchdown passes.
He was also considered an NFL-ready quarterback after spending two seasons under coach Charlie Weis, a former NFL offensive coordinator. Some pre-draft analysis even went so far as to compare Quinn to Tom Brady.
Everything was in place for Quinn to come in and take over the Browns. So what did Quinn do? He staged what had to be one of the more inexplicable hold outs in franchise history, missing 10 days of training camp and killing off any chance he had of taking over the starting position.
Quinn would only see the field for part of one game that first year – the season finale against San Francisco, where he completed three-of-eight passes in about a half of play.
That was the year, of course, where quarterback Derek Anderson put up a fluke season, almost leading the Browns to the playoffs in a season that started out with Charlie Frye as the starting quarterback (before he was traded after a Week 1 loss to Pittsburgh), and ended with the Browns missing out on the postseason on a tiebreaker.
That off season, Savage made his next biggest mistake in the ongoing quarterback situation.
Anderson was a restricted free agent and the Browns would receive a first-round and a third-round draft pick if another team were to sign him. With Quinn – a first-round selection on the roster – the Browns were seemingly in a great situation.
The stage was set for Quinn to take over; all the Browns had to do was let Anderson head off to Dallas. But when rumors started to swirl that the Cowboys intended to sign Anderson only to trade him to Baltimore, Savage panicked and quickly reached a three-year deal with Anderson.
Anderson was named the starter for 2008, but a preseason concussion foreshadowed a rough season for Anderson, who would only play nine games during the regular season, eventually losing the starting job to Quinn, who lasted just three games as the starter before being benched at halftime of the third one.
The season ended with a 4-12 record and the Browns cleaned house, firing Savage and head coach Romeo Crennel, and inexplicably hiring Eric Mangini as head coach.
While Mangini had the unenviable task of picking a starting quarterback between Quinn and Anderson in 2009, he made the situation worse by his inability to pick one and stick with him. Nine starts by Quinn and seven by Anderson left the Browns with just a 5-11 record.
The Browns traded Quinn to Denver prior to the 2010 season, an end to his time in Cleveland every bit as disappointing as his beginning. Quinn left town with a 3-9 record as a starter, completing just 52.1 percent of his passes, while throwing 10 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Brandon Weeden: 2012, No. 22 Overall
In the spring of 2012 the Cleveland Browns once again found themselves in an all-too-familiar situation – they needed a quarterback.
After trying to win with an over-the-hill Jake Delhomme, a career backup in Seneca Wallace, and a not-ready-for-the-NFL player in Colt McCoy, the Browns needed to do something and, with two picks in the first round, seemed primed to solve the quarterback problem for the next decade.
The Browns ultimately made their move (well, former team president Mike Holmgren reportedly made his move) late in the first round and selected Brandon Weeden out of Oklahoma State. Weeden brought with him 15 school records after throwing for 9,260 yards and 75 touchdowns during his time in Stillwater. There were questions, however, because Weeden was 28; many draft experts said he would have been ranked higher if he was 22.
Weeden was named the starter for the season opener in 2012 and hit Mohamed Massaquoi with a 24-yard pass on his first offensive series. That was about the end of the good times for Weeden in Cleveland.
Weeden would finish his first NFL game with just 118 passing yards, two fumbles and four interceptions. He started 15 games his rookie season, posting a 5-10 record in head coach Pat Shurmer’s second (and final) year in charge.
Weeden got a second chance in 2013, this time in Norv Turner’s offense. Weeden threw three interceptions in the opener against Miami, however, and lost his job after a Week 2 loss at Baltimore.
He had one last good time, coming off the bench against Buffalo in Week 5 to rally the Browns past the Bills after Brian Hoyer went down with a season-ending injury. But after that, Weeden reverted to his usual self and bounced in an out of the lineup with quarterback Jason Campbell.
The Browns released Weeden in the off-season. He finished his Browns career with a 5-15 record, just 23 touchdown passes against 26 interceptions and 12 fumbles, and a quarterback rating of 71.8. And more head-scratching plays than we care to remember.
Johnny Manziel: 2014, No. 22 Overall
The Browns are still recovering from the selection of Johnny Manziel in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft.
Simply put, Manziel is the single worst draft pick in franchise history, and no one else really comes close.
And that is about all we feel like saying on the subject.
What it all means
The Browns have been searching for a franchise quarterback since releasing Bernie Kosar during the 1993 season.
They have tried everything, from drafting quarterbacks – 11 since 1994 – to signing numerous veteran free agents to serve as the bridge quarterback to the next guy. But none of it has worked.
Which brings us to Dorsey and Thursday night.
As we’ve seen, simply having a “football guy” making the selection is no guarantee of success. Every one of the first-round quarterbacks the Browns have selected over the years has been picked by a “football guy.” As had almost every quarterback not named Cody Kessler or DeShone Kizer.
But while Dorsey’s background does not guarantee the right pick, history also does not mean the Browns will blow it again.
Some of the quarterbacks they have selected over the years have been the wrong pick, but just as many were undone by circumstances not entirely within their control. In this case, past performance does not indicate future failure.
If Dorsey gets this right, then nothing that came before will matter anymore. If he gets it wrong? Well, he’ll be in good company.
We are only four days away from knowing what the Browns will do with the top overall selection.
Whether or not the selection is the correct one, however, will take a while longer to determine.