The Cleveland Browns finished 1-15 this season. They are 4-28 in the last two seasons, have had losing records in nine straight seasons and 21 of the last 24, and they haven won a league championship since the days of Jim Brown in 1964.
But take heart, Brownies. This is your Super Bowl!
Cleveland: How would you like a team with Bill Belichick, Thomas Dimitroff, Kyle Shanahan, Scott Pioli, Alex Mack, Julio Jones, Taylor Gabriel, Dion Lewis, Barkevious Mingo and Jabaal Sheard?
All of those players, coaches and executives used to be employed by the Browns – either the current or former franchise that moved to Baltimore – and all will be participating in next week’s Super Bowl between the Falcons and New England.
What follows is the breakdown of the 10.
Browns’ fans, I trust that if I missed somebody, you will write their name on a piece of paper, wrap it around a rock and throw it through my front window:
• Bill Belichick, New England coach: He coached the old Browns for five years (1991-95) but made the playoffs just once (ironically, beating New England in the 1994 wild card game). He was fired after the 1995 season, the year before the team moved to Baltimore. In the Browns’ defense, Belichick wasn’t really “Belichick” yet.
• Kyle Shanahan, Falcons’ offensive coordinator: Shanahan spent only one season as Cleveland’s OC before he asked out so he could join Dan Quinn’s new staff in Atlanta in 2015. He had a number of issues with the Browns, not the least of which he wanted no part of Johnny Manziel. Also, the Falcons had Matt Ryan. The Browns allowed Shanahan to resign.
• Thomas Dimitroff, Falcons general manager: He had worked in the CFL and the now defunct World League before returning to the U.S. to join the Browns, actually on the grounds crew. His father scouted for the team at the time. Dimitroff went on to do some work under Belichick and pro personnel director Scott Pioli, became a scout with Kansas City and Detroit and returned to the Browns as a full time college scout from 1998 to 2001. He was reunited with Belichick and Pioli in New England in 2002 as a national scout and moved his way up to head of college scouting before the Falcons hired him in 2008.
• Scott Pioli, Falcons assistant general manager: Pioli was Cleveland’s pro personnel assistant for four seasons (1992-95) under Belichick. (He brought in Dimitroff during his tenure.) He stayed with the Browns/Ravens for one season after the move to Baltimore in 1996 but joined the New York Jets in 1997 as pro personnel director when Belichick went there as assistant head coach/defensive coordinator.
• Julio Jones, Falcons wide receiver: OK, he never really played for the Browns. But he could have, in his nightmares. In 2011, the Falcons traded five draft picks, including their own No. 1 (27th overall), for the right to swap first rounders with the Browns (sixth overall). The objective: To draft Jones out of Alabama. Cleveland received the Falcons’ first pick in 2011 (they traded back up in the draft with Kansas and took nose tackle Phil Taylor (who had injury issues and lasted only four seasons); a 2011 second rounder (wide receiver Greg Little, strong rookie season, declined, also out in four years); a 2011 seventh-rounder (running back Owen Marecic, released after two seasons); a 2012 first-rounder (quarterback Brandon Weeden, released after two seasons, was Houston’s No. 3 QB in 2016); and a 2012 fourth-rounder (packaged in a trade to move up in the first round and draft running back Trent Richardson third overall). Richardson was unimpressive so he was traded to Indianapolis for a first-round pick (good), but that was used to draft Johnny Manziel (bad).
• Alex Mack, Falcons center: He was in Cleveland for seven seasons and played in three Pro Bowls. But he exercised an option clause in his contract after last season, allowing him to escape the Browns and come to Atlanta and sign a new deal in free agency.
• Taylor Gabriel, Falcons wide receiver: The Browns signed him as an undrafted free agent in 2014. But they waived him a week before this season and the Falcons claimed him (Shanahan knowing his skill set). Result? Gabriel finished third on the team in receptions with 39, second in yards per game (44.5), second in plays of 20-plus yards (eight), and tied with Julio Jones for the lead in touchdown catches (six). Oops.
• Dion Lewis, New England running back: He’s well-traveled, having been in Philadelphia, Cleveland and Indianapolis. But he never actually played for the Browns. After they acquired him from the Eagles in 2013, he suffered a broken leg. He was cut a year later. Indy signed and cut him, then New England signed him to a future/reserve contract in 2014. Lewis missed some of this season after having a second knee surgery but was activated in November. In a playoff win over Houston, Lewis became the first player in the Super Bowl era to score touchdowns on a run, catch and kickoff return in the same playoff game. Of course.
• Jabaal Sheard, New England defensive end: He was a second-round pick and played four sold seasons in Cleveland. But he was pretty good, so he left. The Patriots gave him a two-year, $11 million contract in free agency in 2015. He has had 13 sacks, four forced fumbles and six passes defensed in his two seasons.
• Barkevious Mingo, New England linebacker: The former first-round pick out of LSU played three seasons with the Browns and they were so unimpressed that they traded him to New England for a fifth-round pick in August. He has played in every game.
Two coaches, two executives and six players. That would be a nice start to a franchise.
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