Have you ever wondered how it's possible that the Cleveland Browns have been so bad for so long? Since 2003, the Browns have been the worst or second worst (going 5-11 in 2010) in their division. Before that, they were still one of the worst teams in football going 13-36 from 1999-2001. In 2002 they made the playoffs!!!
But beyond that, we've got an absolute graveyard of awful decision making. Below we cover 16 of the biggest mistakes the Franchise has ever made. We've got some questionable coaching decisions (Bill Belichick and Bruce Arians), some free agent busts that set the franchise back, and of course, some of the biggest draft busts and misses in the franchise's history (sorry Johnny Football.)
And just to make sure we don't make Browns fans too sad? We'll even end the list with the brightest spot of the last decade of mediocre football to come from the factory of sadness.
LeBron James may have proven that the city of Cleveland can win a championship, but the Browns seem to prove every year that it sure as hell can't.
16 Draft Bust: Brady Quinn
You definitely aren’t going to be shocked to learn that Brady Quinn is not the only Browns quarterback to make this list, but he’s definitely well deserving. Quinn was selected with the 22nd overall pick but was never given any significant chance to make an impact with the team.
His rookie season saw him with limited time as backed up Derek Anderson for the 2008 season. Quinn ended up breaking his finger during a game, requiring surgery that ended his season.
Quinn and Anderson then battled for time under new head coach Eric Mangini. The team was criticized for not giving one of the players the reigns to try and run with it to see what talent they had. Sadly, Quinn’s injury issues definitely didn’t help and his 2009 season ended with him suffering a Lisfranc foot injury.
Quinn then bounced around several NFL teams before retiring. The following four players were drafted after Quinn: Dwayne Bowe, Brandon Meriweather, Jon Beason and Anthony Spencer. All went on to be Pro Bowl selections.
15 Free Agent Bust: Donte Stallworth
Donte Stallworth was definitely an explosive receiver, compiling close to 700 yards with New England before heading to Cleveland. Stallworth was brought in on a seven-year, $35 million contract in the 2008 season, but he definitely got off on a wrong foot. Stallworth literally stepped on Braylon Edwards, bare feet while wearing spikes and caused Edwards to miss three preseason games.
Stallworth ended up pulling a muscle while warming up for the season opener, preventing his Browns debut until Week 5. When he did play, he was ineffective: 170 yards on 17 catches.
Stallworth’s career came to a bizarre end when during the following off-season, he struck and killed a pedestrian in Florida while driving drunk. He was suspended for the 2009 season and was then released by the Browns.
14 Coaching Error: Didn’t Hire Bruce Arians
There are definitely some questionable coaching decisions that the Browns have enacted over the years. One of the coaches that we are sure they wish they gave a harder look was Bruce Arians, who was scheduled to come in for an interview. Instead, the team hired Eric Mangini (oops). It’s hard to say if Arians would have had the same positive impact that he has had in Indianapolis and Arizona (including being a two-time NFL Coach of the Year).
If you want to really rub in how much that would have hurt Arians, he had a strong connection with Cleveland as he was their offensive coordinator from 2001-2003 and loved the city, saying: “I always felt, if you could deliver a winner to Cleveland how special that would be.”
After Pat Shurmur was fired following the 2011-2012 season, Arians was again heavily considered by Tom Heckert (GM), but before even interviewing him, the team went ahead and signed Rob Chudzinski.
13 Draft Bust: Justin Gilbert
The 2014 draft is always going to be known as the draft when Johnny Manziel was taken. But one of the other awful decisions came even earlier in the day when the Browns selected Justin Gilbert with the eight overall pick. When you’re selected in the top 10, you definitely want to make an impact in your rookie year. Teammate Donte Whitner described Gilbert’s rookie year as saying: “It’s time to grow up and not be a kid anymore. It’s a wasted year for him, He has to look himself in the mirror, he has to understand what he did wrong, what he needs to get better at, and make sure that you’re back here working out from day one.”
Gilbert has been openly attacked by other teammates and coaches in the past due to his poor attitude. Gilbert only started three out of the 23 games for Cleveland before he was traded to the Steelers in 2016 for a sixth rond pick in 2018. It’s almost unheard of to trade players within division but we’re sure the Browns were just happy to get rid of him.
12 Coaching Error: Hiring Romeo Crennel
One of the biggest mistakes you can make as a GM is hiring the wrong coach, which the Browns did time and time again. One of the biggest errors was choosing Romeo Crennel to come in as the head coach in 2005. It made sense, Crennel had just come from a successful stint as the defensive coordinator with the Patriots, but he failed to find much success in Cleveland.
Romeo lost 40 games in four seasons, including ending his last season with a 31-0 loss and a 4-12 record. Even if you’re a defensive minded coach, Cleveland also didn’t score a TD in their last six games…so I mean, that’s definitely not going to help.
Crennel then went onto suck in Kansas City as a head coach, leading the team to a 2-14 record in 2012. Thankfully Houston realized you need to keep him as just a defensive coordinator, as he has held that job since 2014.
11 Draft Bust: Courtney Brown
Manziel and Gilbert may be newer names when we talk about the downfalls with the Browns, but we also can’t ignore the 2000 draft when the Browns selected Courtney Brown with the first overall pick. It’s hard to argue with them taking who was supposed to be a dominant lineman, but the main issue for Brown was his health. After a relatively strong rookie season where he played all 16 games (especially for Browns standards), Brown never suited up for a complete season. Only playing five games in his second year.
Brown's career was over by 2005, finishing with a 14 game stint in Denver. The other defensive player off the board was LaVar Arrington, who while not fantastic, was still a more productive member for the Redskins who drafted him.
10 Coaching Error: Not Keeping Bill Belichick
Now if we’re going to be fair, Bill Belichick’s record in Cleveland was not nearly what he put up in New England. But anytime you have arguably the greatest coach on your team, and you let that go? Well, you’re definitely going to be kicking yourself.
Belichick was coaching the team from 1991-1995, but various factors including Art Modell saying he was moving the team to Baltimore for the 1996 season, led to Bill’s dismissal. When he was fired Belichick spoke out saying: “This team has an excellent future and I wish them well.” So at least you know he’s classy?
It’s hard to blame the team for losing focus. The team started out at 3-1 before falling to 4-4. This was followed by news of the team's relocation getting out.
9 Free Agent Bust: Andre Rison
Sadly if you know the name Andre Rison, it may be because you saw him in the ESPN 30 for 30 Broke, in which he talks about how he squandered his NFL paycheques. Rison definitely earned the five-year, $17 million that Cleveland gave him in 1995, but man, oh man, did he not live up to it.
In Cleveland, Rison had career lows in receptions, yards, touchdowns, yards per game, and receptions per game. The most memorable thing Rison did? Imploding at the fans after they were booing following a loss due to the team being moved: “We didn't make the f--king move. So, for all the booers, f--k you too. I'll be glad when we get to Baltimore, if that's the case. We don't have any home-field advantage. I've never been booed at home. Baltimore's our home. Baltimore, here we come.”
Ironically, Rison did not join the team in Baltimore, instead signing briefly with the Jags.
8 Coaching Error: Firing Rob Chudzinski
We definitely need to address the fact that in Rob Chudzinski's only year as the head coach in Cleveland, he went 4-12. But when he was hired, the organization had made a huge point of saying that they were building for the future, and one way to do that is making sure you have some stability. Especially when there were solid reasons to hire him (including helping along the career of hall of Famer Antonio Gates and having experience in Cleveland).
The frustration was voiced clearly by one unnamed Cleveland player who said: “Tremendous mistake, just epic, it makes no sense. Everything we did this year was setting up the future -- trading draft picks, trading players for next year's picks, playing young guys toward the end of the year to see what they look like, sitting older guys at the end to get them healthy (Joe Haden, Phil Taylor, John Hughes) when they could have played. This is such a rash decision. They just (expletive) hired him last year! The whole year we were making all decisions for the future and now you're pissed the coach didn't win this year? What the (heck)?”
Chudzinski was later brought on as a special assistant to head coach Chuck Pagano in Indianapolis. In 2015, Chudzinski was switched to being the team's offensive coordinator.
7 Free Agent Bust: LeCharles Bentley
The Browns were stoked to sign LeCharles Bentley to a lucrative six-year, $36 million contract in the 2006 offseason. Bentley had started 57 games as a center for the Saints, but before the season could start, Bentley tore his patellar tendon during training camp. Bentley had to have several surgeries, including two to clean out a staph infection that had become so severe it ate away at his tendon. Bentley was eventually able to return to practice (682 days later), but he asked for his release from the team the following day.
He then went onto sue the Browns for requiring him to rehab in an area where other Browns players have gotten staph infections. They reached a settlement out of court, hardly what they were expecting when he signed that contract.
6 The Inability To Help Tim Couch
Below we’re going to make sure we cover the sheer number of quarterbacks that the Browns have staffed, but in 1999, they hoped they had found the answer with Tim Couch who they selected with the first overall pick. Unfortunately for Couch, the team failed to surround him with any significant talent and an offensive line that left him battered and broken on far too many occasions. This included breaking his leg in the final game of the season, leading to his playoff bound Browns team to rely on backup Kelly Holcomb to start. The Browns lost, and Butch Davis later gave the starting job to Kelly Holcomb. If the Browns had figured out how to properly protect Couch, they might have actually had someone to build a future around.
5 Giving The Job To Kelly Holcomb
To continue on the theme of Tim Couch, what on earth were the Browns thinking when they gave the job over to Kelly Holcomb? Sure, Holcomb threw for over 400 yards in his postseason game, but he was also a pretty awful quarterback. He ended up losing the job to Jeff Garcia before leaving the team.
You need to hope that someone you drafted so high and successfully lead you to the playoffs, would have been given a chance to step in again. Especially when injuries were one of his big deterrents and not lack of talent.
When talking about Couch's career, the former Browns offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said: “He wasn’t a bust, he was busted up.” Once again, Cleveland fans are left to wonder what could have been had Couch remained healthy.
4 Draft Bust: Johnny Manziel
Someone that Bruce Arians would absolutely say was a bust, was Johnny Football. There were question marks behind the quarterback and his off-field issues going into the draft, but that didn’t stop the Browns from selecting him with the 22nd overall pick.
Johnny Manziel failed to make an impact on the field in his rookie year, with over 20 sources from within the organization coming out and questioning his work ethic. Manziel’s best game came when he went 33 for 45 for 372 yards and one TD. Shortly after that he was announced as the starting quarterback, but a week later, a video emerged of Manziel partying it up (which he then lied about).
Manziel was released after he sat out the last game with a concussion, missed a scheduled check-in, and was instead seen partying in Vegas.
Manziel was not signed by another team and is currently taking classes at Texas A&M (where he played college ball).
3 Overall Disaster: Just How Bad The 2000 Draft Was
Above we talked a little bit about the 2000 NFL Draft when Courtney Brown was selected first overall, but we’d be doing a disservice if we don’t highlight this draft as it may be the biggest reason for the Browns failings. The Browns had 13 draft picks, and the only Pro Bowler to come from it was Shaun O’Hara who they signed as an undrafted free agent. The Browns drafted Brown, then Dennis Northcutt, Travis Prentice, and Jajuan Dawson.
Northcutt spent seven years with the team but never made the impact the team had hoped (including only 422 and 211 yards in his first and second seasons). Prentice amassed an average of 2.8 yards per carry for 525 yards over his three year NFL career and Dawson had 31 catches in his career with the Browns.
2 Overall Disaster: All Of Their Quarterbacks
You won’t be able to finish the list of failings without talking about the sheer number of quarterbacks that have come through the system, especially since their first overall selection of Tim Couch.
After Couch played 16 games in 2001, the team required Kelly Holcomb to play two games in the 2002 season.
2003 was a mix of Holcomb and Couch (eight games each). 2004 saw free-agent signee Jeff Garcia start 10 games, Holcomb played two, and Luke McCown started four.
2005 saw Trent Dilfer come into town, starting 11 games while Charlie Frye played five. 2006 was Frye’s chance to fail, playing 13 games before giving way to Derek Anderson.
2007 saw Anderson play 15 games, to Frye’s one. 2008 saw four QB’s suit up. Anderson for nine, newcomer Brady Quinn for three, Ken Dorsey for three, and Bruce Gradkowski for one.
2009 saw Quinn play nine while Anderson played seven. Then 2010 they decided why not Colt McCoy, who played eight games. Jake Delhomme played four and Seneca Wallace played four.
In 2011, it was Colt’s show as he played 13 games and Seneca Wallace played three. Then for 2012 they decided to draft Brandon Weeden for some godforsaken reason, starting him in 15 games and giving Thad Lewis the nod in the other one.
2013 saw Jason Campbell come to town and start eight games, Weedon played five, and a new starter named Brian Hoyer played three.
2014 saw Hoyer take over the reigns for 13, Johnny Football for two, and Connor Shaw for one. 2015 we saw Josh McCown work some magic for eight games, with six games from Johnny Football and two from Austin Davis.
Now in 2016 they have already suited up Robert Griffin III, Josh McCown, and Cody Kessler under center.
There is instability at the quarterback position, and then there are the Cleveland Browns.
1 Postscript: Joe Thomas (Something Positive)
Now just because we can’t spend 2,000 words talking about the Browns and not throw at least in one thing to pull them back from the ledge, so why not talk about Joe Thomas? Joe Thomas is the man! He was selected third overall by the Browns in 2007 and he totally lived up to that, and when you consider JaMarcus Russell was first overall, you can imagine Cleveland is thanking their lucky stars they didn’t hold that draft spot.
Thomas was voted to seven straight Pro Bowls to start out his career, one of only 11 players in NFL history to accomplish that. He became the only offensive lineman in history to reach the Pro Bowl in his first eight seasons.
At least if the Browns can figure out a QB, they’ve got arguably the best offensive tackle in football to help him along.