Five former Cleveland Browns players will participate in Super Bowl LI, but nobody should pretend those assets would’ve changed things
It’s easy for anybody to make jokes about the Cleveland Browns these days. The Browns, unquestionably, are the worst organization in the NFL, and they may be the worst-run franchise in all of North American professional sports. Cleveland has been a football laughingstock for the better part of 17 years. What’s more, there is currently no reason to believe the club’s current coaching staff and front office can make the Browns a winner between now and the end of the decade—other than blind hope, of course.
Odds are that Cleveland fans have probably already heard and/or read that five former Cleveland players will be represented at Super Bowl LI, as ESPN’s Pat McManamon recently explained. This fact was spotlighted by ESPN during a SportsCenter segment dedicated to the matter, and it has been discussed on sports talk radio and by other outlets. Make them stop—but not because it’s painful or full of regret.
There are real criticisms to make about the Browns heading into Feb. 2017. As of the final weekend of January, zero evidence exists that head coach Hue Jackson can select a true franchise quarterback. The Browns seemingly went all-in on a rebuild last year but then didn’t trade veterans such as Joe Thomas and Joe Haden, two players who won’t win a Super Bowl with the club. This regime’s first draft class largely underwhelmed minus defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah.
However, everybody needs to stop pretending five former Browns playing in the upcoming Super Bowl somehow would’ve turned a 1-15 team into a playoff contender. Atlanta Falcons center Alex Mack is the one that hurts the most for Cleveland fans. Mack proved himself to be an All-Pro at the position while a member of the Browns, and yet the organization actively decided against locking him up long-term. Then he understandably voided his contract to pursue a deal with a competent franchise in 2016, and that decision worked out rather well for the 31-year-old.
New England Patriots running back Dion Lewis looked like the real deal during Browns training camp in 2013, but he suffered a leg fracture and ligament damage during a preseason game as Tom Reed of Cleveland.com wrote. While Cleveland fans can only wonder what might have been had Lewis never gone down that summer, nobody can blame the Browns from moving on from him. Don’t forget both the Philadelphia Eagles and Indianapolis Colts also cut Lewis during his career.
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The Browns drafted current New England defensive end Jabaal Sheard in the second round of the 2011 draft. Sheard enjoyed a solid rookie campaign during which he accumulated 8.5 sacks, but his production dipped in each of the following three years. Sheard had five sacks in 15 games for the Patriots this past season.
Cleveland used the sixth-overall pick of the 2011 draft to acquire New England linebacker Barkevious Mingo, and Mingo will likely be remembered as one of the biggest Browns draft busts of the decade. Mingo did little of note during his tenure with the Browns before the club traded him to the Patriots in August 2016. In reality, the Browns essentially exchanged Mingo for linebacker Jamie Collins, a deal Cleveland seemingly won considering Mingo hasn’t played like an All-Pro as a member of the Super Bowl squad.
Speedy wide receiver Taylor Gabriel became a true playmaker within the Atlanta offense after being released by the Browns this past September. Gabriel spent two years with Cleveland, during which he scored a single touchdown. He found the end zone on six occasions while playing alongside Matt Ryan this past season, and he could be a sleeper pick to win Super Bowl MVP if he can take advantage of matchups versus the Patriots.
This may come as a surprise to some, but the Browns didn’t have Matty Ice at quarterback in 2016. Robert Griffin III, Cody Kessler and Josh McCown together wouldn’t produce as Ryan did, who will probably win regular season MVP honors when all is said and done.
Browns fans should be mad this winter. The team’s an embarrassment, and its owner seemingly has no clue how to run a football team or how to repay customers who continue to spend money on a terrible product for whatever reasons. The Browns look bad all on their own. They don’t need any help from supposed Super Bowl storylines that don’t really exist.