As most Browns fans are aware, their team is now one of four teams remaining in the NFL that have never been to the Super Bowl. Two of the teams are modern era expansion teams in the Jacksonville Jaguars and Houston Texans, the third is our friends up north in the Detroit Lions. And while the Browns find themselves drafting in the top 10 spots once again come April, fans should remember that the Saints were there not all that long ago.
In 2005, the New Orleans Saints finished the season 3-13. Two of their wins were by the skin of their collective teeth, and seven of their losses featured point totals less than 14. Sure, they were playing for a city that was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, and played their home games at Louisiana State’s Tiger Stadium. But they were also a team that was led by quarterback Aaron Brooks and a pair of 33-year olds in Antowain Smith and Joe Horn. Their defense was a bit of a disaster aside from a guy that was drafted one year prior in Ohio State’s Will Smith. There were rumors that the team would move, and few wanted to help rebuild the franchise.
Four seasons later, the Saints are lifting the Vince Lombardi Trophy thanks to a few successful draft selections and key free agent additions.
Knowing that the Saints drafted Smith 18th overall in 2004, let’s take a look at what the Saints have been able to do via the NFL Draft.
2006: Reggie Bush (1st Round, RB), Roman Harper (2nd, SS), Jahri Evans (3rd, OG), Marques Colston (7th, WR)*
2007: Robert Meachem (1st, WR), Jermon Bushrod (4th, OT), Pierre Thomas (RB)**
2008: Sedrick Ellis (1st, DT), Tracy Porter (2nd, CB), Carl Nicks (5th, OG)
2009: Malcolm Jenkins (1st, CB)
*Seventh round, 252nd overall selection
While Reggie Bush may have disappointed given the hype which surrounded him coming into the league, the Saints left the 2006 draft with four men that are atop the depth chart to this day. Two more starters were drafted in 2007 with three in 2008. While not technically starters, Pierre Thomas being an undrafted addition was absolutely huge for the current New Orleans Saints while Malcolm Jenkins has played key downs for the much improved defense.
Now, on to the free agents…
2006: Drew Brees (QB), Jonathan Goodwin (C), Scott Fujita (LB), Scott Shanle (LB)
2007: Lance Moore (WR)***
2008: Jeremy Shockey (TE), Jonathan Vilma (LB), Garrett Hartley (K)
2009: Jabari Greer (CB), Darren Sharper (FS)
***Originally signed by Browns, later waived
If anything is looking like a pattern, the 2006 offseason was huge for New Orleans by adding four current starters via free agency. Drew Brees gamble aside, the Saints did exactly what rebuilding teams need to do by addressing areas of dire need. Aaron Brooks and the 2005 linebackers were not going to be the answer going forward and the front office opted to take care of the areas of most need right away as opposed to attempting to develop the answer over time.
Lance Moore is technically not a starter, but his impact on the spread offense of New Orleans is well documented. The fact that he was actually on the Browns at one point, however, was not…
The Jets moved to a 3-4 defense with the addition of then new head coach Eric Mangini and Jonathan Vilma simply wasn’t getting it done in the middle. Vilma, being more fitted for the middle of a 4-3 scheme was considered expendable and was traded to New Orleans for a fourth-round draft pick. It took a sec0nd- and a fifth-round pick to obtain Shockey’s services. And finally, needing impact players in the defensive backfield, the Saints added Greer and Sharper last summer in free agency.
Which brings us full circle to the current state of the Cleveland Browns…
Many fans are (understandably) excited about the number of draft selections that are in the possession of the Orange and Brown. And while this is great for a rebuilding franchise, the Saints took the path of trading a good portion of their draft picks to either move up in the draft to acquire impact players in the draft (like trading up to get Ellis in 2008) or players that were on other franchises that may have been on the market.
The other issue is that the Saints have managed to hit on most of their first-day selections. Not having second-round selections in 2007 or 2009, the Saints were very successful with the first- and second-round picks that they did make – something that the Browns haven’t exactly been able to do through much of the last 10 years…
Obviously, the current state of the Collective Bargaining Agreement is something that the Saints did not have to deal with. But if we go back to the 2006 season, the Saints made all of the right moves to get a 3-13 team to one that was 10-6 the following season and made it to the conference championship. Is this something that fans should realistically expect of the Browns? Not quite.
But looking back, the 2005 Saints were very similar to the 2009 Browns given specific personnel. A quarterback situation that needs to be addressed, few and/or aging weapons and a defense that was borderline embarrassing when it came to play makers. The Browns head into this year’s draft with the seventh overall selection, the sixth selection in the second round, and the seventh and twenty-eighth selection in the third round. As WFNY has laid out over the last few weeks, the free agent class varies from position to position, especially considering that most of the talent is currently of the restricted nature.
While the Saints may be more of the exception than the norm, this story is just one more that proves things can turn around given successful draft picks and key free agent additions. Those that do not have much faith in the Browns front office to get this done have a laundry list of supporting reasons why – most of which may come in the form of old jerseys of players no longer in the NFL. But if there is any hope to be had, it is in the fact that the team now has a new front office in place led by a man that has a far better track record than any general manager Cleveland has seen since the return of the Browns.
But if one thing is for sure, it is that the Saints just set the bar a lot higher for a town that longs for that Super Bowl appearance.
(photo via WireImage.com)