As the year comes to a close, like we have done the last three years, WFNY will take a look at what we view to be the 10 biggest sports stories affecting our local sports scene. Each day through the rest of the year, we will be counting down from ten to one. We started with #10 – The Colt Concussion, next was #9 –Key Cavalier Wins. We broke down the Baron Davis Trade and talked some Tribe at #7. Yesterday, Kirk was on the Pat Shurmur hire for #6. Today we stick with the Browns theme.
#5 – The Browns Make a Blockbuster Draft Day Trade
Draft Day 2011 was huge for the Browns. You had a new, offensive minded head coach on board and a roster full of holes on both sides of the ball. The offense desperately needed playmakers and the defense was switching to a 4-3, which required entirely new personnel on the front seven.
The Browns, coming off a 5-11 season, owned the sixth pick in the draft. Most pundits had the Browns taking either Georgia WR A.J. Green if he were to somehow still be there, Alabama WR Julio Jones, or LSU CB Patrick Peterson. Green went #4 to the Bengals, Peterson #5 to the Cardinals, leaving the Browns with an interesting dilemma. Dare they take Jones this high? Well a few short minutes later, a deal came across the board to GM Tom Heckert that he couldn’t pass up on.
The Atlanta Falcons felt as if they were a Super Bowl contender and were one big play type threat away from making that big leap. So they went for it. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff and Heckert worked out a deal that would send the #6 pick to Atlanta, where his team would take Jones to pair with All-Pro wideout Roddy White. The Browns would pick up what they needed as well – more draft picks. They received the Falcons first round pick (#27), along with a second and a fourth in the same draft, and a first and a fourth in next year’s draft. Heckert smartly knew this team was more than one player away from making any noise, so he stockpiled picks in a big way.
The 2011 picks the Browns would receive would turn into three starters – DT Phil Taylor (1st), WR Greg Little (2nd), and FB Owen Marecic (4th). Add in Atlanta’s first and fourth rounders in 2012, and Heckert HAD to make this move.
Taylor has had some real nice moments as the starter next to Ahtyba Rubin in the interior of the Browns D-line and looks like a player (despite the horrific jumping offsides penalty Saturday). Little will end up being the team’s leading receiver for the season and enters week 17 with 61 catches for 702 yards and two TDs. Yes, he had a case of the dropsies at a point this year, but he looks as if he will be a solid #2 WR in this league. Marecic has suffered a pair of concussions, but has made the most of his run as the team’s starting fullback and special teams maven. (I for one still do not get why the Browns let Lawrence Vickers go. I was a huge fan of his and he LOVED playing in Cleveland. Evidently he didn’t fit Pat Shurmur’s West Coast style. Please with that).
The decision to pass on Jones may have been a tough one and the jury is still out if it will come back to haunt the Browns. When healthy this year, Jones has shown an innate ability to make the big play. While it took 61 catches for Little to get over the 700 yard mark, the Falcons rookie has done it with just 42 grabs and he has only played in 11 games compared to Little’s 15.
Regardless of what becomes of Jones, the Browns just had too many holes to fill to pass on this kind of deal. They will go into the 2012 Draft with two first rounders, including a more than likely top five pick, plus top fourth rounders. Heckert will need to continue to draft well to improve this roster. Missing out on first rounders flat out cannot happen.