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The 2004 NFL draft and the tale of two franchises

The Pittsburgs Steelers and the Cleveland Browns have been division rivals for a very long time now. These franchises could not have been run more different over the last 50 years.  One draft in particular proved this point in a nutshell.  The 2004 draft had a huge and lasting effect on these two teams, one that continues even through today.  With the 6th pick in the draft that year, the Browns chose tight end Kellen Winslow jr.Winslow was a highly touted pass catcher out of the university of Miami.  Pittsburgh had the 11th pick in the draft, and selected quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, ironically also out of Miami…. of Ohio. The Steelers would go on to win two Super Bowls with Roethlisberger, meanwhile the Browns have compiled the worst record in the NFL from that point forward.  Cleveland has never recovered from passing on a franchise quarterback from their home state of Ohio.

Looking at what lead to all this, the 2003 season is one both teams would like to forget.   Pittsburgh suffered through a miserable 6-10 season.  That tied for the worst record in head coach Bill Cowher’s career.  It had become clear that Tommy Maddox was no longer the answer at quarterback for the team, and they would have to address the position in the offseason.  Cleveland only managed to go 5-11 in 2003.  That was good for last in the AFC North division.  They also were having quarterback issues at the time.  Tim Couch was a former number one overall pick for the team, but never could get his career on track.  The Browns took a different approach, choosing to sign quarterback  Jeff Garcia rather than drafting one.  Head coach Butch Davis was clearly desperate to start winning in Cleveland, which probably influenced his decision to go with a veteran quarterback.  That kind of desperation and instability defines the key difference between the two franchises.  Knowing his job was secure, Bill Cowher was willing to rebuild with a rookie at quarterback.  The results speak for themselves.  The next year, Pittsburgh went 15 – 1 while the Browns got worse going 4 -12.  By 2005, Butch Davis and Jeff Garcia were gone and the downward spiral continued for the Browns.

Comparing the two franchises since the infamous 2004 draft is almost not fair.  Starting in 2005, the Browns have had only one winning season and have never made it to the playoffs.  Pittsburgh, on the other hand, has had multiple playoff appearances and two Super Bowl titles.  The Browns have had eight head coaches compared to just two for the Steelers.  Even more shocking,  Cleveland has had 22 different quartebacks start at least one game during that time.  After all this you would think the Browns would have learned their lesson. WRONG!  Once again during the 2016 draft they passed on taking a potential franchise quarterback.  They choose instead to trade down and collect more picks.  The more things change, the more they stay the same as Cleveland sports the league’s worst record and have started 3 different quarterbacks.  Once again they will be watching the Steelers make another playoff run from the outside looking in.

 

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