The Cleveland Browns have not had a good starting quarterback since the franchise re-launched in 1999. They’ve had moments of good quarterbacking, like Derek Anderson in 2007 and sort of Brian Hoyer in 2014. But while every other team sets passing records every year, Brian Sipe and Bernie Kosar still hold down most of the Browns’ single-season marks.
So it’s weird that they keep avoiding picking a quarterback. No one would blame a team for picking defensive end Myles Garrett first overall ahead of Mitchell Trubisky, as the Browns did Thursday in the 2017 NFL Draft. It was a smart choice. But it continues a tradition: The Browns have not used their first NFL Draft pick on a quarterback since taking Tim Couch first overall in 1999, their first year upon returning to the NFL.
Here’s a look at that remarkable run — one mirrored by franchises such the Patriots and Seahawks because they have actually had good quarterbacks — year-by-year:
Browns’ first pick: DE Courtney Brown, No. 1
Next QB selected: Chad Pennington, No. 18
Rationale: Couch, entering his second season.
Browns’ first pick: DT Gerard Warren, No. 3
Next QB selected: Drew Brees, No. 32
Rationale: Couch, who had missed nine games the previous season with injuries.
Browns’ first pick: RB William Green, No. 16
Next QB selected: Patrick Ramsey, No. 32
Rationale: Couch, who had a 3,000 yard season as they went 7-9.
Browns’ first pick: C Jeff Faine, No. 21
Next QB selected: Rex Grossman, No. 22
Rationale: Couch, who had the best season his career, and Kelly Holcomb, who stepped in well when Couch was hurt.
Browns’ first pick: TE Kellen Winslow, No. 6
Next QB selected: Ben Roethlisberger, No. 11
Rationale: They thought they needed playmakers, even though Ohio-native Roethlisberger was widely viewed as an excellent prospect and Couch and Holcomb both had shown their weaknesses. They drafted Luke McCown in the fourth round, the first QB they’d selected since Couch. This decision was so bad it became the subject of an ESPN oral history.
Browns’ first pick: WR Braylon Edwards, No. 3
Next QB selected: Aaron Rodgers, No. 24
Rationale: Rodgers somehow wasn’t rated as an elite prospect by many scouts. Welp. They drated Charlie Frye in the third round.
Browns’ first pick: DE Kamerion Wimbley, No. 13
Next QB selected: Kellen Clemens, No. 49
Rationale: They wouldn’t have passed on Matt Leinart (No. 10) or Jay Cutler (No. 11), but no QB available had even a first-round grade.
Browns’ first pick: OT Joe Thomas, No. 3
Next QB selected: Brady Quinn, No. 22
Rationale: They actually managed to grab Quinn via a massive (bad) trade despite passing on him at No. 3. And Thomas became the best player in the modern history of the Browns.
Browns’ first pick: LB Beau Bell, No. 104
Next QB selected: John David Booty, No. 137
Rationale: They’d traded away their first three picks the previous year for Quinn and Shaun Rodgers, so they thought they had their QB.
Browns’ first pick: C Alex Mack, No. 21
Next QB selected: Pat White, No. 44
Rationale: Between Quinn and Derek Anderson, QB didn’t seem like a position they needed to massively reach on. Mack became a four-time Pro Bowler.
Browns’ first pick: CB Joe Haden, No. 7
Next QB selected: Tim Tebow, No. 25
Rationale: Haden became a star, and they drafted Colt McCoy in the third round.
Browns’ first pick: DT Phil Taylor, No. 21
Next QB selected: Andy Dalton, No. 35
Rationale: It seemed like they wanted to give McCoy a shot, and Dalton and Colin Kaepernick weren’t seen as good enough prospects to override that.
Browns’ first pick: RB Trent Richardson, No. 3
Next QB selected: Ryan Tannehill, No. 8
Rationale: The top two QB prospects (Andrew Lucky and Robert Griffin III) were already off the board, and they snagged Brandon Weeden at No. 22.
Browns’ fist pick: DE Barkevious Mingo, No. 6
Next QB selected: EJ Manuel, No. 16
Rationale: They were holding out hope for Weeden.
Browns’ first pick: CB Justin Gilbert, No. 8
Next QB selected: Johnny Manziel, No. 22
Rationale: They were the ones who picked Manziel. Neither pick worked out.
Browns’ first pick: DT Danny Shelton, No. 12
Next QB selected: Garrett Grayson, No. 75
Rationale: No one was worth No. 12, but the Browns had 12 total picks and used none on QBs because they believed in Manziel’s potential.
Browns’ first pick: WR Corey Coleman, No. 15
Next QB selected: Paxton Lynch, No. 26
Rationale: Lynch slipped on draft day, all the way past the Browns who had been thought to want him and clearly needed a quarterback. Coleman had an OK rookie year, considering who was throwing him the ball.
Browns’ first pick: DE Myles Garrett, No. 1
Next QB selected: Mitchell Trubisky
Rationale: Garrett was the clear-cut best prospect in the draft, while Trubisky had major question marks. The Browns also added Brock Osweiler, for better or worse, in the offseason.
To summarize, the Browns should be blamed for passing on a quarterback four times: 2004, 2005, 2011 and 2016. The painful part is that the QBs they passed on in ’04 and ’05 became champions and superstars, while Dalton racks up huge numbers for the rival Bengals. Paxton Lynch developing into a star would be another dagger twist.
Trubisky would be the same. Garrett seems like a guaranteed stud. But he’s not a quarterback, and in the modern NFL, there’s no more important position.