The Cleveland Browns made a rare in-division trade on Saturday, sending cornerback Justin Gilbert to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a sixth-round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, just over two years after selecting him with the No. 8 overall selection in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Gilbert’s departure isn’t particularly surprising given the level of play he provided the Browns in his two seasons with the team, and his continued struggles in his third NFL training camp. However, it’s an extremely rare case of a team giving up on an early draft pick after so little time and a rare case of an in-division trade.
Even some of the most colossal draft busts in NFL history, like quarterbacks JaMarcus Russell and Ryan Leaf, received a third season from teams desperate to try and capitalize on the skills and athleticism that warranted a top-10 pick in the first place. But the Browns couldn’t wait anymore for Gilbert, who struggled to make much progress from year to year.
"I think he needed to grow mentally for sure," Browns cornerback Tramon Williams told the Cleveland Plain-Dealer of Gilbert at the beginning of training camp. "That's the toughest part of the game. Physically, we all can do it. There's a lot of good football players who are at home right now without opportunity. Physically, we all can do it. It's who can do it mentally. Who can stay in the game mental enough to come out and just able to make a career out of it, because a lot of guys can't do it."
When preseason came and Gilbert continued to make many of the same mistakes that plagued him in his first two seasons, including poor tackling and bad angles, it became even tougher to argue that the former All-American has made the mental growth necessary.
In the time since Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson took over in Cleveland, the new regime has diced up the roster and parted ways with several former early draft picks. Another 2014 first-round pick, Johnny Manziel, was released in March and the No. 6 pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, Barkevious Mingo, was traded to the New England Patriots in August.
The trade of Gilbert adds to a lengthy history of draft failures for the Browns that Brown and Jackson hope to avoid continuing. Before Gilbert, Manziel and Mingo, Cleveland also swung and missed early on Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden and Phil Taylor in the first round of the 2011 and 2012 NFL Drafts.
Not since the 2010 selection of Joe Haden have the Browns received contributions from a first-round pick that warrant the lofty selection. Gilbert was drafted to be paired with Haden, but he never filled that role and Cleveland didn’t feel like waiting any more.