The Cleveland Browns, a Rust Belt organization that is failing badly, have found a way to play a role in a Super Bowl. The feat is devious; the Browns are not attending the game as an organization, but have found ways over the decades to seed the rest of the league with their products, like sleeper cells of sadness.
From the front offices to the coaching staffs to the rosters, both the New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons are loaded with Browns escapees, with a few other fun (“fun”) connections along the way.
1. A lot of former Browns are playing in this game, but that’s just the start.
Browns & Redskins have 5 former players on Patriots/Falcons rosters, most of any team (via @EliasSports).— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 23, 2017
The Falcons’ former Browns are four-time Pro Bowl center Alex Mack and No. 3 receiver Taylor Gabriel. Mack has been arguably Atlanta’s biggest game-changer this year. In November, the Falcons celebrated a Gabriel touchdown by tweeting “Thanks!” at the Browns, with a screenshot of Gabriel’s Wikipedia page.
New England’s Cleveland rescues: all-purpose playoff weapon Dion Lewis, efficient pass-rusher Jabaal Sheard, and backup Barkevious Mingo.
2. Remember when the Browns fired head coach Bill Belichick in 1995 after four years?
Cleveland’s playoff record under Belichick: 1-1.
Cleveland’s playoff record since Belichick: 0-1.
Belichick’s playoff record since Cleveland: 23-9.
3. Later, the Browns chose not to hire eventual Falcons head coach Dan Quinn.
Remember when #Browns didnt want to wait for Sea DC Dan Quinn to coach in Super Bowl? So they hired Mike Pettine.— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) January 22, 2017
Browns CEO Joe Banner, on the day he hired former Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine to run his team, admitted that deciding not to wait for Quinn was "the toughest decision” he had to make in the coaching search, and that he's confident he'll be an excellent head coach.
The Browns fired Pettine after he went 10-22.
Also, in 2014, the Browns’ 26-24 win knocked Atlanta to 4-7. The NFC South was terrible enough to preserve Mike Smith’s hopes of sticking around, but it was clear a move needed to be made. So, the Browns helped force Atlanta into hiring the guy they probably should’ve.
4. Falcons GM Thomas Dimitroff comes from the Belichick tree, but previously worked as a Browns scout.
The Northeast Ohio native also worked on the Browns’ grounds crew as a kid, when Dimitroff’s father was a Cleveland scout.
Also, since Belichick is a GM, that means both Super Bowl front offices have Cleveland on their resumes and in their blood. Belichick’s father was a fullback at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University and later a local college coach.
Assistant Falcons GM Scott Pioli also worked for the Browns, as a personnel assistant under Belichick.
5. Other New England staffers with Cleveland ties:
Tight ends coach Brian Daboll and Belichick right-hand man Ernie Adams have coached for the Browns, and assistant special teams coach Raymond Ventrone played safety there.
Cornerbacks coach Steve Belichick obtained inside information within the highest levels of the Browns organization as a mere child in the 1990s.
A year ago, the Browns interviewed DC Matt Patricia for head coach.
OC Josh McDaniels played in the Cleveland area in high school and college (where he was a teammate of director of player personnel Nick Caserio, a Cleveland-area native), and in between stints working for Nick Saban at Michigan State and the Patriots, returned to the city as a salesperson for a year.
Cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer is also from Ohio.
6. And on Atlanta’s coaching staff:
OC Kyle Shanahan made a lateral move from Cleveland two years ago, with wide receivers coach Mike McDaniel and intern-turned-assistant Mike LaFleur accompanying (along with Mack, eventually).
Defensive assistants Bryan Cox and Jerome Harrison also coached for the Browns a few years earlier.
7. And then there’s the Julio Jones trade.
The NFL’s best wide receiver has been a no-doubter since high school, but Dimitroff’s 2011 decision (advised against by Belichick) to trade up was still a massive risk for a team that was already playoff-quality and had bigger needs than WR. It should’ve been a simple W for Cleveland.
The gamble eventually paid off for the Falcons, but the Browns’ Brownsiness somehow squandered a five-for-one deal. From last year:
The first-round pick in 2011 was used to trade up and select defensive tackle Phil Taylor. The next three picks were used on Greg Little, Owen Marecic and Brandon Weeden, while the fourth-round selection in 2012 was sent in the package deal that landed the Browns Trent Richardson. Ouch.
Richardson was eventually dealt to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round pick, so the Browns recouped some of his value, but that pick was used on Johnny Manziel, who has been less-than-stellar early in his career. [Update: This part got even worse.]
Taylor lasted the longest of the players acquired via the Jones trade, though he never made it to a second contract. The Browns released Taylor during the first series of cuts in 2015, absorbing a nearly $5.5 million dead money hit in the process.
8. Also, do you know the name of the last QB drafted before Tom Brady?
Southwest Texas State’s Spergon Wynn was picked 16 spots ahead of maybe the greatest pro quarterback ever. He started one game for the Browns, a 48-0 loss in 2000 to the Jaguars.