Remember this phrase? “Defense wins championships.” For some past Super Bowl champions; Ravens 2000, Buccaneers 2002 and 2015 Broncos… This philosophy does not ringer louder. These three teams do not compare with other great defensive teams that were Super Bowl winners for one main reason: the quarterback. Without offending the actual players and their fans, Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson and maybe even the 2015 version of Peyton Manning, they cannot be compared to the likes of Russell Wilson or Terry Bradshaw. The 2013 Seahawks and 1978 Steelers had great defenses and better than average quarterbacks at the helm when they won on the biggest stage.
Over the past years there has been a stigma of not being able to contend for a title without that “franchise” quarterback. This has been something that the media has been dogging the Cleveland Browns on for so many years and drafts gone by. The media endlessly carries on about the need for a team to have or find the next; Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Ben Roethlisberger or Aaron Rodgers in order to win a Super Bowl. Two of these four names have won more than one Super Bowl; Brady and Roethlisberger. Does that make them better QB talents than Rodgers or Brees? Not necessarily… What it does mean is that they may have been blessed with better talent around them or defenses.
There are other “franchise” QB’s that have won multiple Super Bowls. Most of them, had a defense that was better than average, if not rated in the top ten defensive ranks. There are also many other “franchise” QB’s that have never won OR even made it to a Super Bowl. There are the likes of Jim Kelly (0-4) and Fran Tarkenton (0-3) who never won on the biggest stage. Some may argue that it was a different type of league… True! But are these players NOT “franchise” QB’s? How about Phillip Rivers? I would say he is better than just an average NFL QB. He has yet to play in a Super Bowl and sadly may never get that opportunity.
So you may be wondering how this affects the Cleveland Browns future? It is simple in my eyes and maybe the eyes of the organization. Now is the time to build your defense of the future! Take a look at the QB’s that are going to be left once guys like Brady, Roethlisberger, Rodgers, Rivers and Brees retire. Not that QB’s such as Luck, Wilson and Newton aren’t great “franchise” QB’s… But they are no Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger. “Sorry guys!” Some of those elder statesmen have transformed the NFL into a passing league. What happens once they are gone? My prediction is that once again there will need to be a better balance of great defense and a solid running game.
So far, the Browns have their rebuild going in the right direction by drafting potential game changing defensive players. Personally, I would have liked to have seen them draft the DB from UCONN, Obi Melifonwu and put him at free safety. If you look closely, there are other teams within the AFC North who have decided that defense was the way to go in the draft, namely the Ravens.
The next question I have involves the future of their running game. Isaiah Crowell had a pretty good 2016 and became an restricted free agent for 2017. Next year, unless he is signed to an extension, he will be an unrestricted free agent. Will the organization be willing to pay the money Crowell will be seeking? I would think that analytics say to trade him this year for some draft equity. To trade him sooner or later is yet to be seen. Unless the Browns have a replacement in mind for this season? Crowell holds the advantage for the moment. Looking ahead to the running back class of 2018 there are some names that could be in play for the Browns, depending on their draft position. There are only 1-2 names that may garner the use of a high draft pick, maybe mid to late round is more realistic. The highest rated player so far is; Saqoun Barkley of Penn State followed by Bo Scarborough of Alabama and then Nick Chubb of Georgia. This based on WalterFootball.com rankings. Until the games are played, it is hard to predict who, if any will be worthy of being a top-ten pick.
If you are a Browns fan, you hope that the organization stays the course and continues to draft in the same manner as this years selections. Additionally, Browns fans should hope that the likes of Brady and Roethlisberger opt for retirement sooner rather than later. Finally, the Browns fans should hope that the NFL landscape changes back to the principles that the AFC North was built on… Dominant and punishing defenses.
Below are two links that help support my theory…