When I’d take my daily afternoon walk around the neighborhood back in the spring of 2016 at my home in Wichita, Kanas, I’d often stream one of the local Cleveland radio stations on my phone. Back then the buzz leading up to the NFL Draft was around whether the Cleveland Browns would keep their #2 pick and take either quarterback Jared Goff or Carson Wentz or trade out of the pick. As most Browns fans knew all too well, the team hadn’t secured that top QB to lead the franchise to that elusive Super Bowl. Would taking either of these quarterbacks be the answer?
This debate was the talk of the town. The Browns were coming off another horrendous season in 2015; where they went 3-13. Then Browns coach Mike Pettine was on his way out. The Browns had spent the season playing “Duck Duck Goose” with its quarterbacks. The 15 minutes of fame Johnny Manziel (not sure if it was even close to 15 minutes!), career backup Josh McCown and one-hit-wonder Austin Davis, who had a very brief two month run of stardom playing for the LA Rams back in 2014, all had starting roles with the Browns that 2015 season. So logic would tell you that you should go out and find that missing link starting quarterback of the future.
But these were the old Cleveland Browns of the dysfunctional past. The Browns decided to sign injury-prone, veteran QB Robert Griffith III, who had been benched as the former Washington Redskins star. The Browns had just hired Hue Jackson as their new head coach and thoughts of Jackson, being great with quarterbacks in his past, had Browns fans eagerly anticipating the upcoming season. But fans should have been more worried that the Browns decided to roll the dice on a has-been quarterback riddled with injury and a coach with a big ego.
Enter the 2016 NFL Draft and the build-up to taking a potential franchise quarterback for the Browns. The Browns had the #2 pick that year and several extra picks in later rounds. Jared Goff, the University of California QB and Carson Wentz, the North Dakota State product were constantly being debated on who would go first in the draft. There were some doubters in the media that weren’t all in on Wentz because he was coming out of a small school in North Dakota. But most in the media saw Wentz’s upside, being an accurate, tall and strong QB. An ideal potential QB to do battle in the difficult and tough AFC Central Division against the likes of Ben Roethlisberger and Joe Flacco.
The Tennessee Titans had the #1 pick that year in the draft, but they had selected Marcus Mariota the previous year and had their franchise QB. Right before the draft, the Los Angeles Rams made a trade up to #1 to take Jared Goff. So that left the Browns front office and new coaches with the ball in their hands and that wasn’t a good idea, considering the questionable decision making up to that point. The Browns, like usual, fumbled the ball away. They ended up trading out of their spot with the Philadelphia Eagles. I believe they made the decision out of an abundance of stubbornness. The Browns front office and new coaches touted a new sense of arrogance.
The Browns got the #8 pick in the trade with Philly but then traded that pick with Tennessee who came back up to the #8 spot to take Jack Conklin (now is with the Browns in 2020). With that trade, the Browns got the #15 pick and took Corey Coleman, a wide receiver out of Baylor. Coleman, had a very shaky career in Cleveland, only lasting two seasons and has since bounced around the NFL with various teams, now on the practice squad with the New York Giants.
Back in Philadelphia, the Eagles got their franchise quarterback in Carson Wentz at that #2 pick. Fast forward to the fall of 2016 and the Browns season opener, where the Browns got to host the Eagles and that Wentz kid. Wentz and the Eagles embarrassed the Browns that day as Wentz threw for 278 yards and two touchdown passes in a 29-10 drubbing of the Browns. That was the beginning of a solid career for Wentz. In his 2nd season, he went on to help lead Philly to the Super Bowl. Philly backup QB Nick Foles actually won the Super Bowl game against the AFC opponent New England Patriots because Wentz went out with a season-ending torn ACL injury late that season. But it was Wentz who got the Eagles to the playoffs.
And where were the Browns after the 2016 NFL draft?
Still searching for that future franchise leading QB. The Browns continued their fiasco of “Duck Duck Goose” with the quarterbacks Griffin, McCown, newly 2016 drafted Browns quarterback Cody Kessler and QB journeyman Kevin Hogan all starting games for the pathetic 1-15 Browns. The 2017 season followed in an even more embarrassing manner as the Browns went a record 0-16 under the lack of leadership and highly-overrated coach Hue Jackson. The Browns did draft Myles Garrett that year at #1 in the 2017 NFL Draft. So there was a glimmer of hope.
That leads us to 2018 and the Browns drafting now franchise leading Baker Mayfield at quarterback. So when I still regularly hear folks out there in the social media world, especially young minds complaining about Baker Mayfield and if he’s the answer at quarterback for the Browns, I simply want them to go back and look at the past with the Browns. Certainly, selecting Wentz back in 2016 as a Cleveland Brown would have resulted in much better season records and obviously a more stable situation at quarterback. I don’t believe the Browns would have gone a combined 1-31 between 2016-17 and I also don’t believe they would have won the Super Bowl as Philadelphia did.
When I was taking those daily walks at my prairie home in Kansas and listening to the local Cleveland sports radio and all they debated was would the Browns stay at #2 and take Wentz, I was pretty bothered when the NFL Draft arrived that the Browns did what they always did back then which was to think they were always smarter than the rest of us and pick players that would continue their pattern of dysfunction.
That pattern had continued until now, this year, with this new Browns coaching staff lead by coach Kevin Stefanski. All of us loyal Browns fans are very thankful to finally see a logically smart and guided group of coaches and players that are finally trusting one another.
The passing on taking Carson Wentz back in the 2016 NFL Draft will always be a “What If” moment for the Browns. It certainly was a huge mistake back then by the Browns considering the inability to win but one game in the next two seasons. But honestly having Hue Jackson coaching Wentz probably would have been a disaster.
So on Sunday when you’re watching the Browns and Eagles play and Wentz at QB for the Eagles, try not to think how he’s already been to a Super Bowl. Rather think, hey we passed on Wentz but now we have Myles Garrett, Baker Mayfield and a slew of other more respected players than Browns teams of the past and that is in part thanks to Wentz. But man, it would have been nice having Wentz in that orange and brown uniform!