Browns trying to shake off effects of expansion

The ‘76 Seahawks had it easy. An expansion pool full of experienced veterans, no salary cap to manage and less competition from the rest of the league.

If only the 1999 Browns could have been so lucky.

Despite having top-three picks in five of their first eight drafts after the 1999 expansion, the new-school Browns have been buried at the bottom of the NFL for almost their entire existence. The only team that has won less games than Cleveland’s 33 over the past seven seasons is Houston, which came into the league in 2001 and has just 24 wins.

Cleveland and Houston have a combined record of 64-143 — good for a .309 winning percentage — and one postseason appearance since coming in as expansion teams.

Expansion just ain’t as much fun as it used to be. The Seahawks had a winning record by their third season, while fellow ‘76 expansion team Tampa Bay won the NFC Central that year. Heck, it took 1995 expansion teams Carolina and Jacksonville just two seasons to get to their respective conference championship games.

The most obvious reasons for the slow boats out of Cleveland and Houston have been rule changes. The success of the Panthers and Jaguars caused the league to make some alterations, the most notable of which was a rule that forbid the 1999 Browns from using more than 38 percent of their overall salary cap on veterans taken in the expansion draft.

So while Jacksonville came out of its expansion draft with players like quarterback Steve Beuerlein and wide receiver Willie Jackson, Cleveland’s top three picks were Jim Pyne, Hurvin McCormack and Scott Rehberg. Houston went a different route in spending $14 million of its allotted money on lineman Tony Boselli and cornerback Aaron Glenn, while using whatever was left over for guys like Matt Stevens, Sean McDermott and former Washington Husky Jabari Issa.

Of course, most of the Browns’ problems have been their own doing. Twice, they’ve had the No. 1 overall draft pick. Those selections resulted in two busts: quarterback Tim Couch and defensive end Courtney Brown. Defensive tackle Gerard Warren was the third overall pick in 2001, but he lasted just four seasons in Cleveland. No. 16 overall pick William Green, a running back who was taken ahead of T.J. Duckett, Clinton Portis and Brian Westbrook in 2002, is already out of the league.

As Browns coach Romeo Crennel said this week: “It’s hard to build when you don’t have any players.”

Of course, things are looking up for the Browns these days. With a 4-3 record — and back-to-back wins for the first time since 2003 — Cleveland has the rare opportunity to get back to the postseason. The Browns, who play the Seahawks on Sunday, are one game behind Pittsburgh in the AFC North and in the thick of the race for a wild-card berth.

“For the media people and the fans, they’re all excited,” Crennel said this week. “But I know that, hey, you’re 4-3, you haven’t really done anything yet. You still have nine games to play.”

That cautious nature is typical of football coaches, but it’s also got something to do with the town’s recent history. The Browns have played just one playoff game since the original franchise moved to Baltimore in 1996, so people have had their hearts broken before. Even the city’s other teams, the successful ones like the NBA’s Cavaliers and baseball’s Indians, haven’t been able to bring home the hardware.

The city has one of the longest championship droughts in sports, with the Browns’ 1964 NFL title marking the last time a major professional team won the whole shebang.

But lately, Browns fans aren’t as interested in championships as they are in progress.

Maybe one day, the Cleveland Browns will stop looking like an expansion team and start looking like a contender. The NFL made darned sure that the Browns wouldn’t be a contender anytime soon.

Scott Johnson is The Herald’s pro football writer.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Sports

Drew Bryson, the new Arlington boys basketball head coach, at Arlington High School on Tuesday, June 11, 2024. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Arlington taps alum Bryson to continue boys hoops tradition

The former Eagles star succeeds Nick Brown as Arlington’s head coach.

Everett 8-year-old Ryder Romano was selected to compete in the prestigious Brick Invitational Hockey Tournament. (Photo courtesy of Brittany Walker)
Everett 8-year-old selected to prestigious hockey tournament

Ryder Romano will play at the Brick Invitational Hockey Tournament on July 1-7 in Edmonton, Alberta.

Seattle Seahawks cornerback Devon Witherspoon (21) celebrates a stop of Dallas Cowboys running back Tony Pollard (20) during the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Nov. 30, 2023. The Cowboys won, 41-35. (Tom Fox / Tribune News Service)
Captain of the Seahawks defense? Why it could be Witherspoon

The talented second-year cornerback brought ‘outrageous energy’ to Seattle’s minicamp.

The Everett Silvertips remain confident in signing defenseman Landon DuPont, the first-overall selection in this year’s WHL prospects draft, who’s considered a generational talent. (Photo courtesy of Chris Mast)
Patterson: Have patience Tips fans, offseason news is coming

Everett is close to hiring a new GM and new coach, and still confident of signing Landon DuPont.

Dan Parker with the Snohomish High School girls cross country team. (Elizabeth Armstrong / The Herald)
2024 Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame class announced

Five athletes, one coach, one contributor and one team are being inducted.

Why Seahawks are joining NFL trend with joint practices

Seattle will conduct practices with the Tennessee Titans prior to their preseason game.

Seattle Storm head coach Noelle Quinn on the sidelines June 15, 2023, during a game against the Las Vegas Aces in Las Vegas. (Ellen Schmidt / Las Vegas Review-Journal, file)
As WNBA exposure grows, Storm content to quietly stack wins

Amid the Caitlin Clark-fueled buzz, Seattle has won seven of its past eight.

AquaSox second baseman Brock Rodden throws out a runner June 5 during a game against the Vancouver Giants at Funko Field in Everett. Rodden has been the team’s top offensive performer so far this season. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
AquaSox week in review: Keystone capers buoy Everett

Brock Rodden and Josh Hood have a friendly rivalry that pushes both players.

Snohomish Summer Smash returns for ninth edition

Registration is open for the tennis tournament for high schoolers, which takes place July 18-21.

2024 small school spring all-conference

Here are the 2024 all-conference selections from local small schools. Teams are… Continue reading

Seahawk and Archbishop Murphy grad Lucas hosting free camp

Registration is open for the youth camp, which takes place June 29 at Archbishop Murphy High School.

Glacier Peak’s Nicholas Miller. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
2024 All-Wesco boys soccer teams

Here are the 2024 All-Wesco boys soccer teams. Teams are chosen by… Continue reading

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.