Successful NFL franchises are built upon the cyclical nature of the athletes on their team. The team drafts new players to be taken under the wing of veteran players in their prime, and the front office supplements the roster with useful but inexpensive players for depth. The prime veteran players are allowed to leave before they become aging and expensive, the young players become the veteran players in their prime, and new players are drafted.
However, the Cleveland Browns are not a successful franchise. The team certainly participates in the NFL Draft, but there are precious few veteran players in their prime because the only thing more rare than the Browns having a competitive team is them signing their drafted players to a second contract.
As Mitchell Schwartz, Travis Benjamin, and Tashaun Gipson might be allowed to leave the Browns via free agency as Jabaal Sheard did in 2015, it is worth looking back through recent Browns history to see how rare second contracts have been.
As with most areas on the Browns, the second-contract avoidance has manifested itself in a variety of ways. Some players were outright draft busts such as Trent Richardson. Some players were injured too often such as Courtney Brown. Some players were considered too high-maintenance such as Gerard Warren.
Some players were let go due to the fact the Browns should create an elaborate “changing of the GM” ceremony to make the painful process of roster purges more fun for the fans. Sashi Brown is now the eighth person in charge of the Browns 53-man roster in the past 16 years.
The full historical context of the Browns GM drafts can be found in an article I wrote for 603brown a couple years ago.
However, in typical Browns fashion, there is a new man in charge. So, there is a reason to dive deeper into those drafted players who have been deemed worthy of second contracts. Here are those second contracts broken down by regime.1
When an expansion franchise has 24 draft picks in the first two seasons, one would expect a few of those players would demonstrate enough capability in order to earn second contracts with the team. Opportunities were there, as the team was hot garbage upon the initial inception. Despite the ample chances, only McCutcheon was able to earn the second contract, and he was the rare useful player to spend his entire seven-year NFL tenure with the Browns.
Tim Couch, Kevin Johnson, Courtney Brown, Dennis Northcutt, and Wali Rainer is the entire list of drafted starters. With McCutcheon, that makes a whole six out of 24 players drafted who were starters. Couch and Brown were both wrecked by injury by the time their second contract would have come about. Johnson, Rainer, and Northcutt all could have been re-signed as they were useful players, but their best years were still in the brown and orange.
As deep a hole that this first front office created for the team, the one signing they undoubtedly got correct was kicker Phil Dawson. He was not a drafted player, but he became a staple for the Browns over the first 14 seasons of misery. The Dawson-Bar is a fitting tribute to the player who helped remind us excellence could be found on our team.
Andra Davis is beloved by some Browns fans and reviled as an empty-stat-stuffing overrated linebacker by many others. But, it is difficult to be harsh on the fans who loved the ‘backer who spent seven of his 10-year career tackling running backs 5-10 yards past the line of scrimmage. Davis gave his all for the team, and he earned a continued place on it, which makes him a scarce commodity.
Our first drafted special team player to receive a second contract. The selection of Pontbriand was panned at the time as the fifth round is rarely a place used to draft a long-snapper, but he did remain with the team for nine seasons proving he was one of the more valuable fifth-round Browns picks since 1999.
Anthony Henry, Quincy Morgan, Gerard Warren, William Green, Kellen Winslow Jr., Sean Jones, Melvin Fowler, Kevin Bentley, Ben Taylor, Jeff Faine, Chaun Thompson, and Chris Crocker all spent time as starters for the Browns in the Butch era.
Davis certainly had more success in finding (or forcing) starters from his drafts. Henry, Warren, Winslow, Jones, Fowler, Faine, and Crocker all had moderate levels of success for other teams after leaving the Browns.
D’Qwell Jackson is a similar player to Andra Davis, in that he spent his seven-year Browns career racking up tackles on poor run defensive teams. Whether the issue with those defenses was his own ability or the defensive line is a matter for debate. What is not up for debate is that Jackson was decent enough to be worth an extended stay.
When a team has enough picks over enough years, a Hall of Fame player should be picked by nothing other than happenstance. If Thomas is somehow denied the honor upon his retirement, then it would only be due to the fact the team has never made the playoffs. Despite the continued lack of success, Thomas grinds on as an elite left tackle who shows up year after year after year.
By the end of his time in Cleveland, injuries, age, or complacency had caught up with Rubin. However, he was an absolute terror to opposing offensive lines for years, and the rare late-round gem found by a Browns front office.
Well, sure Vickers was only resigned to a one-year contract, which gave him the fifth year many of his draft peers already had with the team. And, the Browns used that final year to draft his replacement (Owen Marecic). But, technically, he did sign a second contract.
Josh Cribbs was another UDFA special team monster found by the Browns. The Pay Da Man campaign helped secure his contract, as Cribbs was an obvious fan favorite during his years of knifing through kick coverage units.
It is still a crime the NFL recognizes Brady Quinn as the winning quarterback of the 2009 Thursday Night Football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Quinn had 92 yards atrributed to him, while Cribbs had 96 total yards operating out of the Wildcat formation.
Braylon Edwards, Brodney Pool, Lawrence Vickers, Kamerion Wimbley, Eric Wright, and Brandon McDonald were the starting options to consider from the Savage years.
Unfortunately, Pool and Vickers sustained too many injuries. Edwards wore out his welcome. The Wright-McDonald CB-duo was never any good. However, Wimbley had years of success for the Oakland Raiders upon his departure and gave credence to those believing he was being mis-used by the Browns.
Sure, it took an extended contract squabble, multiple regimes, and the Jacksonville Jaguars, but the Browns did re-sign Mack. Now, the Browns need to do it again or else entrust the center of their offensive line to Cameron Erving, who did not look up to the task during his rookie campaign.
Of course, they must sign him to another contract now that he has utilized the opt-out clause from that Jaguar contract.
Mohamed Massaquoi, Kaluke Maiava, and maybe Brian Robiskie were the players who could have been re-signed. Maiava lasted the longest of these players, but drafting proved not to be the strength of Mangini.
Outside of an injury-riddled, poor-performance 2015, Haden has been a great player for the Browns. He has (or at least had) the ability to shut down big opposing wide receivers no matter how talented. He has done well against Calvin Johnson and is the constant thorn in the side of A.J. Green. However, he does have a kryptonite in the smaller, quicker route-running ace that is Antonio Brown. Despite it, the Browns were smart to keep Haden around.
Backup DT do not usually get four-year extensions, but Hughes found a way to obtain one from the Cleveland Browns. Probably attempting to fulfill the void left by an aging Rubin, the Browns were at least trying to copy the successful NFL model here.
T.J. Ward, Shaun Lauvao, Greg Little, Jabaal Sheard, Phil Taylor, Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Billy Winn, Buster Skrine, and Jordan Cameron were all players jettisoned before a second contract was awarded.
The Browns let Ward leave just to sign the older Donte Whitner to a slightly more expensive contract that they might terminate this offseason. Similarly, Skrine was let go so the Browns could sign Tramon Williams.
Sheard was considered a misfit for the 3-4 defense until Bill Belichick figured out how to use him with the New England Patriots. Cameron had agreed to stay, except he didn’t sign and decided to take his talents to South Beach instead.
Mitchell Schwartz is an above average right tackle in the NFL and most teams do not allow above average offensive linemen to hit free agency. The Browns need to re-sign him in order to not create another hole on a team where they have enough to fill as it is.
Due to his suspensions, Josh Gordon will not end his rookie contract until the conclusion of the 2016 season. Whether or not he earns another contract with the Browns (or anyone else for that matter) will depend on if he has both cleaned up his issues and has dedicated himself to being the player he once was on the field.
No players have been signed to second contracts from Banner’s lone draft class. Remember that Gary Barnidge was signed as an unrestricted free agent, so he does not count on this list.
Barkevious Mingo has not lived up to the hype of being a premier outside pass rusher. In fact, he has continually lost snaps each successive year with the team.
The only other player even under consideration from Banner’s draft class would have been Armonty Bryant but his federal indictment closes the door on that possibility.
These are players from the past two seasons and are still under contract.
Johnny Manziel looks to have sealed his fate in Cleveland. Justin Gilbert has barely been able to get onto the field, let alone make plays on it. He will have to hope new defensive back coach Louis Cioffi can revive his fleeting career. Cameron Erving had a rookie season just as bad as the first years of Manziel and Gilbert.
Joel Bitonio was fantastic his rookie season and, despite a step back, is still a good player in his second year. Christian Kirksey has been surprisingly good and has continued to take steps forward. Danny Shelton, Nate Orchard, Duke Johnson, Xavier Cooper, and Ibraheim Campbell all had their moments in their first NFL season.
Creating a stable, winning atmosphere is the goal for any NFL organization. Turning over the roster every few seasons is not conducive to setting up such an environment. Yes, there have been some epic draft busts any team would have discarded. But there also have been useful players replaced with similar players due to front office and coach upheaval.
The Browns have signed 12 players to a second contract with the team in 16 seasons. The only reason we even get to 12 players is by counting returner Josh Cribbs and kicker Phil Dawson, who were not drafted. Among the other eight players is Ryan Pontbriand, a long-snapper, and Larry Vickers, a fullback who only got one additional year.
Candidly, if the Browns ever want continuity, then they must find a way to develop their draft picks into players they want to keep around for a second term.