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2009: The Year Before H&H

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Before we look ahead to what is next for the Cleveland Browns, how about we look back to what Holmgren and Heckert took over in 2009.

SB Nation has millions of pictures. This is the ONLY one of David Veikune. Not surprised it is of him missing a tackle.
SB Nation has millions of pictures. This is the ONLY one of David Veikune. Not surprised it is of him missing a tackle.
Justin K. Aller

When the calendar year flipped to 2009, the Browns had just fired General Manager Phil Savage and Head Coach Romeo Crennel. Owner Randy Lerner had decided that he wanted to have a bigger role in choosing the next coach for the Browns (bad idea). One of the biggest issues sinking the Crennel-Savage marriage was the fact that the two guys struggled to work with each other at the end, Savage drafting players that weren't great fits for Crennel's system, etc. In other words, a bad relationship.

I mention this because it was important for the next hire. Eric Mangini came off an up and down 3 year stint in New York with the Jets. At one time considered one of the brightest young coaches in the NFL, Mangini was looking for work and didn't seem to have many takers.

Browns lined up an interview with Mangini, appearing to be the only team interested in hiring Mangini as a Head Coach at the time. Lerner fell in love with Mangini during the interviews, and worried that other teams would gain interest in the former Jet's head man.

On January 7th, the Browns announced Eric Mangini as Head Coach, and ownership (and Mangini) would decide on who the General Manager would be at a later date. (Sound familiar?) That search took nearly 3 weeks; and on Jan. 25th, they named George Kokinis General Manager. Kokinis and Mangini were called "best friends" when the hire was made. What could go wrong?

Something was lost in translation during the interview process. Kokinis believed that he was being hired to be General Manager. Eric Mangini believed that Kokinis was hired to be a General Manager in name only, and he would make all the football decisions. So much for everyone on the same page.

Mangini started off quickly, trading Kellen Winslow Jr. to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a 2nd round pick. This trade was actually a great move, as Winslow was angling for a contract extension, and was pricing himself into history. Winslow signed the most expensive tight end contract in NFL history (6 years, 36 million), watched his YPC go down every year and was out of football four years later. The Browns got a second round pick in return. Great move.

Draft day was another big moment for Mangini. He wisely avoided Mark Sanchez at pick number five, but failed to get full value out of the Jets in trading down. For the 5th pick (valued at 1,700) he got the 17th pick, 52nd and a handful of roster filler. Those picks combined for 1,330 points on the draft trade chart. What is the big difference of 370 points? That is a second round pick. Most times when a team trades down in the high first, they receive picks in future years. We didn't get that, or full value. Some will argue that we missed on Sanchez and that alone is worth it. They may have a point.

The players acquired in the deal did make many starts, but none of them were impact starters and most were gone from the team in a short while.

When it comes to what the Browns got out of the draft, it was bleak. With four picks in the top 52, the Browns needed to make an impact. Alex Mack has been a great addition to the squad. Pro Bowler, and honestly should have gone more times. Fantastic pick.

The second round is another story. Brian Robiskie, Mohammed Massaquoi and David Veikune were the Browns picks.

Many people point out the the '09 draft was a poor one, and they are correct. But the Browns got 57 combined starts from those three players (43 from MoMass). In a draft that saw LeSean McCoy, Phil Loadholt, Sebastian Vollmer, William Moore, Paul Kruger, Sean Smith, Michael Johnson and Terrance Knighton taken in the next 20 picks, the Browns needed to find some value. We didn't.

Once the season got rolling, the Browns were terrible, and the roster was a major reason. Here are some facts:

  • Before the Browns were awarded Matt Roth off of waivers, they had one starter in the front 7 that was less than 30 years old in Kamerion Wimbley. He was traded after the season
  • The Browns leading pass catcher was Jerome Harrison, a player who didn't even start the majority of the season. (Not to mention Harrison's usage that season was a major question mark)
  • Mike Furrey was second on the team in catches, but he probably would have led the team in catches if he wasn't switched to defense in the middle of the year. Seriously. That happened. This isn't Pee Wee football.
  • Of the Browns 22 opening day starters, 7 of them (Robaire Smith, Eric Barton, David Bowens, John St. Clair, Floyd Womack, Robert Royal and Jamal Lewis) were out of the NFL two years later.
  • The Browns Quarterbacks combined to complete 49.4 percent of their passes with a 5.1 YPA, and worst of all, 140 yards a game. Just to give you an idea how pitiful that is, the 1946 Cleveland Browns averaged 162 yards a game. Mother of God.
  • Browns defense was 31st overall, 29th against the pass, 28th against the run, 31st in forced turnovers and allowed the most first downs in the NFL. They were only 21st in points allowed though. They gave up 6,229 yards.
  • On offense, the Browns were last in every passing stat, but 8th in the NFL in the run.
The season started off bad. Really bad. 1-11. The average score for those first 12 games? 26-12. In fact, until week 11, there was only one game in which the Browns didn't lose by double digits.

But somehow, the front office was even in worse shape. The relationship between best friends Mangini and Kokinis had become toxic.

October 7th, Mangini decided to trade Braylon Edwards to the New York Jets, in return for a 3rd round pick. Smart on field decision, the Browns passing game was anemic, and we needed the pick. Not to mention that Edwards and the Browns fan base had reached a point of contempt. He hated us, we hated him.

The problem was that the Browns General Manager, George Kokinis, was informed of the trade by the media. Doesn't seem like the greatest working relationship. It somehow got worse.

Around a month later, George Kokinis was escorted out of the Cleveland Browns facility by security. An agreement has been reached since, and neither side has said much. Personally, I find it hard to believe Kokinis made some sort of demand for more power or wanted to be removed. I doubt we will ever find out.

It took about one more month, but Mike Holmgren was hired on December 21st, 2009. He walked into an ancient roster, a front office left in shambles, and a coaching staff that was wildly outmatched when it came to the passing game of today.

I often get accused of being a Heckert lover. I hope people realize how far this roster has come since that season. We have turned an ancient front seven into one of the better young groups of talent up front. We have exciting skill position players for the first time in a long time. I don't know how you can look at the '09 team and not be impressed of where we are at now.

We have starters this season that were starters in '09. In three years, Heckert had to replace 82% of the starters, including every defensive starter. That isn't a rebuild, that is a reset.

H&H didn't just take over the Browns, they took over the worst franchise in the NFL. Not only were we bad, we were seen as a place that no one wanted to go to. Holmgren gave us credibility. Heckert gave us a chance.

Before anyone jumps down my throat, many people deserve blame here. Randy Lerner for choosing now is the time for him to get out started this whole cluster fudge.

Holmgren and Heckert made some mistakes. But when you look at what they took over, you have to admit, they left this place in a much better place, and he won't get a chance to see it through. That is a shame.