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Browns were once on wrong end of best player traded in NFL history

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NFL.com’s ranking of top 20 traded players tops out with a deal familiar to longtime Browns fans.

NFL: Pro Football Hall of Fame-Enshrinement Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns signaled their intent to the rest of the NFL when they completed a deal to acquire wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. in early March.

Beckham has yet to play a down for the Browns, but if things work out over the next few years the trade could down as one of the best in league history.

The topic of the best traded players in league history was the focus of a column last week by Elliot Harrison at NFL.com, and the No. 1 player on that list should come as no surprised to longtime Browns fans:

Paul Warfield, receiver - Traded from: Browns to Dolphins, 1970: Warfield was coming off consecutive Pro Bowl seasons when he was dealt to the Dolphins, as scary as any receiver in pro football. New Miami head coach Don Shula needed to add a vertical element to what would become the most feared rushing attack in NFL history, and Warfield fit the bill, averaging 25.1 yards per catch to balance an offense, and team, on the rise. The next season, Warfield averaged over 20 yards per catch, led the NFL in receiving TDs with 11 and was named first-team All-Pro. He was a machine in the playoffs, roasting the Chiefs’ and Colts’ secondaries. The Dolphins would lose in the Super Bowl that year, but Miami didn’t lose a single game in ‘72, thanks partially to the near perfect hands (and feet) of Warfield. He made the Pro Bowl again and averaged over 20 yards per catch for the seventh consecutive season. His premier play never wavered, and he entered the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.

The idea to trade Warfield was the brainchild of owner Art Modell, who never seemed to miss an opportunity to mess things up.

The Browns were in need of a quarterback to replace Bill Nelsen, who made the Pro Bowl in 1969 but was starting to break down due to injuries. Cleveland needed to find a way to get into one of the top three slots in the 1970 NFL Draft so they could take one of best available quarterbacks - Louisiana Tech’s Terry Bradshaw, San Diego State’s Dennis Shaw or Purdue’s Mike Phipps.

Following a line of thinking that only he could have found reasonable, Modell determined the best course of action was to trade the team’s best offensive playmaker in Warfield to one of the teams at the top of the draft.

Modell found a willing partner in the Dolphins, sent Warfield off to win multiple Super Bowls with Miami, and used the third overall selection in the draft on Phipps, who would last seven mostly-forgettable years with the Browns.

There was a silver lining in all this, as the Browns would trade Phipps to the Chicago Bears in 1977 in a deal that included Chicago’s first-round selection in the 1978 draft. Cleveland would use that pick to select tight end Ozzie Newsome, who would ultimately join Warfield in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

As for the Beckham deal, for once it looks like the Browns are going to be on the right side of league history when it comes to discussing the best players ever traded.