That night concluded the search for a true franchise quarterback that began on November 8, 1993 - the day that the Browns released Bernie Kosar.
The fact that the Browns went almost 25 years without a true franchise-level quarterback helps explain, at least in part, why NFL.com’s Ali Bhanpuri selected Kosar as the franchise quarterback for the Browns.
Bhanpuri has been going through the league, division by division, in an attempt to determine the franchise quarterback for each of the league’s 32 teams. To do that, Bhanpuri established criteria for evaluating the quarterbacks and limited the field to quarterbacks who have played since the common draft begin in 1967. In addition to making a minimum of 48 starts, quarterbacks needed to meet two of the next three requirements:
- Winning regular-season record.
- Minimum passer rating of 75.0.
- At least one Pro Bowl selection.
Not including players or stats prior to 1967 eliminated Frank Ryan, who played for the Browns from 1962 to 1968 and was the quarterback of the last title team in 1964; and Otto Graham, who played in 10 title games in his 10-year career, winning seven of them, and who is the obvious choice as the franchise’s greatest quarterback.
Bhanpuri’s criteria narrowed the field down to:
- Bill Nelsen, who made 51 starts from 1968 through 1972, posted a record of 34-16-1, had a 72.1 passer rating and earned one Pro Bowl selection
- Brian Sipe, who made 112 starts from 1974 through 1983, posted a record of 57-55, had a passer rating of 74.8 and earned one Pro Bowl selection
- Kosar, who made 105 starts from 1985 to 1993, posted a record of 53-51-1, had an 81.6 passer rating and earned one Pro Bowl selection
Kosar’s record may not look impressive, but Bhanpuri hits the mark with his explanation of the choice:
Kosar doesn’t hold the Browns’ all-time records in passing yards, touchdowns or games started by a quarterback. Brian Sipe is the leader in those categories among the qualifiers for this exercise. But when I asked NFL.com Editor (and Unsung Hero) Tom Blair, a renowned Browns fan, which QB best defines his favorite sports franchise, he didn’t hesitate in throwing his support behind Kosar. A first-round pick pick in the 1985 Supplemental Draft, Kosar guided Cleveland to three of the franchise’s five total playoff wins since 1969. Playoff wins mean extra to a franchise that hasn’t experienced postseason football since 2002. This success-starved fan base already has visions of their current QB becoming the franchise’s best of all time, especially after he ended the team’s 19-game winless streak. If Baker Mayfield snaps the Browns’ 16-year playoff drought, too, his rise to the top spot won’t be a matter of if, but when.
His stats, nor his game, may not have always been pretty, but you had to have been there to appreciate what Kosar could do on the field. From the start of the 1986 season until his elbow injury in the 1988 season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs, Kosar was one of the league’s top quarterbacks. Watching the Browns during those years, you never believed the team was out of it when Kosar was at quarterback.
The Browns were never able to win a title with Kosar, but he did help lead the team to a trip of AFC Championship games, as well as the greatest comeback in franchise history in the double-overtime win against the New York Jets in the 1986 playoffs.
In addition to selecting the team’s best quarterback, Bhanpuri took a shot at selecting the biggest quarterback miss. And just like a hapless Browns general manager, Bhanpuri missed with his selection of Brandon Weeden:
For the record, I take no enjoyment in this blurb. But facts are facts, and one of the most damning for Cleveland is that the team has drafted four quarterbacks in the first round (not including Baker) since the franchise returned in 1999, who combined for 32 wins and 67 losses. Tom Brady has lost just 60 regular-season games in his entire career. I went Weeden over Tim Couch, Brady Quinn or Johnny Manziel because the Browns picked Weeden (whom they waived 22 months later) two rounds ahead of two future Super Bowl winners (Russell Wilson and Nick Foles).
Weeden is by no means a good quarterback, but he has managed to carve out a six-year career in the league, mostly as a backup after starting 15 games his rookie season in Cleveland.
The only acceptable answer to the worst quarterback selection in franchise history is Manziel, who was a complete disaster on and off the field, and without question the worst first-round selection in franchise history at any position.