Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Trading Away the 1960s

Sportsfilter has a link to an article from Pro Football that attempts to answer the age old question, "who was the worst QB of all time?" Surprisingly, the answer isn't Ryan Leaf. Based on a statistic called "adjusted yards per attempt," the formula for which involves far too much math for my taste, it's actually Rick Mirer.

Browns fans will be interested to learn that Mike Phipps comes in a close second to Mirer. You'll recall that the Browns traded away Paul Warfield to get the rights to draft Phipps back in 1970. That means that Modell traded away a Hall of Fame player for the second worst QB who ever lived. This clearly puts the Warfield trade in the running for the worst trade of all time, except for one problem--objectively speaking, it probably wasn't even the worst trade the Browns made during the Modell reign of terror.

In 1961, the Browns traded another Hall of Famer, Bobby Mitchell, for the rights to draft Ernie Davis, the Heisman Trophy winner from Syracuse. Davis's potential was legendary, but his life was tragically cut short by leukemia before he ever played a down for the Browns. So, while the Browns got a bucket of warm spit for Warfield, they ended up with nothing for Mitchell.

The Browns have been given a free pass on the deal because of Davis's tragic death, but maybe they shouldn't get one, because there's a good argument that the trade never should have been made in the first place. Bobby Mitchell was a burner who could both run and catch passes, and was a great complement to Jim Brown. In contrast, Davis projected to be another power back in the style of Brown. Paul Brown engineered the deal, but Jim Brown wasn't crazy about it, even though he thought Davis was a tremendous football player. You can read Jim Brown and Art Modell's thoughts on the trade here.

My own view is that the Mitchell deal probably cost the Browns at least one NFL championship, and maybe more. In 1963, the Browns went 10-4 and finished second in the Eastern Conference to the Giants, who went 11-3 that year. Jim Brown rushed for an NFL record 1863 yards in 1963, and Gary Collins led the league in touchdown receptions. But Bobby Mitchell led the league in receiving yardage and was second in receptions--and the Skins used him exclusively as a receiver. (An overview of the 1963 season can be found here. The Browns results are here, and the season's individual stat leaders can be found here).

The bottom line is that the 1960s didn't have to be about Lombardi and the Packers. The trade of Mitchell for Davis, and Modell's mishandling of Jim Brown's request to be allowed to arrive late at the team's 1966 training camp, made sure that they were.

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