One of the NFL’s all-time great franchises, the Cleveland Browns haven’t experienced much success over the last 20 years, but the team has still rostered some of the league’s best players, in addition to some legends that aren’t remembered as Browns. Here are five players you may have forgotten played in Cleveland.
5. Jamal Lewis, 2007-2009
The fifth overall pick in 2000, Lewis owns many Baltimore Ravens rushing records, and is the greatest skill position player in team history. He spent seven years in Baltimore, coming back from a torn ACL in 2001 to rush for 2,066 yards in 2003, the same year he set the NFL record for rushing yards in a single game with 295 against the Browns. The Ravens released Lewis after the 2006 campaign, intending to re-sign him at a cheaper rate, but he decided to move on to the division rival Browns for $3.5 million, and eventually turned that into a three-year deal worth $17 million.
In his first season in Cleveland, Lewis ran for over 1,300 yards and nine touchdowns, as the Browns finished 10-6, their best record since the team returned in 1999, although they still narrowly missed the playoffs. He again passed 1,000 yards in 2008, and put up 500 yards over nine games in 2009, before landing on injured reserve. Prior to his injury, Lewis said that 2009 would be his final season, and retired afterwards. It’s still kind of weird to look back on Lewis’s time with the Browns, as he flat-out dominated them during his stint with the team’s arch-nemesis.
4. Willie McGinest, 2006-2008
McGinest was selected fourth overall out of USC in 1994, and played 12 excellent years for the New England Patriots. He made two Pro Bowls and won three Super Bowls, providing great leadership for the defense. He holds the NFL record for most career playoff sacks with 16, and most sacks in a single playoff game with 4.5. Playing for the Patriots may have helped out just a bit in setting those records.
Following the 2005 campaign, McGinest was released, and signed a three-year $12 million contract with the Browns, joining his former defensive coordinator, Romeo Crennel, who was in his second season as head coach in Cleveland. McGinest played through his contract, and even though he wasn’t as good as he was in New England (hard to be at age 35), he was still a very solid member of Crennel’s defense, and helped the Browns finish 10-6 in 2007. He announced that 2008 would be his final NFL season, and eventually retired as a Patriot.
3. Chris Spielman, 1999
An Ohio State legend, Spielman played for the Detroit Lions from 1988-1995, before spending two seasons with the Buffalo Bills. The four-time Pro Bowler retired after the 1997 campaign in order to better help his wife, Stefanie, who was battling breast cancer. She beat the disease four times, but sadly passed away in 2009. He came out of retirement in 1999 to join the new Browns for their inaugural season, but he suffered a neck injury during a preseason game, forcing him to retire for good.
2. Jim Marshall, 1960
Marshall is famous for running the wrong way after a fumble and scoring a safety against his own team, rather than a fumble, in a game against the San Francisco 49ers in 1964. However, Marshall had a long and successful NFL career that shouldn’t be overshadowed by one mistake. He played collegiate at Ohio State, and began his pro career in the CFL in 1959 before being traded to the Browns in 1960. Cleveland then dealt him to the Minnesota Vikings in 1961, where he played 19 years, starting every possible game, playing in two Pro Bowls, and won an NFL championship.
1. Len Dawson, 1960-1961
Dawson spent 14 years with the Kansas City Chiefs (formerly the Dallas Texans), making seven Pro Bowls, two All-Pro teams, and winning four championships. He threw for 28,507 yards and 239 touchdowns during his Hall of Fame career, which began in 1957, when he became a first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Dawson started only one game in three years before being traded to Cleveland. He was again unable to win the starting job, attempting 28 passes during his two seasons with the Browns. He was released prior to the 1962 season, and signed with the Texans, joining head coach Hank Stram, who coached him at Purdue. Dawson was an All-Pro in his first season as a starter, and spent the rest of his career with the Chiefs, retiring in 1976 as one of the league’s all-time greats.