The Cleveland Browns haven’t found much success over the last 20 years, but through the team’s history, they’ve been one of the NFL’s most storied franchises. Cleveland has made some very shrewd trades over the years, and here are the five best.
5. Trent Richardson, 2013
If we were looking only at the end result of trades, this deal may end up on the top five worst deals in Browns history, as the team ended up with quarterback Johnny Manziel. However, when examining just the original deal, the Browns made out like bandits here.
The year before, Cleveland held the fourth overall pick. The Minnesota Vikings were selecting at #3 overall. Cleveland had their eyes on Alabama running back Trent Richardson, and not wanting another team to jump them, swapped spots with the Vikings, giving up 4.118, 5.139, and 7.211 in the process. It was a high price to pay, but Richardson had a solid rookie season, totaling 950 rushing yards, 51 catches for 367 yards, and 12 all-purpose touchdowns.
But two games into the 2013 campaign, the Browns shockingly traded Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a 2014 first-round pick. Richardson averaged 2.9 yards per carry in 14 outings for Indy, and had as many fumbles as rushing TDs (three). He wasn’t much better in 2014, and has not played in a regular season game since.
That pick ended up being 26th overall, which, while much lower than #3, is still a massive overpay for an RB, especially a bust. Cleveland took that pick and 3.83 and moved up to 22 to select Manziel. We’ll leave it at that.
Both the Browns and Colts learned not to sink premium capital into the RB position, and since then, both teams have found very good runners in the second round and beyond.
4. Brock Osweiler, 2017
Signing backup quarterbacks to massive contracts is a huge risk, one that the Houston Texans immediately regretted. As Peyton Manning’s backup with the Denver Broncos, Osweiler played fairly well in limited time, but his 6-7 240-pound frame inflated his value, as teams like Houston were enamored with his potential. The Texans signed him to a four-year deal worth $72 million, with half of that guaranteed.
The team realized its mistake immediately. Osweiler did go 8-6 as a starter in 2016, but he completed just 59% of his passes and threw 15 touchdowns to 16 interceptions. Just as 2017 free agency opened. Houston sent Osweiler, along with a 2018 second-rounder, to Cleveland for a 2017 fourth-round pick. Essentially, the Browns took on Osweiler’s contract (or at least the $16 million in dead cap that resulted from releasing him during the preseason) in exchange for a second-round draft pick. In other words, Cleveland bought a draft pick.
The move was the first of its kind in the NFL, although it happens quite frequently in the MLB and NBA. After being cut, Osweiler returned to Denver for a season before finishing his career with the Miami Dolphins in 2018. The second-rounder ended up at #35 overall, which the Browns used on Nick Chubb, who has proven to be arguably the best RB in the league. Former general manager Sashi Brown was ridiculed for his draft selections, but there’s no denying his creative and innovative approach to roster-building and asset acquisition.
3. Mike McCormack, 1954
When Paul Brown calls you “the finest offensive tackle who ever played pro football”, you have to be pretty good. McCormack played nine seasons for Cleveland, winning two NFL Championships and making five Pro Bowls and nine All-Pro teams. He was a third-round draft pick by the New York Yanks in 1951, but after his rookie season, McCormack was drafted into the U.S. Army, and served in the Korean War. While he was on tour, the Yanks became the Dallas Texans and then dissolved after one season, so when he returned in 1954, McCormack found himself without a pro team. He signed with the Baltimore Colts, and was then traded to Cleveland in a 15-player deal, one of the largest in NFL history.
He was inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1984, and was the Carolina Panthers’ team president from 1993-1997, following many years of coaching and front office work. He may not get the recognition he deserves nowadays, but McCormack was an exceptional player, and another example of Brown’s incredible eye for talent.
2. Frank Ryan, 1962
The second-best signal-caller in Browns history, Ryan began his career as a fifth-round pick by the Los Angeles Rams in 1958, starting 11 games over four seasons. Cleveland sent Larry Stephens along with third and sixth-rounders in 1963 to the Rams, and after a decent part-time season in 1962, Ryan went 48-17-1 as a starter over the next five years, making three consecutive Pro Bowls. While playing pro football, Ryan earned his Ph.D. in mathematics from Rice, and taught as an assistant professor. He led the Browns to the NFL Championship in 1964, which remains the Browns most recent title, and was the city of Cleveland’s most recent professional sports championship until 2016, when the NBA’s Cleveland Cavaliers won their first Finals series.
1. Ozzie Newsome, 1978
Part of what makes this trade so interesting is that it started out as the worst trade in franchise history. Paul Warfield was an excellent wide receiver for the Browns until 1969, when he was traded to the Miami Dolphins for the third overall pick in 1970. Cleveland used that selection on Purdue QB Mike Phipps, who flamed out. In 1977, Phipps was somehow traded to the Chicago Bears for a 1977 fourth-rounder and a 1978 first-rounder, giving the Browns two first-round picks in 1978. They spent their first selection (12th 0verall) on linebacker Clay Matthews Jr., who played for the team until 1994 and should be enshrined in Canton.
The team’s second pick was 20th overall, and Cleveland moved back three spots with the Rams in exchange for a fourth-round pick. With the 23rd pick, they selected Alabama tight end Ozzie Newsome, who played 13 seasons for the Browns. He caught 662 passes for 7,980 yards and 47 touchdowns, retiring with many TE receiving records. He spent 22 years as an executive with the arch-rival Baltimore Ravens, leaving a trade-up for QB Lamar Jackson as the final component of his executive legacy. It’s a bit of a conundrum for Browns fans, but Newsome’s Hall of Fame contributions as a player will never be forgotten.