Can they do it again?
As the Browns ready themselves to try and turn their fortunes around with the upcoming NFL draft, fans can take comfort that the Browns have done it before. Even though the NFL is different than it was in the 1980's, the Browns could use the blue print that was used by then GM Ernie Accorsi and the Browns to get them back into the playoffs.
It was 1984 and the Browns had just finished a 5-11 season and were questioning whether Paul McDonald could be the Browns long-term answer at quarterback after the Brian Sipe era.
They determined McDonald wasn't the answer.
Here's what the Browns did to start turning the team around and putting themselves into position to make their championship runs of the late 1980's. After making the moves between the 1984 and 1985 seasons, the Browns went to the post season five-straight years.
Prior to the 1985 season, the Browns were fortunate the USFL went out of business and they grabbed Kevin Mack and Mike Johnson with two first-round picks in the supplemental draft. They added Gerald "Ice Cube" McNeil in the second round. They also signed Dan Fike as a free agent from the USFL, as well.
In the '85 draft, the Browns only significant addition was found in the seventh-round in Reggie Langhorne, as most of their draft picks had been traded for supplemental draft picks. However, Langhorne had just one catch for 12 yards in his rookie year.
However, the biggest addition was that of quarterback Bernie Kosar, who was obtained in a trade with the Bills for a first-round pick in 1985 and 1986, a third in 1985 and a sixth in 1986.
Veteran Gary Danielson was obtained in a trade to groom Kosar as a rookie and midway through the season Kosar took over after Danielson was injured and Kosar helped the Browns win four of their final six games and ended the season 8-8. The Browns won the division and lost to the Dolphins in the first round of the playoffs.
However, the Browns had turned the corner in one season.
After the 8-8 season in 1985, the Browns jumped to 12-4 in 1986 and 10-5 in 1987. In both seasons, the Browns went to the AFC Championship before losing to the Broncos. After a 10-6 record in 1988, the Browns lost in the first round of the playoffs before returning to the AFC Championship game in 1989 with a 9-6-1 record, again losing to the Broncos for the third time in four years.
The biggest personnel changes between 1984 and the 1985 season was the change from McDonald at quarterback to Danielson/Kosar. At running back, the Browns changed from Mike Pruitt (in his final year) and Boyce Green to Mack and a 10th round draft choice in 1984 by the name of Earnest Byner.
Besides those two changes on offense, Fike became the fixture at right guard and Cody Risien at right tackle. Both Mack (1,104) and Byner (1,002) rushed for over 1,000 yards. Brian Brennan was the leading wide receiver in 1985 with just 32 receptions. However, the Browns did have Hall of Fame tight end Ozzie Newsome, who had 62 receptions.
After the 1985 season, Webster Slaughter was added to the mix as a second-round draft choice in 1986. Langhorne became the starter opposite of Slaughter for the '86 season.
The defense stayed pretty constant during those years with the only notable change from 1984 to 1985 was replacing Keith "Pure" Baldwin (couldn't resist using his nickname coming from being called the best "pure" pass rusher in the draft that year by the Browns personnel department) by Carl "Big Daddy" Hairston.
In looking at the similarities between the '84 Browns and the current Browns (4-12 last season), the Browns identified and obtained their franchise quarterback and running back (s). They also solidified the right side of their offensive line, especially at right tackle.
The key question is what will the Browns do in this upcoming draft? Since they have thus far decided to not address their major offensive deficiencies in free agency, they could solve the running back situation by taking Trent Richardson at the top of the draft with the fourth selection.
As far as finding their right tackle, the Browns could use one of their high draft choices to start there or re-sign Eric Steinbach or another free agent still available.
Whether the Browns stay with Colt McCoy or go with a rookie at quarterback in 2012, relying heavily on the running game as the Browns did in 1985 could go a long way in helping the Browns turn the corner.
The move to get Kosar in 1985 was a successful blockbuster deal. The Browns have tried to make a blockbuster deal this off-season, but were unsuccessful in their attempt to trade up to draft Robert Griffin III.
It is uncertain how this will all play out, but the decisions that will be made in the upcoming weeks will determine if this will be the year the Browns will start to turn the corner.