One cornerstone has crumbled, the other is showing cracks and the anchor is stuck in the mud. That sums up the status of the initial three first-round draft picks of the new Cleveland Browns.
The Browns hailed quarterback Tim Couch as "the cornerstone of the Browns offense for years to come" when they drafted him with the first overall pick in the 1999 NFL draft. No one knew then that "years to come" would top out at four.
The Browns took defensive end Courtney Brown with the first overall pick in the 2000 NFL draft and introduced him to Cleveland as "the cornerstone of the Browns defense for years to come." Brown has played, when healthy, with the impact of a pebble stone instead of a powerful boulder ready to crush anything in its way. Don't say he can stop the run - he was drafted to rush and sack the passer.
In the 2001 NFL draft, the Browns selected defensive tackle Gerard Warren with the third overall pick and said he'd "anchor the defensive line…for years to come." Warren's anchor has become heavy. The weight of it has slowed him to the pace of a tired veteran, not a 26-year-old "ready to make an impact," as he told Bernie's Insiders in training camp.
When the Browns benched Couch this week they swallowed their pride and admitted to "missing" on a franchise player. Maybe it's time to make the admission again and again.
The move also, I hope, sends one very crystal clear message: "It's time to win". The Browns and their head coach, with one bold move, have created an environment that no longer stands by the old unwritten rule that players who are paid are the players who play.
Don't underestimate the ego check it took to make that move. Once you swallow your pride as a franchise it becomes easier to do it again. The taste is a bitter one only if the drink doesn't offer hope.
Kelly Holcomb offers hope. Saying goodbye to Courtney Brown and Gerard Warren will be much tougher.
How can it be tougher than kicking your franchise quarterback to the curb? It's tougher because the Browns don't have someone to make you forget Brown and Warren like Holcomb makes you forget Couch. It can't be Mark Word. The Browns need him on the other end of the line. Maybe it can be Alvin McKinley, but don't get seduced by the mirage that preseason football casts on the talents of a player. You'll often be disappointed.
What will happen when Courtney Brown returns to game action this week?
Will he get hurt again? Will he play with cautious steps? If he does, is that the style of play you want your pass rushing defensive end to display? Of course not.
Some observers have called Gerard Warren an enigma. He's not hard to figure out. He's overrated. It's plain and simple. Right now, Warren is slow. He doesn't attack. Sure, he gets double-teamed, but not all the time and when he's not double-teamed he does nothing to make you think he's anything more than a serviceable tackle, that's it.
In life, right and wrong moves are based on the foundation you've laid and set as a standard. The Browns feel they've replaced their offensive cornerstone without damaging the foundation. Time will tell if it was the right move. On defense, the Browns have already knocked out a wall by getting rid of their starting linebackers. The support for that wall remains though with the anchor and the cornerstone on the line.
Warren even said "we've got to be there for our young linebackers."
He's right and if he's not, the Browns have now proven that "Big Money" can always be replaced. Waste is no longer a barrier.