Remember the good old days?
Remember when the Browns went into the 1999 and 2000 drafts knowing they would get the players they judged best?
Remember that ‘99 draft? Remember how then-team president Carmen Policy repeatedly said the team could not afford to "miss" on the pick?
Remember how the team put quarterbacks Tim Couch, Dante Culpepper, Akili Smith and Cade McNown through a series of individual workouts, seemingly convinced they would see something in the controlled workouts that wasn't visible in the hours upon hours of game film that was available?
Remember how the Browns also seriously considered running back Ricky Williams?
Remember how, after the weeks and weeks of workouts and hype, we were all led to believe Couch would be the "franchise-maker?"
Remember how the team had a boatload of draft picks that first year and didn't draft a single offensive lineman? (Nor a married one for that matter, either.) Remember how the decision-makers somehow forgot that no quarterback or running back is worth a grain of salt if the offensive line does a splendid imitation of Swiss cheese?
Remember how we thought that Couch and second-round draft pick Kevin Johnson were going to be the best thing since Frank Ryan and Gary Collins and lead us into the playoffs within a year or two?
Remember how the team was so bad that first year that it earned the right to draft first once again in 2000? Remember how mild-mannered Courtney Brown was the pick over Penn State teammate LaVar Arrington, a linebacker, and Alabama offensive tackle Chris Samuels?
Remember how the team talked about making the playoffs in Year Two?
Remember how Policy placed the blame for the team's failure directly upon the shoulders of head coach Chris Palmer? And then said that Palmer was never the man he truly wanted?
Remember how Policy butt-kisser Dwight Clark somehow managed to escape the chopping block and retain his job as general manager despite being one of the worst talent-evaluators in the history of the NFL? And remember how Palmer, meanwhile, was shown the door while being forced to use the below-average players Clark provided?
Remember how Policy was able to land the man he truly wanted, Butch Davis, by offering the successful Miami Hurricanes head coach tons of money after Davis said he was not going to leave the ‘Canes?
Remember how Davis used his college recruiting experience when deciding what players to pick in his first draft in 2001? Remember how he fell in love with Florida's Gerard Warren and selected the defensive tackle despite some off the field issues? Remember how Davis picked Warren over Texas Christian's LaDanian Tomlinson?
Remember how Davis' 2001 team won three out of its first four games and four of its first six?
Remember how Davis got the Browns to the playoffs in 2002 and gave us a false sense of believing the team was going to be an annual playoff contender?
Remember how Davis seemed to think he was the greatest talent evaluator of modern time and that any player he took was a lock to make the team? Remember how Davis systematically got rid of virtually every player who was on the roster when he arrived?
Remember how the IX Center in Brook Park wasn't large enough to hold the egos of Davis and Policy? Remember how everyone saw everyone realized the Davis and Policy were not going to be able to co-exist?
Remember how Policy, who had recently signed a contract extension, abruptly left the organization when it was obvious salary cap problems were going to prevent the team from keeping key free or from bringing in key players from other organizations?
Remember how late in the 2004 season Davis quit on his team soon after signing a contract extension? Remember how Davis pocketed millions upon millions of owner Randy Lerner's money to jump from the sinking ship?
Remember how I called those the "good old days" at the beginning of this column?
The reality of the matter is, those were the "bad old days," days that hopefully none of us will ever experience again.
Thank goodness Lerner hired Phil Savage to run the draft, then saw through the power play attempted by team president John Collins when Savage and Collins butted heads late in the 2005 season.
And thank goodness Lerner hired Romeo Crennel as head coach rather than some pretty-boy college coach whose success was based more upon his ability to recruit than to coach.
The jury is certainly still out on Savage and Crennel. They have a lot more proving to do before we can truly grade them.
But based upon what they did in the free agent market, I have to believe the team is going to be much, much better in 2006 than it was in 2005. Veteran Ted Washington, Willie McGinest, Joe Jurevicius, LeCharles Bentley, Kevin Shaffer and Dave Zastudil are all guys who should step right in and be key components both on and off the field.
And by getting 1,000-yard rusher Reuben Droughns to agree to a three-year contract extension should provide stability at the running back spot for years to come.
Now, if come this weekend the Browns are able to land one or two players who can step in and play this season, plus bring in some middle and late-round draft picks who can provide some much-needed depth, this team could be on the verge of becoming a legitimate playoff contender for years to come.
And when that happens, it will finally be a return to the "good old days" for the Browns and their playoff-starved fans.