King: Why did Edwards Fail in Cleveland?

A talented player, picked high in the draft. Why did he fail to become a star as a Cleveland Brown? Steve King looks at what happened to Braylon Edwards...

OK, so wide receiver Braylon Edwards is gone, having been traded to the New York Jets on Wednesday for two average players and a pair of draft picks.

He had long ago warmed out his welcome in Cleveland, so is it simply a case now of out of sight, out of mind? Maybe – at least until we see what he does against the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football.

But regardless of what happens then or at any time beyond that, the Browns are left with the residue of "what if" and the fact they could never get Edwards to reach his potential, that they could never get him to build upon the historic season he had two years ago.

That's something that could end up haunting this franchise for a long time. In fact, that process may well have already started.

In 2007, Edwards had the best year ever for a Browns pass catcher – and that's saying a lot for a team that has two wide receivers in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Dante Lavelli and Paul Warfield, a tight end who is there as well in Ozzie Newsome, and a wideout who should be there in Gary Collins.

He had 80 receptions, the sixth-highest total in club history, and set Browns records for receiving yards with 1,289 and touchdown catches with 16 (breaking the mark of 13 set by Collins in 1963).

Finally, he looked for all the world like the player the Browns thought they were getting in 2005 when first-year general manager Phil Savage tabbed him at No. 3 overall. He was unstoppable, averaging 16.1 yards per catch, and as such, with his size of 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds and his speed, he was a defensive coordinator's worst nightmare.

But instead of repeating that effort, which, quite fairly, would have been extremely difficult, or at least coming close, he went backward in 2008 and through the first four games of this year. That is, he went back to being the old Braylon.

He unofficially had 16 dropped passes in 2008. Worse yet, every one of them seemed to come at a crucial, drive-killing time.

It was hard to watch – unless you're into train wrecks.

Edwards was headed toward more of the same this season, catching just 10 passes for 139 yards and no TDs through four games. In last Sunday's 23-20 overtime loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, he failed to catch a pass in a game for the first time in his NFL career.

But, it should be pointed out, he did drop a pass that hit him squarely between the 1 and the 7 on the front of his seal brown jersey. It came bouncing off his chest so quickly and so far it almost appeared as if the ball had been thrown against a concrete wall.

Now, that's a drop.

This is where our story takes a turn, though. Despite all of his problems last year, despite the fact he was facing a steady stream of double-coverage and despite the fact the Browns, because of injuries, were going through quarterbacks like water, which obviously disrupts the timing with any receiver, Edwards still managed to catch 55 passes for 873 yards and three TDs. He led the team in receptions and yards by wide margins. Tight end Kellen Winslow, who was runner-up in both categories and tied him with three scoring catches, had 43 receptions for 428 yards.

In terms of wide receivers, the second-most productive player was – get this – Syndric Steptoe with a paltry 19 grabs for 182 yards and no scores.

In Edwards' first two years of 2005 and '06, when he was just learning the pro game, he did pretty well. Despite missing six games, including the last four, with injuries as a rookie, he still had 32 catches for 512 yards and three TDs. Then in 2006, he led the Browns in receiving yards with 884 and TD grabs with six and was second in receptions with 61.

He finishes his Cleveland career with 238 catches. Even if he had had a poor season -- for him -- in 2009, he still would have climbed into the Browns' top 10 career receptions list.

If only the Browns had been able to get to Edwards so that he could hone his talent to the fullest.

Yes, he was – and no doubt still is – a tough nut to crack. There are all kinds of rumors about the demons that supposedly pestered him off the field and caused him to come to Browns Headquarters – and games – many times in a somewhat less-than-acceptable state of mind, shall we say.

But this is where coaching, or team administration, comes in – or should have come in. With the kind of talent that Edwards had, the Browns, if they were really determined to keep him as long as possible, which it seemed they were, it would have behooved them to assign a coach to him 24/7 to see if they could have found the right buttons to push to make the light go on and stay on with him. After all, the Browns last year had 20 assistant coaches and this season have 15, so it's not as if they couldn't have freed up someone for the task.

And if they didn't want to make that kind of commitment, extraordinary though it may have been, then they should have traded him long ago when his value was much higher.

By not doing either one, they failed Edwards and, more importantly, the team.

First-year Browns head coach Eric Mangini might not have to worry about this type of problem again. He seems committed to acquire only players who are … well, committed to the game.

But that doesn't help what happened with Edwards. It was a tremendous missed opportunity for the Browns, and as such is a picture postcard of why this team has struggled throughout the now 11-season expansion era.

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