Fine line separates winners from losers

One bad personnel decision can doom a franchise to years of mediocrity, or help it reach new heights.

How is it that good franchises stay on top and bad ones muddle along?

You need only to look at draft day 2004 for a prime example.

At the time, the Pittsburgh Steelers were coming off a 6-10 season, their worst record in the decade and just a game ahead of the Cleveland Browns.

The Browns had finally seen enough of former No. 1-draft pick Tim Couch, releasing him and replacing him with free agent Jeff Garcia, whom they signed to a four-year, $25-million deal.

The Steelers, meanwhile, still had Tommy Maddox at quarterback and had just given him a new contract the year before. But even though Maddox was their quarterback of the present, the Steelers were looking for a quarterback of the future.

The 2004 draft had three can't-miss quarterback prospects available – Eli Manning of Mississippi, Philip Rivers of North Carolina State and Ben Roethlisberger of Miami (Ohio). Virginia's Matt Schaub was also considered a good prospect, though not as strong as the top three, while Tulane's J.P. Losman had good workout numbers.

But Cleveland head coach Butch Davis felt the Browns had filled their quarterback need with Garcia, a former Pro Bowl player with San Francisco and the former Miami (Fla.) coach fell in love with tight end Kellen Winslow, feeling the Hurricanes' star would be a true game-changer.

In fact, Davis wanted Winslow so badly he believed the rumors that Detroit wanted to draft Winslow, sending Cleveland's second-round pick on draft day to the Lions to swap spots in the first round. Cleveland took Winslow with the sixth-overall pick, while Detroit took wide receiver Roy Williams with the seventh selection.

The Steelers, picking 11th, selected Roethlisberger, an Ohio native.

Three head coaches later, the Browns finally had their fill of Winslow last week, trading him to Tampa Bay for second and fifth-round draft picks.

Cleveland also still hasn't settled on a starting quarterback, having gone through Garcia – who didn't even make it all the way through the 2004 season as Cleveland's starter – Kelly Holcomb, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn.

Two Super Bowls later, the Steelers remain a model NFL franchise with Roethlisberger – who has never lost to the Browns – leading the way.

And it all started during the 2004 offseason with one bad personnel decision.

Dale Lolley appears courtesy of the Observer-Reporter.

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