I just read an article from Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun in which he detailed the 2006 draft and how two organizations that will forever be tied to each other function oh so differently. Obviously, the original Cleveland Browns were moved to Baltimore to form what we now know as the Ravens. The Cleveland Browns that exist today were created by the NFL as an expansion team in 1999 and the two franchises could not be more polar opposites.
The Ravens have enjoyed incredible success and are nearly a perennial playoff (if not SuperBowl) contender, while the Browns are a perennial bottom feeder in the NFL and AFC North. The story of the 2006 draft points out a bit of inside perspective as to why these organizations are what they are.
As Hensley details, in the 2006 NFL Draft which was headed up in Cleveland by Phil Savage (ironically a successful member of the Ravens' front office prior to his stint in Cleveland), the Browns held the 12th overall pick.
They were speaking with defensive monster, Haloti Ngata. According to the article, the Browns were on the phone with him advising him that unless a trade happened they would be selecting him at #12. Consistent with the Browns since their return, they just all of a sudden hung up. No explanation, nothing. They just hung up on the young man.
The Ravens immediately called and informed him that they traded a 6th round pick to move up to the Browns spot and they would be selecting the defensive tackle. The Browns selected Kamerion Wimbley from Florida State instead. Wimbley is just one of the multitude of 1st round picks that are no longer on the Browns roster including Braylon Edwards, Kellen Winslow, Brady Quinn to name a few of the more recent disasters.
Ngata, on the other hand, has turned into a key component of the Ravens defense and has emerged as one of the best defensive players in the entire NFL. Who can say what directly Ngata's career would have taken if he were selected by the Browns and what direction the Browns team may have taken.
Obviously, hindsight is always 20/20, but there have just been far too many occurrences like this to give the Browns the benefit of the doubt. Everyone misses once in a while, but the successful teams like Baltimore and Pittsburgh hit far more often than they miss. The Browns had a Ravens-esque type draft last season hitting (or at least appearing to hit) on multiple starters and impact players in Colt McCoy, Joe Haden, T.J. Ward, Shawn Lauvao when healthy and potentially Monterio Hardesty. If the Browns are able to duplicate this type of "hit rate" for another draft or two, they will be legitimate contenders in the AFC North.
Ngata is an incredible player, but I don't think he's that great of a player that he would've significantly altered the course of the Browns franchise. There have been far too many mistakes similar to this draft day blunder that one player simply cannot erase. No matter how great he may be.