A National Football League team just learned the hard way that its front office and coaching staff didn’t realize what they had until it was too late.
Between active rosters, practice squads, and free agents who can have their bags packed and show up at a team’s training facility on a few hours’ notice, there are more than 2,000 active pro football players for the 32 NFL general managers to choose from when shaping their teams.
The just-concluded season provided evidence that a perennially struggling franchise hasn’t been making the wisest personnel decisions. In fact, the Cleveland Browns – who haven’t produced a winning record since George W. Bush was president – gave up on five players since 2015 who just helped the Kansas City Chiefs to a championship season.
The Cleveland Browns faded quickly after going 7-9 in 2014
The Cleveland Browns hadn’t produced a winning record since 2007 when head coach Mike Pettine finally gave them brief hope for the future by steering the team to a 7-9 mark in 2014.
The optimism faded like 30-year-old Polaroid photos a year later when a 3-13 showing started a three-year, 4-44 slide that cost Pettine and then Hue Jackson their jobs. A 6-10 record in the 2019 season sent Freddie Kitchens packing after one season as the head coach.
Chiefs’ championship showed the Browns where they went wrong
The Kansas City Chiefs rolled through a 12-4 record in the regular season primarily on the strength of the high-powered offense operated by quarterback Patrick Mahomes. No quarterback is going to be successful while spending half the game flat on his back, and a quartet of former Cleveland Browns helped protect the Super Bowl MVP.
Offensive tackle Mitchell Schwartz arrived from Cleveland after the 2015 season, offensive tackles Cam Erving and Andrew Wylie came in 2017 and center Austin Reiter showed up in 2018. The fifth Cleveland castoff is defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah, picked up by the Chiefs before the 2019 season.
All five were contributors this season as the Chiefs won their first Super Bowl in half a century. Meanwhile, the Browns remain one of a the few teams to have never appeared in a Super Bowl.
Here’s why the Browns aren’t entirely at fault
While letting Austin Reiter go was a mistake on the part of the Cleveland Browns, it’s not as though they were the only team that fanned on him. Reiter was drafted in the seventh round in 2015 by the Washington Redskins and then signed to the practice squad in September.
Reiter was still on the practice squad when the Browns signed him to the active roster a year later. Less than two weeks later, he sustained a knee injury that finished him for the year and led to Reiter playing mostly special teams in 2017.
With the Browns not projecting him as a starter on a line that ended up having lots of trouble protecting its quarterback, the team made Reiter one of its final cuts the following summer. The Kansas City Chiefs signed Reiter the next day for $630,000, the league veteran minimum, and he began to crack the lineup midway through the season. He had a two-year contract in hand by the end of the year.
In consecutive seasons, Reiter, 28, has now played in a conference championship game and a league championship game. The 222nd overall draft pick in 2015 earned a ring in Super Bowl LIV.
“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” Reiter said.