As the 2022 NFL season approaches, the Cleveland Browns continue to make personnel decisions to prepare.
The franchise has made a number of moves to help the team improve on a disappointing 8-9 season in 2021.
Free agency and the draft have been kind, with Deshaun Watson, Amari Cooper and Jadeveon Clowney agreeing to terms.
Jadeveon Clowney reaches agreement to re-sign with the Browns for 2022https://t.co/9IsSksYXVG
— The News Herald (@newsheraldinoh) May 22, 2022
The signings have instilled hope in Browns fans that the team could reach a Super Bowl for the first time in history.
Of course, this hope is an annual affair and the organization has continued to disappoint.
For long-suffering fans, it’s natural to wish that if the Browns still had so-and-so from years past, they’d have a chance.
It is a fun exercise, although nothing is certain.
But, just for fun, this writer put together a very short list of former Cleveland players I’d like to see on the 2022 team.
Using any player from the Browns’ history would be too easy, though it would be a Herculean effort to narrow down a roster to three.
To make it a bit more challenging, I only selected players from the 1999 season to the present.
The Browns’ second iteration hasn’t been very successful, but it was still a difficult process to narrow down a roster of just three players (plus a bonus).
Without further ado, here are some former Cleveland players the Browns could use today.
1) Joe Thomas, offensive tackle, player for the Browns: 2007-2017
Cleveland already has one of the best offensive lines in pro football, even with the loss of JC Tretter.
However, last season gave us a glimpse of what can happen when there is inconsistency on the line.
Second-year left tackle Jedrick Wills missed a few games with an ankle injury and the Browns suffered for it.
Even though the backups gave it their all, offensive line issues (along with injuries and Baker Mayfield’s instability) were part of the reason Cleveland’s offense went from 14th in the NFL in 2020 to 20 in 2021.
Having a dependable offensive line is key for a franchise hoping to advance to the biggest game in the NFL.
Imagine if Thomas was still around to anchor the line and protect the blindside?
Fast #browns history question:
Who made the best Steelers pancakes?
Answer: Joe Thomas pic.twitter.com/WrBFxJ8R68
— Vintage Browns (@VintageBrowns) October 24, 2021
Nothing against Wills, who by all accounts should become an All-Pro.
But Thomas never missed a game until his final season.
Wills is back for 2022 and one can only hope he can stay healthy and start a streak of consecutive games to rival Thomas.
Cleveland’s quarterbacks depend on it.
2) Phil Dawson, kicker, player for the Browns: 1999-2012
The kicking position has been a major bone of contention for the Browns and their fans for the past few years.
Austin Seibert, Cody Parkey and Chase McLaughlin weren’t the answer, as Dawg Pound crossed his fingers and toes every time the trio lined up for a punt or extra point.
Cleveland hopes to change this aspect of its roster by relying on rookie kicker Cade York from LSU.
The franchise surprised its fans by selecting York in the fourth round of the 2022 draft.
While York may well be the answer to the Browns’ kicking woes, one can’t help but wish someone like Phil Dawson was still around.
—Michael Killi (@MikeKilli) September 14, 2020
Dawson was the model of consistency for Cleveland for 14 years, setting a franchise record for most consecutive field goals made with 29.
He also holds the team record for most field goals made in a game with six.
No, Dawson wasn’t perfect.
However, he had an 84.2 percent career conversion rate on field goals when he left the Browns, the highest in NFL history at the time among kickers with at least 300 field goals.
In his last two years in Cleveland, Dawson made 13 field goals from at least 50 yards.
Dawson was a two-time second-team All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl once in 2012.
When he left the organization for San Francisco after the 2012 season, Dawson was the last remaining member of the 1999 Browns.
3) Gerard Warren, defensive tackle, player for the Browns: 2001-2004
For the past several years, Cleveland has had a rotating gate of interior defensive linemen coming and going.
Sheldon Richardson was a valuable addition to the team, even though he only stayed two seasons.
Larry Ogunjobi was also solid, racking up 14.5 sacks in four years.
During this offseason, the Browns added Jacksonville’s Taven Bryan and Perrion Winfrey to the draft.
The team has some decent rotation pieces, but the interior spaces continue to be a work in progress.
Using the drop machine, former defensive tackle Gerard Warren would be a good addition to hit.
— Vintage Browns (@VintageBrowns) March 19, 2022
Warren was a first-round pick by the Browns in 2001.
In his rookie year, Warren started in 15 games and had a total of 61 tackles and five sacks.
For the next two years, he started nearly every game and recorded 53 unassisted tackles and 7.5 total sacks during that time.
In 2004, Warren started 13 games, made 18 total tackles, and collected four sacks.
After the 2004 season, he was traded to the Denver Broncos, where he spent two years before moving to Oakland and New England.
In four short years as Brown, Warren had 16.5 sacks from inside.
From a pure consistency standpoint, it would be great if Cleveland had Warren’s tackling and sacking output to keep defenses honest.
Honorable Mention: Josh Cribbs, WR, PR, KR, Browns player: 2005-2012
Whether it’s missed kickoffs, missed punts or an annual search for reliable comebacks, the Browns have had some bad luck on special teams.
Sports Illustrated’s Rick Gosselin has ranked special teams units in the NFL for years and placed Cleveland’s 2021 unit 30th in the league.
His reason mostly relates to the kicking game, which is another reason I added Dawson to this list.
To provide a spark to the unit, I’ll add former Browns jacks-of-all-trades Josh Cribbs.
Cribbs was an electrifying talent from Kent State, where he was the quarterback for the Golden Flashes.
In Cleveland, he lent his talents to the return game and consistently put up big numbers.
During his first five years in the league, Cribbs had at least one punt or kickoff return for a touchdown.
— Vintage Browns (@VintageBrowns) March 2, 2022
In 2007, he led the NFL in kick return yards, return yards, and all-purpose yards.
Cribbs put himself back on the map in 2009 when he posted four total kick return and punt return scores, including the top three kick return scores in the NFL.
If the 2022 Browns need help finding a wide receiver to relieve Cooper, Cribbs could, too.
Between 2009 and 2011, Cribbs caught at least 20 passes or more, including 41 in 2011.
That year he also added four receiving touchdowns.
Last but not least, Cribbs could run the ball.
Between 2008 and 2010, he wore the rock at least 20 times, including 55 times in 2009.
During Cribbs’ eight years in Cleveland, he was a first- and second-team All-Pro once each and went to the Pro Bowl three times.
Additionally, he was voted the 2009 NFL Alumni Special Teams Player of the Year and named to the NFL Team of the 2000s.
Cribbs’ constant presence on special teams and as a rotating piece in the offense would make the 2022 Browns even more lethal.