On the surface, to a non die hard football fan there couldn't be two more different teams than the Browns and the Raiders. However, over the past few seasons the Browns and Raiders hold some "erie" similarities. And who would have thought that despite their similarities, the Browns would be the ones to eventually see all of their moves pay dividends while the Raiders continue to struggle? After all, it's the BROWNS for crying out loud. They are supposed to be the lovable losers of the NFL while the Raiders are supposed to be the powerhouse intimidation machine that doesn't rebuild, it reloads. But in reality, in the four seasons between 03 and 06 the two teams are separated but just four games in the win column. And the Browns are the ones ahead.
The Browns fan base is the only group of fans of another team that may just be more devoted than Raider fans because they have had to endure much more pain over much longer a period. Although I never hear them whine about it. And therefore they are the only fans I truly respect. We have our "Black Hole" and they have their "Dog Pound". And the way they held onto their team name and legacy when the team itself left town was especially worth applauding. Especially as a Raider fan. So now that we have already established the similarities in tradition, wins and fan base, let's take it a bit further.
After the 2004 season, both franchises were in complete disarray. Not much seemed to be going right. Poor Coaching, terrible defense, inconsistent QB play, spotty Oline, uncertain WR corp and no running game. The Raiders had just come off of a 5 win season and the Browns won just 4 games. Each team had their unique way of trying to remedy their glaring problems. The Browns made the decision to do a complete overhaul. They fired Butch Davis as well as jettisoned an astounding 19 key players from 2004. The Raiders were just two seasons removed from the Superbowl and were looking to get back there immediately.
Head Coach: Unproven with Pedigree vs. Proven loser
Browns: Bring in Romeo Crennel from the World Champion New England Patriots.
Raiders: Stick with underachieving re-tread Norv Turner for another year.
Defense: Hold onto your lug nuts...
Browns: Traded nearly their entire Dline to Denver and released Courtney Brown who was also signed by Denver. (on a side note; talk about Denver rooting through the Browns trash) Coming over from Pats is Veteran LB Willie McGinest. Brought in CB Gary Baxter from the vaunted Baltimore defense as well as drafted two Dbs to try and revamp their secondary.
Raiders: Signed DE Derrick Burgess from the Eagles. Had an outstanding draft getting CB Fabian Washington, CB Stanford Routt, and LB Kirk Morrison in the first three rounds.
Quarterback: Shield your eyes
Browns: Dump all three starters from the 04 season in Jeff Garcia, Kelly Holcomb, and Luke McCown. Traded for Trent Dilfer. Drafted Charlie Frye in the 3rd round.
Raiders: Gannon retires meaning the last piece of the Superbowl trio of Rice, Brown and Gannon is gone. Kerry Collins retains the starting job. Draft Andrew Walter in the 3rd round (incidentally, as you may notice, the same round that the Browns pinned their future hopes in drafting Charlie Frye)
Oline: Oh no
Browns: Add Free Agent Guards Joe Andruzzi and Cosey Coleman as well as the big signing of C LeCharles Bentley from the Saints but neglect the Oline in the draft.
Raiders: Despite Gallery not being good enough to unseat Sims at LT and a host of other Olineman not worthy to be starters, the Raiders sign no FA Olineman and use only one draft pick on the Oline on OT Pete McMahon in the 6th round.
Wide Reciever: A Rolling stone gathers no...
Browns: Use #5 pick on Braylon Edwards. Get crybaby cancer Antonio Bryant from the Cowboys. Also find a gem in undrafted Free Agent Kick Return Specialist Josh Cribbs
Raiders: Trade the #7 pick and starting MLB for the ultimate crybaby cancer WR from the Vikings. With the unmentioned player along with Porter, Curry and Gabriel, the Raiders receivers look formidable so no draft picks were spent on WR.
Running Back: Running backwards
Browns: Trade aforementioned Dline to the Browns for Reuben Droughns. *Also had current Raider and Cal product Adimchinobe Echemandu on the roster at seasons end but he was soon cut.
Raiders: Big free agent signing of coveted former Jets backup Lamont Jordan to ring in the post Tyrone Wheatley era.
Results: Browns: 6-10, Raiders 4-12
Both team's defenses continue to struggle. The Browns D is clearly still in the early stages of rebuilding while the Raiders D looks like it might need to. Both QB's struggle mightily. Charlie Frye is given another chance for a rebuilding team while poor play costs Kerry Collins his job. Both Olines, despite all of the Browns acquisitions and the Raiders standing pat, seem to actually be worse than before. The Browns' biggest problem was new C LeCharles Bentley blew out his knee early in camp and was placed on IR. Both of the aquired, crybaby, cancer WRs underachieved. Neither RB acquired lived up to the hopes placed upon them. Although with no passing game and passive Olines it is hard to place the blame solely on the Running backs.
With all of the problems from the previous year the only position that seems to have improved is Wide Receiver. Norv Turner is fired after two disappointing seasons and Al Davis decides to give Art Shell another shot after an exhaustive search and multiple refusals by coaching candidates. Romeo Crennel returns as coach after a better than expected six win season for a rebuilding team. So we are left with many of the same problems from the previous year to deal with yet again. A new coach and a 2nd year coach as before, bad defense, unpredictable QB play, spotty Oline and no running game. Here is an erie little tidbit of similarity between the two teams this year as well: Both teams drafted on defense with their 1st pick, LB with the 2nd pick, offense with their 3rd pick, LB again with their 4th pick and Oline with their 5th pick. Cue the "Unsolved Mysteries" music.
Coach: If at first you don't succeed...
Browns: Romeo Crennel continues as the coach as expected regardless of how the Browns did his first year.
Raiders: Art Shell project: Take two. And he brings former OC Tom Walsh with him.
Defense: Keep 'em comin'
Browns: 3 of first 4 drafts picks in the draft were spent on Line Backers. Including Kamerion Wimbley in the first round out of Florida State and D'Quell Jackson out of Maryland.
Raiders: Draft Safety Michael Huff from Texas with their first pick and speedy LB Thomas Howard out of UTEP with their 2nd pick. Both are immediate starters.
Quarterback: Can we have a Mulligan?
Browns: Stick with Charlie Frye at least for the moment
Raiders: Bring in Saints cast-off Aaron Brooks
Browns: Same players, even worse outcome
Raiders: Draft Guards Paul McQuistan (3rd round, 6 starts) and Kevin Boothe (6th round, 14 starts). And shuffle the Oline trying out Gallery at the position they drafted him for: LT. Mostly the same players, even worse outcome. In fact perhaps the worst Oline play in the history of the Raiders (or any other team I have seen personally)
Browns: Stick with Reuben Droughns and continue to get mediocre play. Mostly the Oline's fault though.
Raiders: Stick with Lamont Jordan and get no production. Definitely the Oline's fault in this case.
Result: Browns 4-12, Raiders 2-14
Art Shell is fired after just one season and Romeo Crennel is on a serious hot seat to start winning. Both teams defenses are beginning to improve with a few veteran additions but mostly through good drafts. Aaron Brooks is sent packing so neither team has a projected starter at quarterback for the upcoming season. Scouts Inc. ranks the Raiders and Browns Olines last and dead last in the NFL.
Raiders have a new coach in former USC assistant Lane Kiffin after yet another exhaustive search and many think that the Browns should have fired Romeo Crennel after regressing from the 6 win season he had his first year with the team. But 2 wins get's you fired, 4 wins gives you another shot with a rebuilding team. Both teams go into the season with an extremely uncertain QB situation. The Raiders have the #1 pick in QB JaMarcus Russell but he signed late and won't be ready for the season. Crennel at one point when deciding between incumbant Charlie Frye and upstart Derek Anderson is quoted as saying "I don't know who my starter will be. I will probably just flip a coin". The Raiders go into the season with 4 possible starters (if you include Russell) and no one has a clue who will start the season. So both teams are complete wildcards at coach, QB, Oline and Running Back. And this is where things start to split between the two teams.
Coach: Under Pressure
Browns: Romeo Crennel is on the hot seat and analysts and fans alike are calling for his head for his "flip a coin" comment in regards to the QB situation.
Raiders: Hire an unproven, young, college assistant who has never been a head coach on any level in Lane Kiffin. I would say that is a pressure cooker.
Browns: In desperate need of a QB of the future they draft a QB in the first round in the form of Brady Quinn. Charlie Frye is given the start for the first game and then is immediately shipped off to the Seahawks and Derek Anderson is given the starting job.
Raiders: In desperate need of a QB of the future they draft a QB in the first round in the form of JaMarcus Russell. Newly aquired Josh McCown is given the start over even more newly acquired Daunte Culpepper much to the dismay of many Raider fans. Culpepper is the starter by the fourth game of the season. Russell finally signs and is so far behind it looks like he may not start this year.
Oline: Oh? A line
Browns: Make two HUGE moves (no pun intended) in bringing in OL Eric Steinbach and drafting OT Joe Thomas from Wisconsin.
Raiders: Bring in the former Falcons OC and Oline coach to install the zone blocking scheme. Sign two key FA in OT Cornell Green and G Cooper Carlisle. Move Robert Gallery inside to Left Guard after a failed try at playing LT. Also draft project LT Mario Henderson out of Florida State in the 4th round.
Running Back: Deja Vu
Browns: Replace Reuben Droughns with Jamal Lewis hoping he still has some left in the tank.
Raiders: Sign Dominic Rhodes away from the Super bowl winning Colts. Also coming over from Atlanta is FB Justin Griffith. Draft Michael Bush out of Louisville in the 4th round which many say could be the steal of the draft if he recovers completely from the leg injury he sustained his senior year. Draft little known FB Oren O'Neal out of Arkansas State in the 6th round.
Result: Browns 10-6, Raiders 4-12
Although going into the season in a nearly identical situation, fortunes changed drastically very quickly for both teams. Crennel's head scratching move of starting Charlie Frye only to trade him after one game actually paid off. Derek Anderson was the surprise of the NFL starting every game after that and had one of the best passer ratings in the NFL while leading the Browns to 10 wins. It didn't seem to matter who the Raiders started at QB. Josh McCown was unspectacular as usual and, aside from a memorable 5TD game against the woeful Dolphins, Daunte Culpepper showed us why he failed a physical and was cut by those same Dolphins. Kiffin spent the week before each game trying to gain some kind of advantage in the fact that he wouldn't name a starter. In the hopes that the team couldn't prepare for either player. When the season was clearly lost Russell was finally given a chance to play and looked like a raw rookie as expected. Crennel was given an extension and there are rumors of feuding between Al Davis and Lane Kiffin.
Both teams drafted who they thought was their future QB in the first round of the draft. Both QB's waited well into training camp before signing what they thought they were worth and missed nearly the entire season because of it. Both teams were rid of their crybaby cancer WR. The revamped Oline for the Browns was superb and the new zone blocking for the Raiders gave them one of the best rush offenses in the league. Both teams ended the season with a poor rush defense and needing help at WR.
Which brings us to the present and the reasoning that gave me the idea behind writing this article. As I mentioned, both teams, despite their different records and current fortunes, yet again, go into the offseason with the same wish list. Both team's two top priorities are at DT and WR. The Browns went out aggressively and traded for two top tier DT in Shawn Rogers and Corey Williams. Those two just happen to be the two players of whom the Raiders (or at very least the Raider fans) wanted to bring on board. And while the Raiders could probably only hope for one of them, the Browns got BOTH. Then they went out and got arguably the 3rd best Free Agent WR on the market in Donte Stallworth from the Patriots. Who was 2nd on the Raiders WR list for many people. Possibly the largest shift in fortune for each of these teams is while the Browns are suddenly a destination for FA and coaches, the Raiders are on the opposite end of the spectrum. Which causes the team to have to bring back their own unproven players with record contracts (Who?) as well as severely overpay to bring in free agents. The Raiders missed out on WR Bernard Berrian and then throw 9 mil a year at recently cut, loudmouth, WR Javon Walker who has yet to really prove he can be the player he was when he had Brett Favre throwing to him. And didn't we just get rid of a loudmouth receiver?
What it comes down to is this: With the Browns having nearly identical records for the previous four seasons, needing the exact same things each year, and making the exact same moves; They are 10-6 and going into next season with two solid DT and the best WR corp in the NFL while the Raiders have proven duds like Turd Sands and Gerard Warren along with unproven players like DT Tommy Kelly (Who?), and WR Javon Walker (outside of the comforts of Brett Favre).
Which means one of two things: Either the Raiders are due to have a breakout season like the Browns did in 07 or we are doomed to continue the cycle that the Browns were stuck in for so very long. As the wise old woman in The Joy Luck Club said: "Never expect. Only hope".