Cleveland Browns building for long haul

April, 29, 2011
4/29/11
12:12
AM ET
Phil TaylorJerry Lai/US PresswireCleveland acquired additional picks Thursday and also drafted Baylor DT Phil Taylor at No. 21.
BEREA, Ohio -- The Cleveland Browns had an opportunity to make an immediate splash Thursday with the No. 6 overall pick in the NFL draft. Instead, Cleveland general manager Tom Heckert and president Mike Holmgren opted for longevity instead of immediate gratification.

First, they traded their sixth pick to the Atlanta Falcons in exchange for five draft picks. Then, the Browns moved back up from No. 27 to No. 21 to select Baylor defensive tackle Phil Taylor in the first round. Cleveland also gave up its third-rounder (No. 70 overall) to the Kansas City Chiefs to make the move.

Although Taylor is not the huge splash the Browns' faithful had hoped for in this draft, credit Cleveland's regime for thinking about the big picture.

In all, the wheeling and dealing gave the Browns four additional picks over the next two years. That totals an astounding 18 picks in the next two drafts, giving Cleveland a chance to infuse youth and talent into a struggling franchise.

"We thought if something was really, really intriguing to us to add more players, we'd do it," Heckert explained of the deal. "We're not saying we're one player away. There were some good players there [at No. 6], but it turns out what we got in return we feel very good about."

Heckert admitted Thursday night what we already knew: Cleveland has a long road ahead to build its roster into a contender. But credit the Browns' front office for making that honest assessment.

The Browns are not close to supplanting the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North, and they're not going to make a run to the Super Bowl this season. But this trade helps put Cleveland in position to build a solid foundation.

Cleveland got off to a good start with the 2010 draft. The Browns drafted cornerback Joe Haden in the first round, safety T.J. Ward in the second and quarterback Colt McCoy in the third. All three players developed into starters.

Last year's draft was the first of the Holmgren-Heckert partnership. Both are proven winners with a lengthy track records and experience. They are eager to acquire additional picks and are confident their front office and scouting staff knows what to do with them.

"Tom Heckert is the real deal," Holmgren said recently. "The people that work with him, our personnel department, they do their jobs and they do them very well. If I put on my coach hat for a moment, that's a real encouragement to Pat [Shurmur] and the coaches."

In Taylor, the Browns feel they drafted a potential starter at No. 21. The team cut former Pro Bowl defensive tackle Shaun Rogers this offseason, and the 337-pound Taylor fills a huge need with Cleveland switching to a 4-3 defense. He recorded 87 tackles and 2.5 sacks in two years at Baylor.

The AFC North is arguably the most physical division in football, and the Browns hope defensive tackles Ahtyba Rubin and Taylor will prevent Cleveland from getting gashed up the middle of the defense. The Ravens (Ray Rice), Steelers (Rashard Mendenhall) and Cincinnati Bengals (Cedric Benson) all had 1,000-yard running backs last season.

"I'm a great run-stopping defensive tackle, and I get a good pass rush as well," Taylor said Thursday night. "I played in the 4-3 my whole college career."

"We're going to be very tough inside," Heckert added.

With the Atlanta trade, the Browns will have two second-round picks Friday and a chance to add more building blocks.

"We have an opportunity in this draft to get more good players," Browns head coach Pat Shurmur said. "We're one more player better, and that's the approach. If you don't sense the excitement in my voice, it's there. We really feel we got a good player."

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter

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