NFL What Ifs: What if the Bill Belichick-led Browns had stayed in Cleveland?

Browns - cropped
The impact of the Browns' exit from Cleveland was huge

On the six occasions Bill Belichick has lifted a Lombardi Trophy over the past two decades, Cleveland Browns fans are reminded of what might have been.

Twenty-five years ago, Belichick was the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, a team considered one of the Super Bowl favourites having gone 11-5 and won a playoff game in 1994.

Then, at 4-5 in early November, Browns owner Art Modell announced he was moving the team to Baltimore the following year. The wheels came off, the Browns finished 5-11 and Belichick was fired.

The Browns' players and staff went to Baltimore, where they had success with the Ravens, while Belichick rebounded in style with the New England Patriots.

Cleveland had another franchise four years later, the Browns inheriting the team's history and getting the new stadium Modell had sought, but the 'new' Browns have been something of a laughingstock.

So what if the 'original' Browns had remained in Cleveland and Belichick had stayed in charge? The NFL world would sure look an awful lot different.


Belichick's coaching record speaks for itself. Had he stayed in Cleveland, he would have been a success.

The Browns had a playoff roster already and their staff from that 1995 season included a raft of future head coaches and general managers - Belichick, Ozzie Newsome, Scott Pioli, Jim Schwartz, Eric Mangini, Mike Tannenbaum and Thomas Dimitroff. There was simply too much brainpower for that organisation not to have become a serial winner.

Then there were the first two draft picks that Newsome and the Ravens inherited from the Browns and spent on offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and linebacker Ray Lewis - two future Hall of Famers.

Forget New England, Cleveland would have been the NFL's powerhouse in the 2000s.


Baltimore won a Super Bowl in just their fifth year and had sustained success thanks to Newsome's brilliance and Lewis' tone-setting displays on defense.

Even if the city, once home to the Colts, had been awarded an expansion franchise in 1999, they would have struggled as almost all expansion franchises do.

Between them the Jacksonville Jaguars, Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans - the NFL's three most recent expansion franchises, have yet to win a Super Bowl. And the Browns were effectively a franchise expansion when they returned in 1999, too.

Take out Newsome and Lewis - the foundations on which Baltimore's success has been built - and any team would have toiled.


Belichick certainly owes a debt of gratitude to Tom Brady, the unheralded sixth-round draft pick in 2000 who turned into the NFL's greatest quarterback of all time with the Patriots.

Brady's determination means his talent was always likely to shine through and he would surely have got his shot.

However, without Belichick's brilliant defensive gameplan to thwart the 'Greatest Show on Turf' for Brady's first ring in his second season, where would 'Tom Terrific' be?

Belichick's defense played a huge role in at least half of Brady's Super Bowl wins. Maybe Brady had a successful career without Belichick. But the GOAT? Don't bank on it.


Since 1995, Boston's sports teams have combined to win 12 major titles in the NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL. In Cleveland, where there is admittedly no NHL team, the Cavaliers' 2016 NBA Finals triumph stands alone.

In the mid-90s the Cavs were playoff regulars, while the Indians went to two World Series only to narrowly lose in 1995 and 1997, perhaps burdened by the weight of expectation in a city starved of sporting success for so long.

Had the Belichick-led Browns lifted multiple Lombardis like the Patriots, that winning feeling might have rubbed off on the city's other franchises, as it seemed to do in Boston.

Edited by Omnisport
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