If the Browns gave up way too much for QB Mike Phipps, but that was on Art Modell, not Phipps.
Recently Mike Phipps managed to be the Cleveland Browns representative in an article entitled “Worst Quarterback of All Time for Every NFL Team” by Pat Pickens, which is outrageous.
First of all, the entire concept is rather dubious, because it is shrouded in negativity. Is not the true worst quarterback some kid that was cut after one day in training camp, that you never heard of? What’s the point of beating up someone who pursued their dream and just didn’t make it?
As for Phipps, he was supposed to have been “Modell’s Namath,” a rocket-armed quarterback who would propel the Browns into the Super Bowl. That didn’t happen, and in some ways, he might have been the most disappointing quarterback.
But he was far from the worst.
The numbers show that for his Cleveland career, he was 24-25-2 as a starter, just one game under .500 as a starter. That isn’t great, but is that the worst we have ever seen? It seems to me that we have seen worse.
Towards the end of his stay in Cleveland, the team got old, partly because Modell traded half the roster to get him (more on that a bit later). The Chicago Bears traded a first-round draft choice for him, so he must not have been that awful. He went 14-6 for the Bears, vindicating their judgment, though he ultimately got beat out by Jim McMahon for the starting job and retired.
Now let’s talk about why he was so disappointing. Art Modell appointed himself general manager, when he fired Paul Brown, believing that he was one of the most astute judges of football talent of all time. After seeing Joe Namath dominate the NFL and the society pages, he figured he needed a guy like that for the Browns in the 1970 draft, particularly because Art Rooney was going to draft Terry Bradshaw first overall for the Steelers.
So, Modell moved up in the draft by trading three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Paul Warfield to the Miami Dolphins for Phipps, out of Purdue University. Then, the crafty wizard covered the loss of Warfield by trading former number one draft pick, half Ron Johnson plus star defensive lineman Jim Kanicki (who would later be named to the Cleveland Browns All-Time Top 100 Team by Cleveland.com) for New York Giants receiver Homer Jones.
Homer was a very good receiver in his day, but for the Browns, he managed only 10 catches for 141 yards for his entire Browns career. Warfield made the Hall of Fame. Ron Johnson made the Pro Bowl and became All-Pro, and though he had a knee injury that required surgery, recovered enough to make the Pro Bowl again.
So let’s add it up.
BROWNS GET: Quarterback Mike Phipps. Homer Jones (near zero contribution)
BROWNS GIVE UP: Hall of Famer Paul Warfield, All-Pro Ron Johnson, All-Time Top 100 Jim Kanicki
Okay, so does anyone want to boo Mike Phipps for not being worth a Hall of Famer, an All-Pro, and an All-Time Top 100 Cleveland Brown?
Or just maybe we should instead be blaming the incompetent general manager owner Art Modell for making one of the all-time most horrific trades in NFL history and over drafting a kid quarterback who was actually a pretty good quarterback but not Joe Namath?
It’s absolutely galling that anyone would side with Modell on this and blame the quarterback for not living up to his end of the bargain.
Still, Phipps will be remembered for being a key player in the Dolphins 17-0 season. Cleveland should have beaten the Dolphins in the playoffs. The Browns defense was crushing the Dolphins’ offense, but Phipps was throwing the ball to the teal jerseys, completing four passes to the Dolphins versus nine to the Browns.
Still, he had the team driving downfield, with less than a minute remaining. But his fifth interception of the game, to linebacker Doug Swift, ended the Browns chances, 20-14. So Phipps threw five interceptions and they still almost won, in what was certainly the low point of his career.
But on the other side, Paul Warfield, the ex-Brown, led the Dolphins with 91 total yards from scrimmage, including a 50-yard reception. Had the trade not been made, the Browns would have been 5 INTs and 91 yards to the good, at least. Here again, we have to hang this more on Modell than on Phipps.
Younger fans, rightly so, despise Modell for stealing the team from Cleveland. We in the older generation also remember how he gouged the most incredible talent scouting machine in the NFL and threw away talent left and right, laboring under the false delusion that he was an NFL personnel genius. He was one of the worst NFL general managers of all time and his 1970 moves gave the Browns the worst offseason of all time.
Consequently, the Browns with Mike Phipps were crippled by the trades that brought him to Cleveland, plus several other stupid Modell decisions (do not even bother challenging me on this. You will lose). This was not the best of the Browns that Phipps had to work with. That said, Phipps was never going to be Joe Namath. That was another Modell delusion.
Go in peace, Mike Phipps. You should not have to shoulder the blame for the blunders of your boss.