Bobby Mitchell trade had lasting impact on Cleveland Browns

Cleveland Browns Bobby Mitchell (Photo by Robert Riger/Getty Images)
Cleveland Browns Bobby Mitchell (Photo by Robert Riger/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns trade of Bobby Mitchell to the Washington Redskins forever altered the course of history for the franchise.

Bobby Mitchell died at the age of 84, having spent four seasons with the Cleveland Browns and seven with the Washington Redskins.

Mitchell’s path to D.C. set forth a timeline in which Browns’ history would never be the same.

Paul Brown traded Mitchell with the dream of pairing Ernie Davis with Jim Brown in Cleveland’s backfield. The Browns’ founder dealt Mitchell and 1962 first-round pick LeRoy Jackson to the Redskins for the draft rights to Davis.

Davis fell ill with leukemia and never played a game. Fans of the era still dream what it would’ve been like to pair the Heisman winner with the greatest back of all time.

After the deal, Mitchell moved from running back to receiver and went on to lead the NFL with 72 catches for 1,384 yards during his first season with Washington. His second season in D.C. was even better, as Mitchell again led the league in receiving yards (1,436).

In the Browns front office, the reverberations of the deal forever altered the course of the franchise. Brown traded Mitchell without new owner Art Modell being aware of the transaction. It was Redskins owner George Preston Marshall who informed Modell of the trade.

The veteran owner laid into Modell, scolding Cleveland’s new young, brash owner by reminding him “Don’t ever let that happen again, you own the team,” according to TheLandonDemand’s Tony Grossi. 

Whether or not Davis should be given a chance to play in one game before he succumbed to the disease may have also been an issue, according to Davis’ old Syracuse and Brown’s teammate, John Brown.

Paul Brown didn’t think Davis should play. Modell thought he should appear in one game. This difference of opinion only drove the friction between the founder and the owner.

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Brown was fired at the 1962 season, and Cleveland won it’s last NFL championship two years later.