The Patriots and Falcons may each be sending 53 players into the Super Bowl tomorrow, but much of each respective roster is not made up purely of home-grown talent. Both teams have acquired a number of key pieces of their offense, defense, or special teams via trades, free agency, or the waiver wire to shore up their personnel.
That is what it takes to build a championship roster. And no team has had more building blocks culled from their past between the Falcons and the Patriots than the Cleveland Browns, who fittingly just completed their worst season in franchise history, and one of the worst years in the history of the NFL, after going 1-15.
We might as well start right at the top, however, with the coaching staff, if you consider the fact that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was the head coach of the Browns for five years back in the 1990s. In fact, he was responsible for the last time Cleveland has managed to win a playoff game.
He would not be the only former Browns coach in the game though. Falcons offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan held that same position with Cleveland two years ago. It is anticipated that Shanahan will be joining the head-coaching ranks following the Super Bowl, however.
Now onto the players, no doubt the most significant name between either side would be Falcons center Alex Mack, who was a former first-round draft choice of the Browns in 2009. Mack was an All-Pro performer for them and was part of arguably the best pair of offensive linemen in the league with his former partner at left tackle.
The Steelers no doubt remember Mack best of all the former Browns players in this game, particularly Cameron Heyward, their longest-tenured defensive lineman. Much of the success that Cleveland has had in the run game against the Steelers can be largely credited to him, as you can compare their struggles when he was out, or since he left.
The Falcons also have with them wide receiver Taylor Gabriel, who caught 35 passes for 579 yards and six touchdowns for Atlanta this season in 13 games. He was never much more than an afterthought in Cleveland, who gutted their receiving corps this past year.
The Patriots have even more former Browns on their roster, including a pair of edge rushers in Jabaal Sheard and Barkevious Mingo. While Mingo has been little more than depth this year after a modest trade to bring him in, Sheard has done well as a rotational pass rusher with five sacks in 2016.
And lest we forget, Dion Lewis was actually a member of the Browns during the 2013 season after they traded for him. But he spent the year on injured reserve with a fractured fibula, and so never played for them.
And thus the Browns will be enjoying the Super Bowl vicariously through many of their former players and coaches, the majority of whom they either released or chose not to re-sign during free agency. In case you were wondering, the Steelers’ only ties in this game are LeGarrette Blount for the Patriots and C.J. Goodwin for the Falcons.