It was the best of times: 2007.
It was the worst of times: 2008.
It was the most uncertain of times: this past offseason.
Welcome to wide receiver Braylon Edwards’ world.
After having the best receiving season in Browns history in 2007 with 80 receptions for club records of 1,289 yards and 16 touchdowns, and then coming back last year to catch just 55 balls, the fewest since his rookie season of 2005, for but three scores and a lot of mental errors, Edwards’ name wasn’t just in the NFL rumor mill the last several months. It was the NFL rumor mill.
According to the so-called experts and insiders, Edwards was going to be dealt here, there and everywhere. It was supposedly a foregone conclusion that he would be gone.
But as the Cleveland Browns on Thursday completed the first of their three-day, voluntary, full-squad mini camps, there was Edwards still there wearing his familiar No. 17 jersey. His equally high-profile running mate, tight end Kellen Winslow, was gone, having been traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers about three months ago by the new regime of general manager George Kokinis and head coach Eric Mangini, but Edwards remains – to the surprise of more than a few people.
“The key word there is rumor,” Edwards said. “I never talked to the Cleveland Browns or anybody here about any chance of a trade or any possibility. I never really paid any attention because I had nothing to go off of.”
But if you believe the rumors, then it was clear that other teams were interested in Edwards. They thought he was still capable. They still looked at him as a top talent, as he was when he was taken at No. 3 overall by the Browns in the 2005 NFL Draft.
“I didn't get excited about leaving,” he said. “One, they were rumors and there was nothing to hold on to. And two, I felt like if I would have left Cleveland for any reason, I would have left with a bad taste in my mouth and in the fans' minds here.
“I wanted to get back to playing good football, definitely here. It's a business, and who knows what's going to happen next year. But for me, it was just about getting back to what I know I can do and being the player the Browns drafted in '05 and that the fans saw in '07.”
But what happened, specifically, in 2008? Why such a drop-off from the previous season? Yes, Edwards suffered a laceration on his foot early in training camp that caused him to miss all of the preseason, but there has to more to it than that.
“There were some times in there where I was trying to force things, trying to do too much as opposed to just playing, letting the game come to me and doing what I know I'm good at,” Edwards said.”The main thing for me is getting back to having fun with the game. That was the biggest thing last year, just not having fun. And I just need to be patient and let things come to me.”
Did he simply lose his confidence last year?
“It's hard to say,” he said. “I could say yes and I could say simply what I just said before. When you rush things and there was a lot going on and you feel as though things are happening and happening and happening, you feel like you're in a hole you can't get out of.
“If you always think positive, it's easy. It's an easy game when you have fun. That's the biggest thing for me is having fun. Not necessarily a confidence thing, but just having fun with the game and enjoying it.”
He added, “But I'm sure I'm not the only person who's ever had a tough season. My mindset when the year was over was to get back to football and get back to having fun and being productive again on the field.”
The Browns desperately need him to do just that.
With Donte Stallworth’s status in doubt after being involved in a car accident in Miami in the offseason that killed a man, with Joe Jurevicius no longer on the team, and with second-round draft picks Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi still learning the pro game, the Browns have to find an accomplished, go-to, stretch-the-field, hard-to-match-up-with pass catcher whose presence causes opposing defensive coordinators to stay awake at nights.
Edwards is the man if – if – he plays like did in 2007, when, at least statistically, he bettered anything ever put by Pro Football Hall of Famers Dante Lavelli and Paul Warfield, or Gary Collins, Webster Slaughter or any other significant wideout in Browns history.
“ I'm happy to be here,” Edwards said. “There are a lot of players here that I still know, and some new players, too. I remember Brian Robiskie at 17, having him out here when he was a ball boy, and now he's one of my teammates.
“I think it's going to be a fun season. I'm excited to play with these guys and play in this new system and see what happens.”
So are a lot of other people after all that has happened – good, bad and indifferent – since 2007.