Correction: a previous headline indicated the Browns had Ben Roethlisberger rated above Eli Manning and Philip Rivers, but the ESPN article in question has Browns front office members voicing opinions on both sides of the debate.
Imagine if Ben Roethlisberger donned an orange and brown uniform instead of a black and gold one in 2004: Perhaps the Browns wouldn't be searching for the franchise's 25th starting quarterback since 1999?
ESPN's Jeremy Fowler recounts 'The day the Browns passed on Big Ben', reporting that Tom Savage, who was in his final year working in the front office of the Ravens, had Roethilsberger rated higher than the Giants' Eli Manning and and the Chargers' Phillip Rivers, who went Nos. 1 and 2 that year, respectively. Savage took over as the Browns general manager in 2005, one year after Cleveland took Kellen Winslow II at No. 6 and the Steelers traded up to take Roethlisberger at No. 11.
Matt Williamson, a Browns scout at the time, said he believed the team had Roethlisberger ranked above Rivers and Manning. Then-Browns CEO and president Carmen Policy, however, said the team would have taken Rivers over Roethlisberger if it had that choice.
Pete Garcia, the team's vice president of the player personnel department at the time, told Fox Sports in 2014, "We loved Ben. I had been to see him play a couple times during the [prior] season. We thought long and hard about picking him."
Instead, the Browns traded up to the sixth spot with Detroit to select tight end Kellen Winslow out of University of Miami, who had ties to Garcia and Davis from their days at the university.
"He was right up there with [Winslow and] anyone else we considered," Garcia told Fox Sports. "We graded him as a difference-maker. In the end, we went with a difference maker at a different position that we knew a little bit better than we knew Ben."
Roethlilsberger, a Mid-American Conference quarterback at the Miami (Ohio) at the time, had spent ample time working out for the Browns and felt good about his performance for them, but "it didn't matter," Roethilsberger told ESPN.
Savage told ESPN, "With Ben, for some evaluators, you're a lot more comfortable when these players had gone through quality competition."
The Browns still had Tim Couch under center and later signed veteran quarterback Jeff Garcia in March 2004.
As ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper put it in Fowler's story, "Jeff Garcia was the reason they didn't draft Ben Roethlisberger. History could have been rewritten."
As the story goes, Roethlisberger was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers five picks later at No. 11 and has led the franchise to two Super Bowl titles and a 19-2 record vs. Cleveland since then. Roethlisberger has reached four Pro Bowls and has led the Steelers to a 113-56 regular-season record as a starter.
Cleveland now holds the No. 2 overall pick, which they could spend on either of the top quarterbacks, California's Jared Goff and North Dakota State's Carson Wentz. Wentz somewhat matches Roethilsberger physically (6 feet 6 compared to 6-5) and might struggle with the small-school stigma as well.
If the Browns do select a quarterback at No. 2, it will mark the fourth first-rounder they've spent on the position since passing on Roethlisberger. The most recent came in 2014 with Johnny Manziel, whom the team released last month due largely to his off-the-field issues with alcoholism and alleged domestic violence.
The latest reports indicate they are trying to trade the pick, with the Bills and Eagles reportedly interested.
Cleveland fans might be able to dream what life could've been like with Roethlisberger at the helm but will wait and see if the franchise can exercise its quarterback woe ghost -- perhaps with Goff or Wentz.