NFL teams acquire players by the draft, by free agency, and by trade.
Trades can be the riskiest form of player acquisition, as you generally have to surrender players to acquire a new player by trade.
One of the best trades in Cleveland Browns history was the team’s acquisition of Don Paul.
In exchange for two players who had lesser NFL careers, the Browns acquired Paul before the start of the 1954 season.
During his five seasons with Cleveland from 1954 to 1958, Paul, at right defensive back, earned Pro Bowl, All-Pro, and All-Conference honors and helped the Browns win two NFL championships in 1954 and 1955.
We take a look at the life of Don Paul – before, during, and after his NFL playing career.
The Early Years Through High School
Donald Ray Paul was born on July 23, 1926 in Tacoma, Washington.
Growing up, Paul played football for the 38th Street team in the Tacoma City League.
He attended Fife High School in Fife, Washington (Fife is a suburb of Tacoma).
At Fife High School, Paul excelled in football, baseball, and basketball.
Paul has been described by the Tacoma-Pierce County Old-Timers Baseball-Softball Association as follows:
“Even decades after graduating, Don Paul is remembered as easily the greatest all-around athlete in the history of Fife High School.”
After graduating from Fife High School, Paul headed to Pullman, Washington to attend Washington State University.
At Washington State, Paul starred in both football and baseball.
In football, Paul lettered for three seasons in 1947, 1948, and 1949.
Paul played on offense, defense, and special teams at Washington State.
Washington State posted a 3-7 record in 1947.
On October 23, 1948, in a 33-7 Washington State loss to Oregon, Paul rushed for 140 yards on 10 rushing attempts, including a 73-yard touchdown run.
In 1948, Washington State had a 4-5-1 record.
Paul had 1,085 all-purpose yards in 1949, consisting of 332 rushing yards, 352 receiving yards, 206 punt return yards, and 195 kick return yards.
He ranks tied for first in Washington State history for average yards per punt return in a season (with a minimum of 10 punt returns) – 17.2 yards in 1949.
For his football play in 1949, Paul was named by coaches to the All-Pacific Coast Conference team at halfback.
Washington State had a 3-6 record in 1949.
For his football career at Washington State, Paul had 11 interceptions, which he returned for 216 yards.
Paul ended his college football career playing in the 1949 East-West Shrine Game.
In baseball, Paul was an outfielder and third baseman.
Paul was named to the All-Pierce County team as an outfielder in 1949.
In 1950, Paul was named to the All-District and All-Region first team and the All-Northern Division Pacific Coast Conference first team at third base.
Paul’s play helped the Washington State baseball team in 1950 post a 32-6 record and advance to the final game of the College World Series before losing to Texas.
After his time at Washington State, Paul continued his athletic career in the NFL.
The Pro Football Years
The Chicago Cardinals drafted Paul in the fourth round of the 1950 NFL draft as the 47th overall pick.
During his four seasons with the Cardinals, as he did in college, Paul played on offense, defense, and special teams.
In 1950, Paul played in all 12, but did not start any, regular season games.
On November 19, 1950, Paul scored his first NFL regular season touchdown on an 82-yard punt return, which was the winning score in a 14-10 Cardinals win over the Philadelphia Eagles.
Paul scored his first NFL regular season offensive touchdown on a 35-yard pass from Cardinals quarterback Jim Hardy in a 20-10 Cardinals victory over the Chicago Bears on December 3, 1950.
In 1951, Paul started all 12 regular season games at left halfback.
On offense during the 1951 regular season, Paul rushed for 247 yards and three touchdowns on 37 rushing attempts and caught 23 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns.
Paul also intercepted three passes, which he returned for 52 yards, and recovered one fumble in the 1951 regular season.
In addition, for the 1951 regular season, Paul returned 15 kickoffs for 424 yards (his 28.3 average yards per kickoff return led the NFL) and 19 punts for 143 yards.
In 1951, the Cardinals posted a 3-9 record (including again two losses to the Cleveland Browns – 34-17 on November 4, 1951 and 49-28 on December 2, 1951).
Paul only played in five, and started four, regular season games in 1952.
For the 1952 regular season, Paul rushed for 28 yards on six rushing attempts, caught four passes for 32 yards and one touchdown, and returned three kickoffs for 54 yards and 10 punts for 97 yards.
The Cardinals had a 4-8 record in 1952 (including again two losses to the Cleveland Browns – 28-13 on November 9, 1952 and 10-0 on December 7, 1952).
In 1953, Paul started all 12 regular season games at right defensive back.
In the 1953 regular season, Paul rushed for 114 yards on 16 rushing attempts, caught 16 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns, and completed one pass for 13 yards.
Paul also intercepted five passes and returned them for 62 yards in the 1953 regular season.
In addition, as a returner during the 1953 regular season, Paul returned four kickoffs for 106 yards and 18 punts for 85 yards.
For his play in 1953, Paul received his first Pro Bowl invitation.
The Cardinals posted a 1-10-1 record in 1953 (including, for the fourth consecutive year, two losses to the Cleveland Browns – 27-7 on October 4, 1953 and 27-16 on November 29, 1953).
On January 30, 1954, the Cardinals traded Paul to the Washington Redskins in a three-team trade that also involved the Los Angeles Rams.
Paul was upset after the trade because Washington was to be coached by Joe Kuharich.
In 1952, Paul was unhappy when Kuharich then coached the Cardinals.
To address Paul’s dissatisfaction with Kuharch as head coach, on August 29, 1954, Washington traded Paul to the Cleveland Browns for John Carson and Dale Atkeson.
Carson (who had never played in a regular season game for Cleveland) had a decent NFL career as a receiver, catching 173 passes for 2,591 yards and 15 touchdowns over seven NFL seasons with Washington and the Houston Oilers.
Atkeson (who also had never played in a regular season game for Cleveland) played three seasons for Washington from 1954 to 1956.
He rushed for 639 yards and four touchdowns on 208 rushing attempts, caught 19 passes for 184 yards and one touchdown, recovered two fumbles, and returned 29 kickoffs for 754 yards and one touchdown and five punts for 41 yards.
Carson only played in one AFL playoff game and Atkeson never played in any playoff games.
While Carson (in particular) and Atkeson performed adequately in their NFL careers, their careers pale in comparison to the successful NFL career of Paul after the 1954 trade.
In joining the Browns in 1954, there were two immediate changes for Paul.
First, in leaving the Cardinals, who never even had a winning record while Paul played there, Paul moved from a losing team to a winning team.
Since their entry in the NFL in 1950, the Browns had played in every NFL championship game and won the NFL championship in 1950.
Second, with Cleveland, Paul focused on defense and special teams, as he basically no longer played on offense.
In 1954, Paul (playing at a height of six feet and at a weight of 187 pounds) started all 12 regular season games for Cleveland at right defensive back.
For the 1954 regular season, Paul intercepted three passes, which he returned for 42 yards.
He also returned one kickoff for 31 yards and one punt for 57 yards.
Cleveland, with a 9-3 record, won the NFL East Division title in 1954.
Paul helped the Browns defense rank in the NFL regular season in 1954 first in all of fewest points allowed (162), fewest total passing and rushing yards allowed (2,658), fewest passing yards allowed (1,608), fewest rushing yards allowed (1,050), and lowest average yards per rushing attempt allowed (2.8), and tied for fourth in recovered fumbles (19).
The Browns advanced to the 1954 NFL championship game against the Detroit Lions on December 26, 1954.
Paul started the game.
In the first quarter, Paul intercepted a pass by future Pro Football Hall of Fame Lions quarterback Bobby Layne and returned the interception for 32 yards, helping to set up Cleveland’s second touchdown.
Paul’s play helped the Browns force nine Lions turnovers.
Cleveland, avenging its losses to Detroit in the 1952 and 1953 championship games, defeated the Lions 56-10 to win the 1954 NFL championship.
In 1955, Paul played in and started 11 regular season games at right defensive back.
In addition, in a 26-20 Browns defeat of Paul’s old team, the Chicago Cardinals, on October 30, 1955, Paul scored his first regular season touchdown as a member of the Browns on a 60-yard punt return.
Paul, in the 1955 regular season, intercepted four passes, which he returned for 49 yards, and recovered three fumbles, which he returned for 17 yards.
In addition, Paul returned five kickoffs for 109 yards and 19 punts for 148 yards.
For his play in 1955, Paul was named first team All-Pro by United Press International and second team All-Pro by the Associated Press.
With a 9-2-1 record, the Browns again won the NFL East Division title in 1955.
Paul contributed to the Cleveland defense ranking in the NFL regular season in 1955 first in all of fewest points allowed (218), fewest total passing and rushing yards allowed (2,841), and fewest rushing yards allowed (1,189), fifth in recovered turnovers (50), third in fewest passing yards allowed (1,652), fourth in defensive interceptions (25), and tied for second in lowest average yards per rushing attempt allowed (3.4).
Cleveland met the Los Angeles Rams in the 1955 NFL championship game on December 26, 1955.
Paul started the game.
Paul, in the second quarter, batted a pass from future Pro Football Hall of Fame Rams quarterback Norm Van Brocklin into the air, caught it on the way down, and ran down the sideline untouched for a 65-yard touchdown.
— Old Time Football 🏈 (@Ol_TimeFootball) February 7, 2021
The Browns defense, helped by Paul’s play, forced seven Rams turnovers.
Cleveland repeated as NFL champions, winning the 1955 NFL championship game 38-14 over Los Angeles.
In 1956, Paul played in all 12, and started 11, regular season games at right defensive back.
For the 1956 regular season, Paul intercepted seven passes, which he returned for 190 yards (which ranked third in the NFL), and recovered two fumbles.
He also returned 17 punts for 103 yards.
Paul received his second Pro Bowl invitation in 1956.
Cleveland (without its retired future Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Otto Graham) fell to a 5-7 record in 1956.
However, the Browns defense, with Paul at right defensive back, continued to play well, ranking in the NFL regular season in 1956 first in both fewest points allowed (177) and fewest passing yards allowed (1,103), second in fewest total passing and rushing yards allowed (3,135), and tied for fifth in defensive interceptions (18).
Paul started all 12 regular season games at right defensive back in 1957.
Paul scored his final NFL regular season touchdown on an 89-yard fumble return, in a 24-0 Cleveland shutout of the Pittsburgh Steelers on November 10, 1957.
#OnThisDay in 1957 the Cleveland Browns’ Don Paul sets franchise record for longest fumble return with a 89-yard run (and TD), beating Pittsburgh 24-0!!!! An absolutely Incredible play for Cleveland fans! #kine2400
— Mason Gardner (@MasonHK2020) November 11, 2020
The Browns, helped by Paul, forced four Pittsburgh turnovers.
In the 1957 regular season, Paul intercepted four passes and returned them for 28 yards.
Paul also returned nine punts for 75 yards.
For his play in 1957, Paul received another Pro Bowl invitation and was named second team All-Pro by the Associated Press.
The Browns had a 9-2-1 record and won the NFL East Division title in 1957.
Paul’s play helped the Cleveland defense rank in the NFL regular season in 1957 first in both fewest points allowed (172) and fewest passing yards allowed (1,300), second in fewest total passing and rushing yards allowed (2,802), tied for fourth in defensive interceptions (19), fifth in sacks (26), fourth in fewest rushing yards allowed (1,502), and tied for fifth in lowest average yards per rushing attempt allowed (3.8).
Cleveland advanced to play the Detroit Lions in the 1957 NFL championship game on December 29, 1957.
Paul started the game and recovered a fumble, but Cleveland lost to Detroit 59-14.
Paul again started all 12 regular season games at right defensive back in 1958.
Paul, in the 1958 regular season, had four interceptions, which he returned for 80 yards.
In 1958, Paul received his fourth (and third consecutive) Pro Bowl invitation.
He was also named second team All-Pro by United Press International and first team All-Conference by the Sporting News.
With a 9-3 record, Cleveland tied for first place in the NFL East Division with the New York Giants in 1958.
Paul helped the Browns defense rank in the NFL regular season in 1958 third in fewest points allowed (217), fifth in fewest total passing and rushing yards allowed (3,660), tied for fourth in recovered fumbles (18), fourth in fewest rushing yards allowed (1,448), and tied for fourth in lowest average yards per rushing attempt allowed (3.9).
The Browns played the New York Giants in a “tiebreaker” playoff game on December 21, 1958.
Paul started the game, and his play helped Cleveland force four Giants turnovers.
However, the Browns lost to the Giants 10-0.
The loss to the Giants turned out to be Paul’s last NFL game, as he retired from playing in the NFL after the 1958 season at the age of 32.
The Years After the NFL
In Paul’s post-NFL life, he became involved with another sport – soccer.
Paul was involved as a general manager in the 1970’s and the 1980’s with North American Soccer League (NASL) teams in Portland, Honolulu, Tulsa, and Seattle.
He also was a land developer in eastern Washington.
Paul was inducted into the Tacoma-Pierce County Sports Hall of Fame in 1963.
In 1982, Paul was inducted into the Washington State Athletics Hall of Fame.
Paul was named to the first team Pro Football Reference All-1950’s team at defensive back.
On September 7, 2001, Paul died in Eugene, Oregon at the age of 75.
He had bladder cancer.
Even though Paul played with Cleveland for only five seasons, he ranks high in various Browns career statistical categories.
Paul ranks 12th in Browns career regular season interceptions (22) and ninth in Browns career regular season interception return yards (389).
He ranks third in Browns career regular season recovered fumble return yards (106).
Paul ranks 15th in Browns career regular season punt return yards (383).
If Paul had played his first four NFL seasons with Cleveland instead of the Chicago Cardinals, there is no doubt that Paul would rank higher in these and other Browns career statistical categories.
Beyond aggregate career statistics, there are other important facts to note about Paul’s play with the Browns.
Paul scored touchdowns with Cleveland in three different ways – punt return, interception return, and recovered fumble return.
He intercepted passes in consecutive NFL championship games, scored an interception return touchdown in an NFL championship game, and recovered turnovers in three NFL championship games.
Paul helped Cleveland’s defense rank, in 80% of Paul’s seasons with the Browns, both first in fewest regular season points allowed and in the top three in both fewest regular season total passing and rushing yards allowed and fewest regular season passing yards allowed.
In addition, Paul’s play helped, in 80% of Paul’s seasons with Cleveland, the Browns make the playoffs and, in 60% of Paul’s seasons with Cleveland, the Browns advance to the NFL championship game.
Most importantly, Paul played on 50% of the Cleveland Browns teams that have won NFL championships.
As Andrew Berry continues to try to improve the current Cleveland roster, he should keep in mind the trade acquisition of Don Paul in 1954 – the model for a successful trade that brought an outstanding player to the Browns roster.