The Browns seem intent on not having that regretful morning after feeling in free agency. This team obviously knows it needs to improve, thus the trade offer to move up to #2 in this year’s draft. At the same time, they’re refusing to act desperately. Just because they think Robert Griffin III has a chance to be a franchise quarterback doesn’t mean that they are willing to throw bad money around in an attempt to replace Colt McCoy with just anyone.
We all know they need a receiver or two. They even said so themselves. Yet, we haven’t seen them engage in bidding wars to place #2 receivers on pedestals with giant contracts that they probably won’t ever earn. It is very frustrating in the short-term and seems at odds with the team’s statement that improving to 6-10 this year won’t be good enough. So, what’s going on here?
Whether the Browns front office is right or wrong, they obviously didn’t believe Matt Flynn had a chance to be better than Colt McCoy or one of the other alternatives available to them with their draft picks. More importantly though, the Browns are limiting their activity in free agency, because frankly it is a wholly inefficient way to build your team, almost by definition. Strangely enough the draft has given us our best example of this because the Browns risked so much trying to get Robert Griffin III. They took the “efficient” way of building their team and made it inefficient by getting into a bidding war to try and move up.
The price tag to move up ended up being very high, and there is no guarantee that Robert Griffin III is going to be the player that so many think he will be. What is pretty much guaranteed is the cap implication of making a move like that. The Browns know for a fact that if they had landed RG3, it would have been at-worst about the same as Cam Newton’s 4-year deal with $22 million guaranteed. The Browns would have paid a high price in draft picks for that kind of cap predictability.
Normally, the draft is a place where you build a team with maximum efficiency because there is no bidding war. The Browns scrapped that by engaging in a bidding war to move up. That says all you need to know about Robert Griffin III and what Tom Heckert and Mike Holmgren think of him. The lack of activity in free agency says all you need to know about free agency and the players available. If the efficiency of building through the draft was higher than that of building through free agency before the rookie wage scale, consider the differences now.
Let’s talk about the winner’s curse and what that actually means. If a guy is worth $5 million per year in actuality and more than one team is bidding for his services, the likelihood of him getting more than his actual worth is high. That also decreases the likelihood that he will succeed with the new team as expectations become misaligned with ability.
The Browns aren’t being cheap. They handed out money to Joe Thomas, Ahtyba Rubin, Chris Gocong and D’Qwell Jackson this off-season. To a man, I think most Browns fans would agree these guys were worth bringing back. The key for the Browns was that they were already here. They already know the culture, personnel, coaches and direction of the team. The equivalent replacement players to these guys probably doesn’t even exist in free agency, first of all. Secondly, they would be more expensive as other teams would by vying for their services as well. Third, when they get here there will be a learning curve that could result in failure.
That’s why you build through the draft. It takes longer, but it should raise the continuity level of the whole team. Guys come in on 4-year deals and at the end of those deals the team decides if they’re worth paying to stay. In the case of Ahtyba Rubin he gets paid well and the Browns never let him hit the open market. The Browns also get to keep a guy that they presumably know is working well in their system with his teammates.
Sometimes you can score a perfect hit in free agency like the Browns did with Joe Jurevicius. Other times they bust out like they did with Donte’ Stallworth. The point is that you’re much better off picking and choosing which free agents to keep when their contracts are already within the confines of your team structure. It is the best possible information for making a decision and it has the special designation of contributing to continuity and reducing potential for a “winner’s curse.”
Now, about drafting that roster full of guys worth keeping…
I might even buy the slow build if that’s what the Browns decided to try and sell. The biggest problem comes with the Browns’ mixed messages to fans. Mike Holmgren is taking a real risk saying that an improvement to 6-10 isn’t good enough while also trying to build slowly and continuously through the draft. I’ve written at length about the illusions of “overnight success” in the NFL, but by saying 6-10 isn’t good enough, Holmgren is almost guaranteeing overnight success of a team that won four games in each of the last two years.
Even if the Browns could argue their methodology is smart, the way they’re (not) selling it to the fans isn’t.