April 19, 2014

Browns’ unexciting draft low on fun, but high on strategy

Joe BannerSometimes punchlines are just too easy. The low-hanging fruit dangling mere inches from the blades of grass. The Browns traded two straight draft picks and you would have thought they’d done this as a part of their M.O. for decades and decades. “The Browns are on the clock… you know to trade another pick!”

Hilarious.

Yes, the Browns have traded in the draft in recent years from Mangini’s masterful trade down and awful second round to Tom Heckert’s Julio Jones trade out with the Falcons with results that are still up for debate depending on Brandon Weeden and others. Make no mistake, though, this draft executed by Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi and Rob Chudzinski was very different than either of those.

The Browns have needs and they’ve yet to fill them all. That was the complaint I saw most frequently on Twitter on Saturday as fans bemoaned the lack of personnel as the Browns opted to trade picks for higher versions in 2014. It’s absolutely and unequivocally true that the Browns still have holes to fill. I guess the difference of opinion is just how likely it was to find starters in this year’s draft in either the fourth or fifth rounds. And yes, it’s all too easy to say, “If the Steelers and Colts thought they could find a starter then who the hell are the Browns to think they can pass on one and wait for next year?”

Certainly if Shamarko Thomas from Syracuse torments the Browns twice a year for years to come, it’ll be very hard to stomach. Nobody knows this better than Joe Banner who was happy to point out in his post-draft presser that people said he and the Eagles were crazy for trading Donovan McNabb to the Redskins once upon a time.

I’m not in the business of making guarantees of success on behalf of other people and I won’t start today with Joe Banner. I don’t know Thomas’ game well enough, nor do I know the other available players well enough to tell you that it’s all good or bad right now. What I can tell you is that I at least think I understand what Banner and the crew are going for.

The Browns knew they needed to pick up a lot of players this year and they did so more in free agency than I think any time since Phil Savage. The Browns also knew they were bringing somewhere around 20 players through portions of their offseason program who are coming off their rookie years. 14 players on the roster right now are entering their third seasons as pros. You have to think that’s why the Browns thought it was time to add veterans like 27-year-olds Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant as the premier free agents. You have to think it’s why the Browns went to add a sixth year receiver in Davone Bess.

Building an NFL roster is one of strategy and timing to balance between veterans and rookies. Trading a fourth and fifth rounder does not mean that the Browns are playing to lose this season. The statistics of starters making it from those rounds are apparent enough to tell us all that if those two picks were the keys to success for the Browns this season, then the team was likely destined to fail anyway. The keys to competing are with guys getting better internally and with experienced vets brought in through free agency. Trading fourth and fifth round picks this year is barely a blip on the roster radar compared to those other moves.

At least that’s the thinking.

I obviously can’t guarantee that the Browns did it right. A lot is riding on the shoulders of this new coaching staff getting the most growth out of this young roster and the aforementioned free agents living up to their biggest bits of potential. I have no idea if that will come to pass any more than anyone else does.

The Browns added starters in free agency and were young enough that they decided not to add any other rookies this year. And for that sacrifice, the Cleveland Browns upgraded two picks. Depending on how things go again next season, maybe they’ll do it again and the third and fourth become seconds and thirds. All of a sudden, three years down the road when the team is hopefully making tough choices about re-signing their own free agents who are deserving of good deals, they are able to have nice picks to replace them.

Or if they suffer through a season of faltering quarterback play this year, maybe that package of third and fourth rounders is enough to allow the Browns to jump to a spot and grab the quarterback we’ve all been hoping they’d find since 1999.

I know that’s a lot of moving pieces and speculation and there’s literally no track record in Berea for us to lean on to bolster faith. I enjoyed their process in free agency. I enjoyed the trade for Davone Bess. I think they can plug a few more holes internally and via another period of free agency before the season starts. And for those reasons, I’m not really upset that the Browns traded a couple of picks on the third day of the NFL draft for the 2013 season.

The plan makes sense. It’s a plan that’s been used by the Patriots and the 49ers. Of course having the plan is probably the easy part. Executing the plan successfully is the hard part. Just ask Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert who whiffed on RG3 when their assets were maturing into juicy tradable pieces. Just because they failed to land RG3 doesn’t indict the strategy anymore than Mangini’s second round nightmare indicts the idea of having three second round picks in a desperate rebuilding year. All you can do is hope that Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi don’t come up short when they’ve got the chance to see their investments mature.

Banner said himself that the trades aren’t them asking for a free pass.

“We are not asking for a free pass for this year. We expect to improve. We expect it to be conspicuous. As you look at the individual players we added and the way the coaches bring them together and get them in sync, we are not saying that we don’t expect to be better. We are not going to reach all of our goals or fill all of our needs this year. But we think we will play exciting, aggressive football.”

In the absence of faith, that’s one of the cool things about Joe Banner so far. He says things that give you the opportunity to hold him accountable. If this Browns team doesn’t improve on their five win total, you can start right with him. Even as I think I understand the Browns strategy, I’ll be the first one to hold him accountable if it doesn’t work like they think it will.

  • mgbode

    in the AL, because we all know that he cannot hit a curveball.

  • mgbode

    One: I understand the reason to not go too heavy-in FA though I would have certainly attempted to find more DB depth there.

    Two: I understand the reason to bank higher picks in a better draft (2014) rather than just accept the lower picks in a weaker draft. I also really liked both high picks (Mingo and McFadden).

    One + Two: I think this is the hard part. When you put them together, you end up with a team that has averaged less than 5 wins a season over the past 4, sitting on a ton of cap room, and only adding in 2 prospective starters through the draft. It is tough to see teams like SF add more in the FA/trade and also in the draft while sitting on a team that just went to the Supwerbowl.

    I completely understand the strategy behind the method, but am still incredibly disappointed in the end result. I think we could have been more aggressive on a few veterans on short contracts (for one). Any success in 2013 now is based solely on the growth of the current talent and the shift in coaching.

    Our defense should be fine if our DBs step up (Horton’s specialty). Our weakest positions on offense are QB and TE (Norv’s specialty). So, it is possible to still have a successful year (especially with all of the young players maturing). But, it feels like we made it more difficult than it needed to be.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I think he’s wandering around in the basement trying to order soup. He’s senile, you know. ( A “Weeden is old” joke! They are always so funny! ahahahahahaha. ha. ha. hmm. Anyway.)

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I think it’s impressive enough that He kicks in sandals… I’m willing to let His conversion percentage slide.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Uptick. I really hope Banner is planning on bringing in another free agent or two. Let the young guys grow behind a reliable vet for a season or two. For example, I can’t understand why they wouldn’t bring in a guy like Kerry Rhodes on a short contract (which is all he’ll be getting from anyone). He’s a decent starter and a guy who you can easily plug in to Horton’s defense since he played in it last year. It seems like a complete no-brainer.

    As for the guys already on the team, I hope that each OL who fits at guard is given a chance to play their way into a starting spot. I don’t know why, but I just find it hard to believe that there is no one on the team who can play Lauvao’s spot better than he can. I’d like to see every potential guard get a shot at it.

  • mgbode

    Yes, and also Chris Faulk from LSU (UDFA – I really liked him, but he’s moving from OT to OG, which caused his stock to slip some). We signed 3 other UDFA OL, give them all some run.

    TE we signed Hoskins (E-Mich) and Tannahill (K-State) as UDFA. Hopefully, one of them shines.

    And, we did get Kruger’s brother as well.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Ahhh, but did we get the RIGHT Kruger brother? Actually I have no clue. But I agree, I really liked the strategy that that front office took with respect to the late rounds and undrafted free agents. They went out and got several guys who are real boom-or-bust prospects rather than just grabbing a solid college player who doesn’t have much upside and they hope can hide his inadequacies at the next level (I’m looking at you, Eric Hagg). Faulk could be a steal as he converts to guard. Both seventh round picks were hiding at Division 2 schools where I’m sure other teams knew about them, but might not have put in as much research as the Browns (that’s my hope anyway). Slaughter is a starting-caliber guy who had a devastating Achilles injury… something that almost certainly scared off most teams as that injury is very hard to come back from and play as well as before the injury. What we hope for is that the Browns front office did a ton of due diligence there and maybe knows more about Slaughter’s recovery.

  • mgbode

    Slaughter was the most questionable pick to me as he didn’t have all that much success in college and the Achilles injury is one that medical science hasn’t really figured out yet.

  • mgbode

    there’s only two things he takes those sandals off to do: kicking and

    …………

    …………

    walking on water (why? where did you think I was going with that?)

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Shame on me, I never really looked into it myself, just went with things I was hearing about him. I agree, the production isn’t what you would hope to see. Yes, he had some injuries and didn’t play a full season in any of the past 3 years, but you would hope for more interceptions or pass-breakups. It seems like ND used him more as a strong safety/rover than as a free safety. This guy may have been drafted to be the oft-injured TJ Ward’s backup. Even more reason to bring in Kerry Rhodes.

  • mgbode

    yes, i’d still like a 1yr deal for Rhodes.

  • chowson

    Should have picked up Eric Herman (OG) from Ohio with that second-last pick. Guy is a beast.

  • Hopwin

    I’ll uptick that :D

  • saggy

    I’m sorry but I don’t buy into that late-round crap. I know it’s the exception but need we remind everyone what round Tom Brady was picked in? Sure, we can’t say our season hinges on a 4th round DB but when you consistently trade away or waste 4th rounders, it eventually DOES matter. It’s the sheer accumulation of either garbage or nothing that makes you turn to Buster Skrew-ne as a starting DB.

    These guys should be aiming for the Super Bowl, since it’s always a possibility to go from bad to champs in the NFL. My true goals are more modest, but I will be rooting for this team to make the playoffs this season, given the decline of the Steelers and, hopefully, Baltimore.

    Plus, I look at the draft as getting players – not just a “3rd-round cornerback.” I’m sure those guys feel the same way. Maybe they’ll play angrier with something to prove.

    I’m optimistic about our defense, secondary be damned. Trent should be healthy, Weeden should be better, and Schwartz should improve, making the offense better. I could go on about how I feel this team is poised to turn the corner and how it’s actually time to RAISE expectations.

  • saggy

    I love the fact that Horton will change it up. I’ve NEVER understaood why NFL D-Coordinators always stuck with one base system. Hybrid OL/DE Guys are the present – not the future anymore. I love our depth at that position. Once you realize that Horton is not married to a 3-4 you understand that Sheard is a very integral part of this team (until, of course, they trade him for a 3rd-rounder next year).

  • James

    But could you imagine the name Slaughter on the back of a jersey??

  • James

    If that’s the guy Tim Tebow learned to play from I don’t think I want any part of him.

  • James

    Mingo in latin means “I piss”

  • Sucks to be Weeden

    I’m sure since Lombardi has been in Cleveland the only thing he has talked about is how much he thinks Weeden sucks. They are stacking assets to get their franchise QB next year. Teddy Bridgewater?