“Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.” – Jean-Jacques Rousseau
Since hiring chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and executive vice president Sashi Brown last January, the Cleveland Browns have been doing what they can to execute the closest thing to “Moneyball” that football has to offer.
Despite finishing with a 1-15 record last season, they need to stay on that path.
While football doesn’t have the same measurables and statistics that DePodesta used in the baseball world, the Browns have used their abundance of draft picks and cap space to recreate the budgeting model.
After years of struggling to compete with free-agent additions and a rotating door of head coaches, Cleveland came to a few important realizations with the additions of DePodesta and Brown that they’ve used to foster the card-counting approach:
- Franchise-changing players don’t reach free agency.
- Good franchises have patience with their head coaches.
- The only way to get elite-level players is through the draft.
It’s not hard to point out these facts, but using them to build your franchise takes discipline and creativity, especially when you’re starting from the bottom.
Last spring, the Browns selected a league-high 14 players to kick off their most recent rebuild. The idea behind this strategy was pretty simple – if you throw enough crap at the wall, something is going to stick.
By drafting so many rookies to their fairly bare-bones roster, the Browns increased their chances of finding quality players. They traded back several times, swapped players for extra selections, and had a decent amount of compensatory picks due to letting players walk in free agency.
While one draft class didn’t turn the franchise around, the team picked up enough potential NFLers to show there’s merit to their strategy, though it will take time.
As long as the Browns can be patient, they should eventually be able to add enough talent to be competitive. Given their 14-year playoff drought, the team may as well stay on the steady path they’ve set out for themselves.
A 1-15 season really shouldn’t change anything. In fact, it should have been expected.
After acquiring so many rookies and letting all of their decent free agents walk in 2016, the Browns set themselves up to be the underdog in every game they played. There’s nothing wrong with that, but they shouldn’t be surprised about how few games they won.
This spring, the Browns are once again armed with a slew of draft picks – 11, to be exact – including the No. 1 overall spot, and four more picks among the first 65 selections.
What worked so well about the 2016 draft was that the team had so many holes to fill that it was able to pick the best player available on its board at each selection. They need to keep doing that.
It’s tempting to reach for certain positions, particularly quarterback, in an attempt to jump-start their rebuild, but the Browns are far from being “a quarterback away” from anything.
They’ve have continually attempted to fix their franchise by drafting a pass-thrower and then forcing them into action without much of a supporting cast. Seven quarterbacks have been drafted by Cleveland since its last playoff appearance, and none have been to a Pro Bowl.
(Reminder: Andy Dalton has been to three Pro Bowls.)
Cleveland appears to be giving head coach Hue Jackson a long leash to coach up this team the way he sees fit. He hasn’t been looking for shortcuts, so neither should the front office.
The team has been bad for a long time and will likely continue to be one of the bottom-five teams in the league again next year. The trick for the Browns is to have faith in what they’ve started and be patient with their strategy.
No one goes from the bottom to the top overnight, but it only takes a touch of stubbornness to sink even lower.
(Photos courtesy: Action Images)
Copyright © 2017 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.