Dec. 18, 2011; Glendale, AZ, USA; Detailed view of a Cleveland Browns helmet sitting on the field against the Arizona Cardinals at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Browns 20-17 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Cleveland Browns: Short term thinking, short term results

Yesterday, Craig Lyndall of WaitingForNextYear wrote an article (found here) detailing his frustrations of the front office of the Cleveland Browns and their approach to this year, even suggesting they have ‘betrayed’ this season.  Part of this comes down to the fact that there is a history of losing and little reason to believe in this team since it came back in 1999.  Much of it comes down to a difference in philosophy between Lyndall and the Browns.  Lyndall wants to be better right this second and is looking almost entirely in the short term while the Browns have made it painfully clear right from the start of the season they were looking at the present and the future.

Banner and the front office look at everything through the scope of value.  They make moves and plan for the present and the future based on their concept of it.  This can be extremely frustrating for some fans, like Lyndall, because it often does involve the future rather than the present.  As frustrating as that might be for fans that have been waiting for over a decade for the Browns to be good, it is unreasonable to visit the sins of the past on the front office of the present.

Banner was taking over a bad team.  It was a bad team with a promising defense and some nice pieces on offense, but missing some key parts, most notably a franchise quarterback.  Short of having a franchise quarterback show up out of nowhere, the Browns were going to need more than once year to get built into a legitimate contender.  The Browns have approached this through the scope of value and it has impacted every move they have made.  They have been consistent with their approach since they took over the job.

This was clear from the second they went into the NFL Draft last year.  The Browns used the sixth pick in the NFL Draft on Barkevious Mingo, who has the talent and potential to be a franchise pass rusher, but was an unfinished product coming into his rookie year.  It was a move made for 2014 and beyond.  They traded a fourth and fifth round pick from last year to get a third and fourth round pick this coming year.  The sixth and seventh round of the draft was used on high upside, long term players in Jamoris Slaughter, Garrett Gilkey and Armonty Bryant.  The only pick that did not scream the future was Leon McFadden, their third round pick, which has had a disappointing rookie year and is now looking like a pick that will impact the future or nothing.

Their approach to free agency was largely on the defensive side of the ball.  The conversion to the 3-4 left them slightly short handed in certain areas and they made moves, again, with the concept of value in mind.  They added Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant, who have both been had huge impacts on the defense this year.

With the hire of Ray Horton as defensive coordinator, the Browns put together an extremely effective defense from pieces that were picked by Phil Savage and Tom Heckert along with the new pieces added by Banner and Mike Lombardi.  So far, the results have been good and they have even taken advantage of undrafted free agents from under Heckert including Craig Robertson and Tashaun GipsonBuster Skrine has blossomed this year, both in combination of time and maturation but also because of the faith that this staff has had in him.  Most fans never wanted to see him again after struggles earlier in his career.  The defense should only get better with time, but the early results have been extremely promising.

There were some high priced free agents on the offensive side of the ball the Browns could have gone after, but it seems extremely prudent they did not.  There were plenty of people in Cleveland who wanted the Browns to go after Mike Wallace, now with the Miami Dolphins.  Most of those people are likely pretending they did not want Wallace anymore considering how he has played this season.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Browns took this year to really figure out what they had.  They found out Brandon Weeden could not play dead, which had to be made painfully clear considering the investment.  Brian Hoyer might have a future, but they need to draft a quarterback this year.  They have taken steps to prepare for that with adding extra draft picks.

They found out they have a tight end that can make plays in Jordan Cameron.  Apparently, they have also decided they believe in Josh Gordon, who has the talent to be a true #1 wide receiver.  After Gordon, they have nothing but question marks, which had Lyndall suggest the Browns should throw anything at the wall in hopes that it would stick.  As prudent a plan as that sounds, the fact that fans do not see these players practicing does not mean the coaches don’t.  If the team is at a point where people are calling for random scrubs to play meaningful time in hopes of creating a spark, it is already clear where the season is going.

They knew what they had in Joe Thomas and Alex Mack, but the rest of the line has questions this front office needs to answer.  Most notably, that includes Mitchell Schwartz and where they want him to play in the future, be it at right tackle or guard.  That decision may ultimately be decided by the value in the draft and development of players like Gilkey.  Offensive line coach George Warhop may simply take a best five approach and come up with the best five guys to put out there to block.

The Browns also found out quickly that Trent Richardson was not the franchise running back he was drafted to be.  They made the move, which Lyndall freely admits he hated, but was right in the moment and only gets better with time.  Ultimately, the trade only works for the Browns if they can make that pick count, but the Indianapolis Colts have gotten next to nothing from Richardson since the trade was made.  First round running backs are a bad investment in general, but even worse the way the Colts acquired one.  This move could ultimately set the franchise up for years to come, but again, they have to make that pick count.

The Browns have put a significant value on roster spots this year and taken every opportunity to use them to bring in players to evaluate and see what they can find.  They have had a revolving door at the bottom of the roster as they continue to evolve the roster, something they said specifically as the season was about to begin.  There were people who complained about the Browns not having a kicker the last before the season (Les Levine).  Not only has that not been an issue but Billy Cundiff has been great this year.  Since the Browns did not have a kicker in house, they used every opportunity to hold players on their 53 man roster before they had to get a kicker.

It should not come as any surprise they took the same approach with the quarterback position.  Lyndall was extremely critical the Browns did not sign a fourth quarterback when Brian Hoyer went down for the season.  The Browns made it painfully clear in press conferences and media availability that the value of a fourth quarterback was not more than a position player somewhere else.  As a result, the Browns did not sign one until they had to with the signing of Alex Tanney this week.  Tanney becomes the backup for Weeden as the Browns take on the Jacksonville Jaguars.  If Weeden goes through the game uninjured, Jason Campbell may be back next week and Tanney could ultimately be let go or at least never play.

There is quite a bit of frustration over a quarterback that may never see the field for this team.  And whether it was in October or this week, the effectiveness of a fourth quarterback was little if any.  For the future of the Browns, which is what is important now, is a fourth quarterback or the best position player likely going to have an impact?  It is the best positional player.  If the Browns draft a quarterback next year, Tanney, assuming he is even here in a week, would be the fifth quarterback.  That part of the equation is something that certainly factored into the decision in Berea.  They know they need a quarterback, so a fourth quarterback becomes a fifth quarterback.  Using a roster spot starting in October for that position on the depth chart is a poor use of value.

The angst that is being displayed throughout this article is not unfair; rather too early.  They have a defense in place.  It can get better and has some needs to be addressed but it is a playoff caliber defense right now.  The offense has a significant number of needs to be addressed.  The Browns have ten draft picks including an added first, third and fourth round pick.  All of this frustration will be fair if the Browns cannot build an effective offense this offseason and specifically, that means they have to get a franchise quarterback.  If they cannot, all of the work, the extra draft picks, and preparation will have been for not.  At that point, this past season would have been largely a waste.

If, however, they are able to land a franchise quarterback and build an effective offense that can be paired with a good defense, it will have been prudent planning that sets them up to be a contender for years to come.

If Lyndall’s article has displayed anything, it is a trend of being on the wrong side of history.  Railing against the Richardson trade has been dead wrong since the trade happened; even revisiting the subject and refusing to admit what was painfully clear several games into the trade.  Using the win-loss record as a blanket statement to question whether the team has improved.  The Browns have won games with three different quarterbacks under center and has significantly improved on the defensive side of the ball and found legitimate playmakers on offense.  They just happen to be missing some critical ingredients needed to success like a franchise quarterback and running game.

Call it an entertainment venture that is not entertaining; the job of the Browns front office is to deliver a Super Bowl, not make fans and Lyndall feel good for an insignificant amount of time in the here and now at the cost of roster spots or the salary cap.  They are working to make the team a consistent contender, which is what Jimmy Haslam has tasked them to do.  Throwing away assets or wasteful spending because of the announcement of stadium improvements is stupid.  And  using those improvements as an argument for doing that is ignorant.

If Banner and the front office deliver an offense next year, not only is Lyndall wrong, but he looks out of his depth when it comes to the game of football.  Some might call that approach bold, but it ultimately comes off as being uninformed.  The Browns front office, rightly or wrongly, has been extremely consistent in their approach.  They are building for now and the future, putting a significant emphasis on maximizing value.  That is precisely what they have done this season and so far, it has been an effective approach.  However, the value of draft picks is somewhat theoretical and none of it matters unless they make those picks count.  In some respects, the trade of Richardson allowed a mulligan on the 2012 draft as they again find themselves with two first round picks.  They have to make them count.  If not, there will be plenty of reason to criticize them and it will be warranted.

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  • Greg

    Browns FO is a joke. They try some dumb idea and if it doesn’t work, they come back with “wait till next year”. Same crap every year. Obviously the FO and especially the scouts have no clue what a good player is. They keep drafting and signing under performing and over rated players year after year and can’t figure out why they keep losing.

  • Pingback: A call for civility in Browns debates and on the wrongness of my opinions | WaitingForNextYear

  • maxfnmloans

    Calls to sign another QB after Hoyer went down most likely had very little with anyone believing there would be some sort of “spark” that spurs the team on to a marginally better W-L record this season. In reality, calls to sign another QB probably had more to do with wanting the team to at least look like a professional football team. How many teams carry only 2 QB’s? Imagine if we had to throw MarQueis Gray into the game? is the 53rd roster spot really worth the risk? How would potential free agents feel about coming to a team that is a laughingstock? Would we have to pay above market value just to get someone to come here? And if we did have to overpay to get over the stigma and actually land some FA’s, doesn’t that blow the value argument out of the water? There is more to consider than the “53rd roster spot”

    Also, they could have signed another QB and made him the “emergency” QB, and as such, he would not have counted against the 53 man roster. So…really there is no reason to NOT sign a QB other than the FO is basically taking a passive approach to things for now because they are all in for 2014.

    Which is fine. i understand that winning does not behoove their interests. But assuming they’re going to nail their draft picks is just as fallacious as thinking they should at least “appear” to be trying to not look like a monkey humping a football out there. Players talk among themselves, and there will be consequences. Look at the Locker room now. Ever get the feeling the players are so frustrated because they feel like they could be having success but their hands are tied? Maybe that’s why (other than JAX) it seems they’ve given up late in games recently? Every player in the NFL knows they could be 1 play away from their career ending. You really think the players are “happy” about the longview? Goodbye Alex Mack. Goodbye TJ Ward. Oh joy, there’s two more holes to fill. That’s ok though because Pro-Bowlers grow on trees in Joe Banner’s magical fairy dust land.

    There is a difference between “making short term moves to try and go from 5-11 to 7-9″ and at least doing the bare minimum to no appear completely incompetent, especially in the eyes of prospective future employees

    • Mark J

      By my count, there are currently 12 NFL teams only carrying 2 QBs.

      • maxfnmloans

        and how many of those 12 have lost 3 starters already? How many of those 12 have solid O-lines and durable QBs? Still less than half of the league, and they likely have good reason for doing so. On the other hand, when your line is a sieve and QB health is obviously an issue, this doesn’t seem like a prudent strategy.

        Also, if the “emergency QB” doesn’t count against the 53, what does it matter?

        • Mark J

          What is the smart strategy for picking up a 4th QB off of the street so that the team doesn’t look like garbage? See if Don Strock is still available?

          Is it your position that had the Browns signed Alex Tanney weeks ago instead of a couple of days ago that he would be able to come in and be a capable starter after getting all of those 3rd string reps?

          • maxfnmloans

            it is my position that going into a game where the possibility of having to play a run first college QB who has been converted to TE as your QB is sending a bad message to the players on the roster, which impacts morale, which could impact future free agent signings (of current Browns players and potential FAs).

            And would 3 more weeks pf practice hurt Tanney? Where’s the downside? It doesn’t matter if its the 4th QB we have to use. That’s just a number. The point is you have what you have, and it is incumbent upon the FPO to try and give the coaches something to work with. A practice squad guy fresh from another team < A practice quad guy who has at least been in team meetings and had a playbook for three weeks

          • Mark J

            Wait, carrying 2 QBs means it will be harder to sign free agents in the future?

            “The point is you have what you have” This is correct, and the Browns had 2 QBs and looked like a large number of other professional football teams out there (which is another one of your points).

            You’re hand wringing for the sake of hand wringing.

          • maxfnmloans

            without hand wringing for the sake of hand wringing, would anyone making money as a writer/blogger on the internet today exist? Isnt that kinda the point?

        • Pete Smith

          Well, an ‘emergency quarterback’ counts as a member of the 53 man roster. It does not count against the game day 45. So, let’s start there.

          • maxfnmloans

            ok, fair enough. Again, like I said below, we’re talking about the last roster spot (53rd, or my imaginary 54th{which I was admittedly wrong about}) but what I’m asking is: What’s the harm in getting that guy in as quickly as possible (whoever it may be)?

            However, at the end of the day, it is all much ado about nothing. Worry is like a rocking chair, wont get you anywhere, but it gives you something to do for a while.

          • Pete Smith

            Yes, but the Browns front office have treated those roster spots with incredible value. It started with the kicker before the season, which was much ado about nothing. It has been perfectly fine. Now, it’s over a 4th quarterback. What are your expectations for a fourth quarterback, whether it is now or after week 5? If they are extremely low anyway, why wouldn’t you want to use the roster spot on a position that could potentially have value in the future? That’s why I think it is a big deal for some in this moment, but it is such a minuscule issue as soon as the season and possibly even as soon as this week is over as Campbell and Weeden are able to contribute (in whatever capacity they can).
            This is not some random thing with this front office. It is how they have acted from square one. They have 53 spots and they attempt to make most out of every single one of them. I like that approach. I want that in my front office.

          • maxfnmloans
          • Pete Smith

            I think her argument is just as piss poor as Craig/Scott/yours on that issue. Obsessing over a 4th or even 5th quarterback when neither is going to do anything is not worth the energy. Assuming Campbell is cleared to play, which it looks like he will be, neither Tanney or Hanie may see the field. And if they do, the result will be the same as it would have been if they signed before the season started.

            This is more completely useless focusing on the short term when the impact of having done it the way any of you are suggesting would have been just as meaningless. The difference is they would not have had the ability to use the bottom of the roster to keep bringing in and evaluating talent. I like that approach; one that most every team in the NFL uses, but somehow it is a problem that the Browns do it? Come on.

            Criticize the FO if you want over it, but the NFL as a whole and media that is not right on top of this? They don’t even care. It’s not a story. Plenty of pundits are applauding the FO for their handling of the roster.

  • Mike Bogucci

    Youre a real class act, Petey.

    • Pete Smith

      Thanks for reading.

      • Mike Bogucci

        You are welcome, but thank Craig.

        • Pete Smith

          Thanks, Craig.