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 Gipson. Buster 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.