The Cleveland Browns, analytics and Sashi Brown
By Thomas Moore
The Cleveland Browns are putting a new power structure in place, but will the team finally get it right this time?
To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Cleveland Browns “relieved” general manager Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine of their duties Sunday evening.
But it was what came next that gave many pause.
During his press conference announcing yet another reboot under his watch, owner Jimmy Haslam revealed that Sashi Brown is now the team’s executive vice president of football operations and will have, to use Haslam’s words, ultimate say on the final roster and which players the Browns draft.
Brown joined the Cleveland organization in January 2013 in the role of executive vice president-general counsel after spending eight years with the Jacksonville Jaguars in a similar position. With the Browns he has focused on the salary cap and contract negotiations, and is heavily invested in the analytical side of the game.
“I don’t think structure is quite as important as right people in the right place and everybody understanding their roles and working well together.” – Browns owner Jimmy Haslam
Which seems to be the primary sticking point for those questioning the move.
Analytics are not, however, a bad tool to use as long as they are not the only one in the toolbox.
For example, a quick analysis of NFL rosters will reveal that you don’t need to give $9 million in guaranteed money to a wide receiver to catch five passes; you can sign a player to the league minimum and receive that kind of production. Or that selecting a quarterback who wants to be an Internet celebrity more than an NFL player is a bad idea.
It also reminds us, in a good way, of Bill Belichick’s tenure in Cleveland.
One of Belichick’s selling points when was hired was that he and his staff had developed a series of profiles on what to look for at each position on the roster. From age, to height, weight and experience (among other things), Belichick created a blueprint for the ideal player a team would want at every position.
While the term was not invented at the time, if that is not using analytics, at least on the most basic level, to assemble a roster we’re not sure what is.
Knowing the type of player you want is only part of the equation, however, as there is more to being an NFL player than just fitting a physical profile. (See Terrelle Pryor as Exhibit A.)
That was one of the many flaws when Belichick was in Cleveland and helps explain how Tommy Vardell and Craig Powell were first-round draft picks. (Although not having Mike Lombardi involved will help.)
And that is where the true concern should lie with the current plan for rebuilding the Browns.
Brown and the stats crew can come up with all the numbers they want about what type of player the Browns should choose, but the new general manager – who will essentially be a “super scout” – and his scouts need to be able to accurately identify which players who fit the profile are also actual NFL-caliber football players.
Which, in reality, is no different from what general managers do on a daily basis, the Browns are just calling it something different.
Which means we are back to trusting that Haslam will hire the right person not only for the general manager position, but also at the head coach position.
As he does every time he decides to rebuild the franchise, Haslam vowed that this time he will get it right.
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“I don’t think this is a team that is going to go from three wins to 13 wins in a year. I think this is probably a several-year rebuilding program,” Haslam said. “As long as we feel we are directionally correct and getting better, then we will stick with things. We will be patient. We do want to do this the right way.
“Hopefully we learned a lot over the last two or three years – certainly, have been learning the hard way – but I do think it’s important to acknowledge that. We are extremely determined to turn this team around and take it from one of the worst teams in the NFL to one of the best teams.
“That is not at all going to be easy – there are lots of really smart, capable people running NFL teams who’ve done it for a long time and who are very good at it – but it’s something we’re firmly focused on doing and I think it’s extremely important.”
We’ve heard that all before from Haslam, of course, and things have yet to get better.
Having said that, the new plan is not inherently doomed to fail as long as Haslam puts the right people in place to make it succeed.
The time has arrived, however, to stop telling Browns fans how committed you are to building a winning team and start showing it.