Is player leadership a key value for the Cleveland Browns front office when personnel decisions are made?
The Cleveland Browns new front office led by general manager Andrew Berry and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta have garnered plenty of attention because of their focus of analytics when making personnel decisions.
Although analytics are widely used around the NFL and have become more prominent when it comes to making decisions, Browns fans are hesitant to have a front office relying on the use of analytics because of their experience with the Sashi Brown regime.
Brown’s regime took the use of analytics to the next level, as his front office tore the Browns roster apart to bring in cheaper, younger players while also gathering plenty of draft capital. This roster purge caused the Browns to go 1-31 during Brown’s tenure.
Cleveland’s roster is nowhere near the level it was in 2016, so the new regime has not had to tear apart the roster. However, they have moved on from key veteran talent, including players who would be viewed as influential leaders on the roster. Most notably this offseason, linebackers Christian Kirksey and Joe Schobert.
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The decision to move on from Kirksey was purely from a financial standpoint, as Kirksey was unable to stay on the field enough to warrant his salary. However, Kirksey was one of the longest-tenured players on the roster who was arguably the biggest leader in the Browns locker room. And when available, he has shown to be a solid linebacker.
Schobert was also Cleveland’s defensive leader on the field, as he was the quarterback of the defense and was credited with positioning the entire unit. However, the Browns front office were not willing to meet his salary demands this offseason, letting him walk in free agency.
With the Sashi Brown willingly moving on from veteran talent and the new regime moving on from two leaders in their first offseason, it has caused some Browns fans to question if analytics value player leadership, which Scott Petrak of BrownsZone addressed the concern.
"In regard to your final question, leadership and experience can’t be objectively quantified, so they’re difficult for analytics to process completely. While I think more “traditional” front offices value leadership and experience more, I believe Berry and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta when they say they will use all the information available, and that should include intangibles.Scott Petrak, BrownsZone"
It may not show up game sheets, but leadership is something every team desperately needs to keep a team in check throughout a season. Baker Mayfield was viewed as the team’s No. 1 leader last season, but did not seem ready for the role and the team and Mayfield crumbled during the season.
When relying on young talent, it forces the young players to step into bigger leadership roles earlier in their careers, even if they are not ready for it. It takes experience in the NFL to become suited for the role, so it will take time for the young players to grow into the roles.
That is why it is not so simple for the new Browns regime to cut veteran talent from the middle of the roster in order to bring in cheaper young talent. It is sometimes the veterans who have smaller roles on the field who can be the most important leaders in the locker room.
Although it may not seem like it after one season, there is not enough evidence to say the new front office will move on from veterans no matter what. The linebacker position may be lacking currently, but the Browns did save valuable money moving on from Kirksey and Schobert.
As Petrak noted, it is hard for analytics to quantify leadership, so they will need to rely on the traditional roots of scouting to determine who boasts the leadership the Browns locker room needs. Luckily for the Browns, Berry has been a traditional scout on top of his use of analytics, so he seems to be well-positioned to make the best decisions for the locker room, including how important leadership can be.