Browns know Belichick assistants have been good coaches, not special GMs
For the Cleveland Browns front office, it’s all too well understood why Patriots assistant coaches cannot easily duplicate the achievements of head coach Bill Belichick. The national media seems amazed at the struggles of some very good coaches — recently fired Bill O’Brien in Houston and soon-to-be-fired Matt Patricia in Detroit — to match the success they had as coaching assistants under Belichick at New England before their less successful gigs as head coaches.
The narrative promoted by the national media is that Belichick has some mysterious organizational skill, and he is able to choose assistants that lack this skill. Plus he seems to be the ultimate tough-guy and control-freak, and his assistants don’t quite inspire the same respect and thus don’t terrify players as much. You just cannot argue with a coach that has been to the Super Bowl twelve times and has eight rings, six of them as a head coach.
Ahem. All that may be partly true, but everyone may be missing the obvious. Yes, Belichick is top-notch in all areas of coaching. But the Browns’ Paul DePodesta and his Ivy League-based analytics team realized years ago that winners get a discount when they sign free agents. Losers have to pay a premium, or a tax. Once the trend is established, it is self-reinforcing. There’s seemingly endless supply of players willing to play for Bill Belichick at a multi-million dollar discount, because they believe he can help them win.
Analogously, the Browns’ vicious cycle of losing was equally difficult to break as the Patriots’ positive cycle of winning. For years players and their agents avoided Cleveland unless huge dollars were waved at them. Both effects are real, and can be quantified in salary cap terms.
This could not be made more clear than in the case of Jamie Collins, a tremendous linebacker who made the Pro Bowl and second-team All Pro with New England and earned a Super Bowl ring. However he was unhappy with his contract, and was traded to Cleveland at the 2016 trade deadline.
Case Study: The Jamie Collins Effect
The Browns have proven that there is a tax on losing and the Patriots get a discount for winning. Jamie Collins was paid a modest rookie contract salary, less than a million dollars per year, and wanted to be extended. Coach Belichick was not interested. When it started to affect his play on the field, Belichick accepted an offer for a third-round draft pick from Sashi Brown and the struggling Browns. Brown made a determined effort to sign him to a long-term contract.
Highly respected agent Bus Cook was able to get Collins and his family the financial security he wanted via a four-year, $50 million dollar contract extension with $26 million guaranteed. However, Collins wound up getting injured, and the 2017 team was worse than the 2016 team which may have made Cleveland fans resentful. That, of course, was totally unfair. Collins definitely earned his money.
The fact of the matter was that Collins was a star player and it was he, rather than middle linebacker Joe Schobert, who led the Browns in tackles in 2018, 104 to 103.
Then the Browns decided they would de-emphasize the linebacker position, following the modern trend of fielding only two linebackers more often than not. Probably because of that, rather than any dissatisfaction with his play, they cut him with two years remaining on his contract, whereupon he went back to New England for $3 million dollars, or about one-fourth of what he had been getting.
This year, ex-Patriot assistant Matt Patricia wanted his trusty star linebacker in Detroit, so he signed a new contract for $30 million over three years, with $18 million guaranteed.
Let’s review the Jamie Collins Effect:
Patriots: 3 years — $0.95 million, and a Super Bowl ring
Browns: 3 years — $9.2 million
Patriots: 1 year — $3,000,000 another Super Bowl ring
Lions: (2020), $11,000,000, ($30,000,000 over 3 years, $18 million guaranteed)
Bottom line: in no season did Cleveland or Detroit pay less than 300 percent of the maximum Belichick rate.
If that is not enough proof, they did the exact same experiment with big defensive tackle Danny Shelton, a former Browns first round draft pick.