In the spring of 2016, the Cleveland Browns decided to bring the “Moneyball” approach to team building to the NFL. Moneyball is not a new process in the NFL as the heart of the approach is to find undervalued players; Bill Belichick and the Patriots have been utilizing this approach for years. What made the Browns different is the hiring of Paul DePodesta and his team of analytics to run the front office. DePodesta approach was simple: Use two or three seasons to “tank” and acquire as many picks as possible in hopes to build a franchise that will succeed for a long time. This approach is again not new to sports has baseball’s Houston Astros just won the World Series using that method; basketball’s Philadelphia 76ers are now reaping the rewards of years of tanking with a lineup that can make the playoffs this season.
In 2016 the Browns made eight trades involving picks and players to acquire 14 picks in total. From that draft, the Browns netted four starters (Corey Coleman, Spencer Drago, Danny Shelton and Carl Nassib) (five if you count Cody Kessler). Also in 2016 Cleveland used the additional picks acquired to trade for former All-Pro Linebacker Jamie Collins.
2017 Cleveland made seven trades acquiring even more picks. Having ten total picks Cleveland gained three more starters in Myles Garret, Jabrill Peppers, and Deshone Kizer.
2018 is where the Browns will reap the rewards of acquiring picks. During the 2016 and 2017, the Browns were criticized for not taking a Quarterback. The success of Jared Goff, Carson Wentz and Deshawn Watson have only echoed that criticism, however, the picks acquired during those trade downs enabled the Browns to build a structured system for their new quarterback. Wentz and Watson were drafted to a team with an offensive minded Head Coach and a General Managers who invested millions of dollars to protect and support them. The 2018 draft has two quarterbacks at the Browns disposal: Josh Rosen of UCLA and Sam Darnold of USC.
Cleveland also owns the Houston’s Texans 2018 first round pick which currently sits at number four. In theory, the Browns can select a franchise quarterback #1 then pick a franchise defensive player. Jim Thorpe winner Minkah Fitzpatrick of Alabama would be an excellent selection to complement last year’s first rounder Jabrill Peppers. Saquon Barkley of Penn State is a tempting option at four especially with the success of Ezekiel Elliot and Leonard Fornette, however, those teams were talented, playoff ready teams that needed a running back. The Browns are not one of those teams. Plus the second round will feature talented running backs. Going into the second round the Browns have a plethora of options with three picks and plenty of talent available. Running backs Nick Chubb, Sony Michel, Ja’Von Rolland Jones, Derrius Guice would solve the running back issue. The two other picks could go to offensive linemen or secondary help.
Cleveland boasts a whopping thirty-eight Million dollars in cap space.
Kirk Cousins should be the Browns #1 priority this offseason; if Cousins signs elsewhere then the Browns should target a veteran quarterback such as Case Keenum or Nick Foles to bridge the gap between Keenum and whomever they draft #1 overall. Le’veon Bell, Trumaine Johnson Nate Solder, and Ezekiel Ansah are all free agents that the Browns can afford to sign and would significantly increase the talent of the team, or the Browns can continue the Moneyball approach to free agency by signing Terrelle Pryor, Aldon Smith, and Rex Burkhead. Cleveland could also save money in 2018 and look towards 2019. Free agents in 2019 would include Matt Ryan, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Jadeveon Clowney and Khalil Mack.
As alluded to before the Browns own the #1 and #4 pick in this year’s draft; plus three second-round picks essentially controlling the trade market during the draft. The Browns could turn the number one overall pick into two first rounder’s, a second and a third; or trade the number four pick for the same package. Given the Browns history of trading down (this especially if a quarterback slips to number 4) the Browns are going to trade the number four pick to a quarterback-hungry team such as the Jets, Cardinals or Dolphins and continue accumulating picks for 2018 and 2019.
If Cleveland hit on a quarterback this draft (broken record by now), select some useful players in the draft and continue to build additional draft capital for next year then the Moneyball approach will be considered a success.