A new front-office approach arrived in Cleveland this offseason to the tune of many skeptics and discontent. In truth, every team employs some sort of analytics department—what differs for each team is what set of data they prioritize and how they implement that. Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta was brought in to oversee the Browns' organization, implementing processes that resulted in some positive offseason moves.
Time will tell as to whether or not DePodesta actually turns Cleveland into the “moneyball” franchise of football, but this much is certain—another offseason has brought yet another front office overhaul for the Browns.
Offseason grade: B+
New Arrivals: QB Robert Griffin III, S Rahim Moore, LB Justin Tuggle, ED Jackson Jeffcoat, LB Demario Davis, OT Alvin Bailey, CB Eric Patterson, CB Jamar Taylor
Re-signings: S Don Jones, WR Terrelle Pryor, LB Tank Carder, OL Austin Pasztor
Departures: OT Mitchell Schwartz, S Donte Whitner, DI Randy Starks, C Alex Mack, LB Karlos Dansby, WR Travis Benjamin, LB Craig Robertson, WR Dwayne Bowe, QB Pat Devlin, CB Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, ED Scott Solomon, QB Johnny Manziel, TE Jim Dray, S Tashaun Gipson, CB/ST Johnson Bademosi
When looking at Cleveland's arrivals and re-signings, the list doesn’t inspire confidence in the new front office—especially when compared to what the Browns lost via free agency or cuts. Mitchell Schwartz was PFF’s highest-graded RT in 2015, Alex Mack has been to multiple Pro Bowls, Tashaun Gipson has 14 career interceptions with 13 of those coming in the past three seasons, and Travis Benjamin was Cleveland’s top WR in 2015. Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby were very productive in 2015, but were cut due to their age and the front office’s commitment to fielding a younger roster in 2016. That’s six starters that need to be replaced, not to mention Craig Robertson and Randy Starks, both whom played significant snaps in 2015.
While we gave the Browns a D+ in free agency, that’s more because of the short-term impact it will have on the team in 2016. Because most of the signings the Browns made didn’t impact compensatory picks in 2017, the 2016 free-agency period won’t be noticed positively until next offseason. They will most likely have four compensatory picks next year, with at least three of them in the fourth-round or better.
The signing of RG III is one of low risk, high reward. He was given a two-year, $15 million contract with $6.75 million guaranteed in year one, with nothing guaranteed in year two. Colleague Sam Monson addressed the signing in March. If he still is the player we last saw on the football field—a broken quarterback lacking confidence in his abilities—Cleveland can cut ties next offseason with no cap hit. If he reclaims his rookie form under Hue Jackson’s tutelage, Cleveland will stop adding to the infamous jersey of shame. The table below shows Griffin’s career decline.
His rookie year was special, and his second season could be attributed in part to injury, and part to defenses adjusting to his style of play.
The other signings are players that have showed flashes or good play in the past, but regressed in 2015. Rahim Moore has been an average safety over the course of his career, with solid play in coverage. Demario Davis has been inconsistent in his career, grading positively just once in four years in 2014, and Alvin Bailey has experience at all positions on the offensive line, albeit with very poor play.
2016 NFL draft
- Round 1 (pick No. 15) (from Los Angeles via Tennessee) Corey Coleman, WR, Baylor
- Round 2 (pick No. 32) Emmanuel Ogbah, DE, Oklahoma State
- Round 3 (pick No. 65) Carl Nassib, DE, Penn State
- Round 3 (pick No. 76) (from Los Angeles via Tennessee) Shon Coleman, OT, Auburn
- Round 3 (pick No. 93) Cody Kessler, QB, USC
- Round 4 (pick No. 99) Joe Schobert, OLB, Wisconsin
- Round 4 (pick No. 114) Ricardo Louis, WR, Auburn
- Round 4 (pick No. 129) (from Carolina) Derrick Kindred, S, TCU
- Round 4 (pick No. 138) Seth Devalve, WR/TE, Princeton
- Round 5 (pick No. 154) (from Oakland) Jordan Payton, WR, UCLA
- Round 5 (pick No. 168) (from Carolina) Spencer Drango, OT, Baylor
- Round 5 (pick No. 172) Rashard Higgins, WR, Colorado State
- Round 5 (pick No. 173) Trey Caldwell, CB, Louisiana-Monroe
- Round 7 (pick No. 250) Scooby Wright III, ILB, Arizona
We gave the Browns the highest grade of any NFL team post-draft because of a combination of who they selected and the trades they made. The draft is where this front office is mortgaging their future, and where Paul DePodesta’s impact has first been felt. DePodesta, along with the newly-promoted Executive Vice President of Football Operations, Sashi Brown, had a plan to acquire picks for the future as well as add to this draft class was put to full force. The Browns had 10 picks before any trades, and ended up with 15 players (14 draft picks and Jamar Taylor via trade) from this draft, with four future picks including an extra first, second, and seventh in 2017, and an extra second in 2018.
Corey Coleman was our highest-ranked WR and No. 9 overall prospect. His athleticism and production are evident on tape, and he had a best-in-class 4.88 yards per route run last season before his quarterbacks started going down to injury. Ogbah and Nassib were two of the most productive pass-rushers in college. Cody Kessler was the most accurate QB under 20 yards, and was top-four in accuracy under pressure in both 2014 and 2015.
Where Cleveland really won this draft was on day three: Higgins (the No. 40 overall prospect on PFF's draft board), Wright (No. 71), Schobert (No. 74), Drango (No. 107), and Payton (No. 118) all were steals relative to where they were drafted. Higgins graded as our No. 2 WR in 2014—ahead of 2014 No. 4 overall pick Amari Cooper. With plays like this, what’s not to like:
Owner Jimmy Haslam cleaned house after another disappointing season in Cleveland, firing GM Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine. Farmer was replaced with Sashi Brown, Paul DePodesta and Andrew Berry (vice president of player personnel), while Hue Jackson was hired as the new head coach. Jackson is a clear upgrade, as well as the staff he brought in. Hue has experience as a head coach, and turned an Oakland Raiders team that had been struggling for years into a team that was one win from a playoff berth. He took Andy Dalton to a new level of play in 2015, and has truly brought a new culture to Cleveland. “Team Harvard” (Brown, DePodesta, and Berry all graduated from Harvard) is committed to building through the draft, and cut ties with older, unproductive players.
There were some hiccups early in free agency with the waffling on resigning Mitchell Schwartz, but when this offseason is taken as a whole, the organizational structure and continuity along with the transactions, it’s hard to not argue that the franchise is heading in the right direction. The front office is clearly committed to building through the draft and relying on an experienced coaching staff to get the most out of every player. Hue’s system—designed to play to his player’s strengths—will put the team in good situations.
Browns’ projected base defense in 2016 (2015 season grades shown):
Browns’ projected base offense in 2016 (2015 season grades shown):