Sometimes punchlines are just too easy. The low-hanging fruit dangling mere inches from the blades of grass. The Browns traded two straight draft picks and you would have thought they’d done this as a part of their M.O. for decades and decades. “The Browns are on the clock… you know to trade another pick!”
Yes, the Browns have traded in the draft in recent years from Mangini’s masterful trade down and awful second round to Tom Heckert’s Julio Jones trade out with the Falcons with results that are still up for debate depending on Brandon Weeden and others. Make no mistake, though, this draft executed by Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi and Rob Chudzinski was very different than either of those.
The Browns have needs and they’ve yet to fill them all. That was the complaint I saw most frequently on Twitter on Saturday as fans bemoaned the lack of personnel as the Browns opted to trade picks for higher versions in 2014. It’s absolutely and unequivocally true that the Browns still have holes to fill. I guess the difference of opinion is just how likely it was to find starters in this year’s draft in either the fourth or fifth rounds. And yes, it’s all too easy to say, “If the Steelers and Colts thought they could find a starter then who the hell are the Browns to think they can pass on one and wait for next year?”
Certainly if Shamarko Thomas from Syracuse torments the Browns twice a year for years to come, it’ll be very hard to stomach. Nobody knows this better than Joe Banner who was happy to point out in his post-draft presser that people said he and the Eagles were crazy for trading Donovan McNabb to the Redskins once upon a time.
I’m not in the business of making guarantees of success on behalf of other people and I won’t start today with Joe Banner. I don’t know Thomas’ game well enough, nor do I know the other available players well enough to tell you that it’s all good or bad right now. What I can tell you is that I at least think I understand what Banner and the crew are going for.
The Browns knew they needed to pick up a lot of players this year and they did so more in free agency than I think any time since Phil Savage. The Browns also knew they were bringing somewhere around 20 players through portions of their offseason program who are coming off their rookie years. 14 players on the roster right now are entering their third seasons as pros. You have to think that’s why the Browns thought it was time to add veterans like 27-year-olds Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant as the premier free agents. You have to think it’s why the Browns went to add a sixth year receiver in Davone Bess.
Building an NFL roster is one of strategy and timing to balance between veterans and rookies. Trading a fourth and fifth rounder does not mean that the Browns are playing to lose this season. The statistics of starters making it from those rounds are apparent enough to tell us all that if those two picks were the keys to success for the Browns this season, then the team was likely destined to fail anyway. The keys to competing are with guys getting better internally and with experienced vets brought in through free agency. Trading fourth and fifth round picks this year is barely a blip on the roster radar compared to those other moves.
At least that’s the thinking.
I obviously can’t guarantee that the Browns did it right. A lot is riding on the shoulders of this new coaching staff getting the most growth out of this young roster and the aforementioned free agents living up to their biggest bits of potential. I have no idea if that will come to pass any more than anyone else does.
The Browns added starters in free agency and were young enough that they decided not to add any other rookies this year. And for that sacrifice, the Cleveland Browns upgraded two picks. Depending on how things go again next season, maybe they’ll do it again and the third and fourth become seconds and thirds. All of a sudden, three years down the road when the team is hopefully making tough choices about re-signing their own free agents who are deserving of good deals, they are able to have nice picks to replace them.
Or if they suffer through a season of faltering quarterback play this year, maybe that package of third and fourth rounders is enough to allow the Browns to jump to a spot and grab the quarterback we’ve all been hoping they’d find since 1999.
I know that’s a lot of moving pieces and speculation and there’s literally no track record in Berea for us to lean on to bolster faith. I enjoyed their process in free agency. I enjoyed the trade for Davone Bess. I think they can plug a few more holes internally and via another period of free agency before the season starts. And for those reasons, I’m not really upset that the Browns traded a couple of picks on the third day of the NFL draft for the 2013 season.
The plan makes sense. It’s a plan that’s been used by the Patriots and the 49ers. Of course having the plan is probably the easy part. Executing the plan successfully is the hard part. Just ask Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert who whiffed on RG3 when their assets were maturing into juicy tradable pieces. Just because they failed to land RG3 doesn’t indict the strategy anymore than Mangini’s second round nightmare indicts the idea of having three second round picks in a desperate rebuilding year. All you can do is hope that Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi don’t come up short when they’ve got the chance to see their investments mature.
Banner said himself that the trades aren’t them asking for a free pass.
“We are not asking for a free pass for this year. We expect to improve. We expect it to be conspicuous. As you look at the individual players we added and the way the coaches bring them together and get them in sync, we are not saying that we don’t expect to be better. We are not going to reach all of our goals or fill all of our needs this year. But we think we will play exciting, aggressive football.”
In the absence of faith, that’s one of the cool things about Joe Banner so far. He says things that give you the opportunity to hold him accountable. If this Browns team doesn’t improve on their five win total, you can start right with him. Even as I think I understand the Browns strategy, I’ll be the first one to hold him accountable if it doesn’t work like they think it will.