Incompetence is Dangerous

Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN Cleveland and ESPN 850 WKNR as he has done for the past 30 years for various outlets. During his tenure, the team that has struggled, moved, and come back as an incompetent mess. Becoming overtly critical is an understandable development in his coverage—the Browns have certainly earned it even if the most recent regime change has only been at the helm for just over a full year.

Issues with Grossi, however, stem from when he meanders away from being a critical eye, deciding to dump on everything and anything the organization does. Rather than make attempts to learn the new ways of the NFL, he reverts to lowest common denominator hot takes as an attempt to skewer the team. Far too often, he ends up skewering himself instead.

His latest writing starts off with a logical premise: The current Browns regime will be judged in large accordance to who and when they draft a quarterback. It is a difficult decision and will consume many hours of their pre-draft analysis. They might even decide to wait for the 2018 NFL Draft if they are not confident about the current prospects.

Then, the train jumps the rails, smashes into a line of cars, and starts a forest fire that takes out a few thousand acres of woods.

Look, it is understandable that some of the modern ways of thinking about football through advanced mathematics is not Grossi’s preference. WFNY’s Mike Hattery wrote an interesting think-piece about how the age divide lends itself to such differences. There is a large audience that would prefer to have their football consumption exclude the math that would enjoy such material to read. Old dogs. New tricks.

However, Grossi’s combativeness crosses the line from willful ignorance to incompetence. While using “spreadsheets” as a pejorative is lazy enough, he went even further on Friday as he spread of dangerous lies about both an ESPN colleague and the Browns front office as he decided to escalate his war against analytics despite still not demonstrating a knowledge of what the term means in accordance with the NFL. Like it or not, Grossi still has large platforms that spread his message to the masses. As such, he has a responsibility to not be so reckless.

Brock Osweiler Trade

Barnwell “has served as a quantitative consultant to both MLB and NFL teams.” Although there is no mention that Barnwell has served as a consultant to the Browns, the circumstantial evidence is that he has, or does.

After all, Barnwell, who speaks the language of the Browns’ current regime, using terms like Pythagorean triangulation and Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) systems, apparently was the one who first conceptualized the idea of the NBA-like, salary-dump trade for Houston Texans quarterback bust Brock Osweiler.

The Cleveland Browns did break from NFL convention when they acquired Brock Osweiler from the Houston Texans along with their second-round selection in 2018 and sixth-round selection in 2017 for the Browns fourth-round selection in 2017. The trade was reminiscent of the NBA or MLB trades where a team acquirescompensation to take on a bad contract. With Paul DePodesta serving as the Browns chief strategy officer and the incredible amount of cap space available to the team, such trades should not be a surprise.

Grossi goes on to unfairly infer that Barnwell is working with the Browns. The only circumstantial evidence he displays is that the Browns front office is familiar with the same terms such as DVOA. I am not quite sure what the fourth-grade mathematics of Pythagorean Triangulation have to do with NFL front offices, but perhaps there is a usage for the square of the hypotenuse being equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides of which is not common knowledge.

If the Browns do not employ Barnwell as a consultant, they certainly read him and respect him. For on March 9, they shocked the sporting world – except for Barnwell – by doing what he recommended 2 ½ months earlier.

At NFL meetings in Arizona, the Browns failed to fully explain the origination of the unconventional trade.

So it’s not unfair to speculate that the concept originated with Barnwell. Which would mean the Browns are outsourcing major decisions to a football analytics columnist and podcaster with no practical experience in football scouting, coaching or team-building.

Through these lines, it is obvious that Grossi has decided his outcome and is scurrying to find whatever components might fit to force the narrative on his audience. Despite his statement, it is unfair to speculate on the origin of the concept and to further insinuate that the Browns are outsourcing major decisions to an ESPN writer.1

There is a possibility that someone in the Browns front office read Barnwell’s article about a potential trade for Osweiler. If that happened (and there is no evidence portrayed to suggest it did), then the idea would still need to be vetted by the Browns front office. The positives and negatives of such a deal would have to be weighed and debated to ensure that everyone agreed the direction was one they wanted to pursue. Let alone the negotiations with the Texans that would need to take place to complete the deal.

The final deal was also a net positive for the Browns. Whether or not they keep Osweiler on the roster, they obtained additional draft capital with the only price being to owner Jimmy Haslam’s wallet.

No. 1 overall pick

It’s easy, right? Use the No. 1 pick on pass rusher Myles Garrett and then go to work on the tougher challenges. At least it seemed simple, until Bill Barnwell struck again.

Again, if Barnwell is not an official consultant to the Browns, he obviously has their attention. So we must assume they have, and will, consider trading the No. 1 overall pick.

Why must we assume that Barnwell has the attention of the Browns front office? Let alone read with so much respect that anything Barnwell writes we must assume the Browns will consider as an edict they must follow. If the Browns did have this level of franchise direction changing respect for Barnwell, then why wouldn’t they have hired him as they did with Kevin Meers?2 When Eno Sarris of Fangraphs writes, should we assume the Cleveland Indians front office will do whatever he says?

Again, Grossi’s lone piece of evidence was that the Barnwell suggested trading for a contract such as Osweiler could be a smart play for a team like the Browns with ample cap room. If all that is required for the Browns to make a move is for someone to write about it before such a move is made, then you are all welcome for the Browns selection of Joel Bitonio. Apologies for the Justin Gilbert selection.

“Analytics? Don’t get me started,” Williams groused at a recent charity event – favor taking the physically elite Garrett to jumpstart their anemic pass rush.

I think the overwhelming consensus among football people is to rubber-stamp the pick on Garrett, and then figure out the quarterback quandary.

Ah, analytics – the very definition of paralysis by over-analysis.

Grossi make an attempt at using the word analytics as a weapon rather than making even a meager effort at understanding the nuance from which it is derived. In a WFNY interview with Jacob Rosen, Trey Causey defined football analytics as “the rigorous application of data and the scientific method to football to inform decisions and maximize the chances of winning as many games as possible.”

Football analytics take in data from scouting reports, measurements from the NFL Combine, statistics from play, and discussions with football people (as Grossi would call them) to determine the best course of action. There has always been some form of analytics in the NFL from as writers such as Paul Zimmerman to coaches such as Jimmy Johnson and front office people such as Ernie Adams. Anywhere there was someone attempting to achieve a deeper quantitative understanding of the game, analytics was there.

Someone also should tell Grossi about the expected No. 1 overall prospect Myles Garrett. Reports are that the Browns have given Garrett an astronomical grade by using those same analytics that he pans. But hey, that wouldn’t fit his narrative.

  1. He also manages to get an under-handed dig in at Paul DePodesta as well by referring to people with no practical experience directly in football being part of a decision-making team despite the success in plenty of other sports bringing in outside experts. []
  2. Meers was a football analytic researcher for Harvard that the Browns hired on as director of research. []

  • RGB

    I try to avoid Grossi, so I assume he falls under one or more of these camps:
    1. Pans the Oswieler trade, because he doesn’t understand it.
    2. QB or bust!
    B. Pick a QB high. (Ie, no later than #12. Preferably at #1)
    3. Wants the HBT out now.

  • Skulb

    Isn’t that what Viagra is for?

  • Skulb
  • Sam Gold
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  • Adrian Scippio

    It’s about time the national media realized that Grossi has a peronal issue with the Browns that started when a previous regem did not select him to be the “Voice of the Browns ”
    Grossi believes that if he can influence the local media to agree with his analogies the National Media will buy in because the National and local media consider Grossi as a source close to the team.
    By influencing the medias’ Grossi believes the Owner will buy in because the Owner is inexperienced in these scenarios, that would open the door for Grossi to toss in the wrench that suggest either the Browns don’t know what their doing or there is a conflict of interest within the organization and that’s how Grossi starts to roll his ball of hate suggesting organizational change.
    IMO; If the owner buys into it again a fires another regem before they complete their process, then the Owener needs to go and he can take Tony Grossi with him.

  • JM85

    I used to like Grossi years ago. Now he’s just a bitter guy.

  • Scott Johnson

    I’ve seen Grossi on the sidelines at training camp. Is he “credentialed” in some way? If so, best thing they could do would be yank them.

  • Some Guy

    It ain’t that hard of an idea – I thought of an Osweiler salary dump before Barnwell published his article, and I’m no football genius. (Though I’d expected the return would be closer to a first than a second).
    As for Pythagoras – you can pretty accurately predict a team’s record by using a formula similar to the Pythagorean theorem, based on points scored and points against. Analysts use this to determine whether a team was lucky or unlucky. (For instance, a team that loses a high number of Three point games may not be as bad as its record suggests, and would be a bounce back candidate the next year).

  • ConservativeChas

    Good for you for writing this article. Grossi is a muckraker who will never be satisfied until and unless the Browns follow his advice and end up winning six super bowls by doing so. Well, thank God the former isn’t going to happen. And if the latter ensues, it will most likely be because they DIDN’T follow his advice. Frankly, he sounds like an old curmudgeon whose time has passed and he’s holding onto whatever cred he might have once had. ESPN doesn’t seem to realize that. No reason to listen to any of his rumor-based innuendo and theories anymore. Time to retire, Grossi. You are exhibiting “life in the past lane” syndrome.

  • ConservativeChas

    Or perhaps all of the above?

  • C. Edward Kemp-Cummings

    Sorry but Tony Gross was astronomically better writer than the current beat writers for the local paper . This team just need to hire a experienced NFL talent evaluator . Last year this team was in the position to select the top two rookies in the draft and passed on both of them. I find your criticism of a fellow writer excessive and unprofessional .

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  • mgbode

    I understand that is probably what he was going for but it is not what he said.

  • mgbode

    I appreciate the response. Regardless of what you think of Grossi’s opinions though, he has a greater responsibility to the journalistic world to not be so reckless with his accusations. I have not “called out” Grossi in the past despite mock drafts that continually call prospects the wrong name (Kenny King) and ave the same player picked twice (Barnett), nor will I in the future unless he again is as off the deep-end as he was in this particular article.

    I enjoyed Grossi’s work year’s ago, and I thought he had a nice revival when he first joined ESPN Cleveland. It is my hope that he returns to writing about football rather than boogeymen.

  • Garry_Owen

    Too bad this dropped on a weekend, when my computing stays in sleep mode. This was good.

    I’m no lover of “analytics,” but I can appreciate it enough to know that while I don’t need to understand or value it, there are those that do, and those that do are running the Browns. I also understand that the Browns have been run by “football people” (Grossi’s people, apparently) for nearly all of the last 17 years. I neither know nor care what DVOA is or does, but Grossi can pound sand. As someone said above, the Osweiler trade was inventive, but it was no stroke of genius. While I may not have thought of it in advance, it was clear that many others had – which is reflected by the IMMEDIATE accurate analysis of the trade by many, many, many folks. If Grossi is just ticked that he didn’t see it coming, then the sand he pounds should be on some retirement beach. It should be, regardless. Time to hang up the fedora with the big “PRESS” sign, Tony.

    (FWIW, I sort of hope that the Browns actually traded for Osweiler on the off-chance that he might prove to be a serviceable starter for the short-term, in addition to the draft benefits. Also not a genius observation, but there it is.)

  • mgbode

    Thank you sir and Brock would be as an incredible QB3 to have on the roster as he would a sad starter. I don’t mind rostering him and letting Hue work with him to see if he can fix him up in the meantime.

  • Harv

    agree with all of this, Michael. Not sure if Grossi is holding an active grudge or this is just the bitterness of a guy who has spent his life’s work not only covering sports but bad sports. He does adhere to analytics – that of RPM on QB throws when he discusses the need for a strong armed QB on the lake, and any thought bubble that emanated from Paul Brown. Look, in my profession I know an older guy who has his assistant type his emails – he deep down knows the technology is part of it but ain’t willing to go all in. It’s scary.

    In any case, he’s brutally honest, even when wrong. He’s way easier for me to read than Mary Kay, whom I truly believe after two decades on the beat actually does not understand football. Most of what she writes is a hedge to cover herself or so flat out embarrassing that she made Tom Reed look like Paul Zimmerman.

  • mgbode

    Thank you and great point on Paul Brown being rooted in quantitative thoughts and how those are accepted. I agree that the fear of the new age is part of what causes him to attempt to rebuke it so harshly, which only ends up hurting himself more as it makes it obvious he doesn’t have an understanding of it.

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  • Jaker

    Great piece. I’m sharing this with my dad who needs someone else other than me ripping apart Grossi. He has the Bleacher Report team stream app and believes every word he ever reads there, mostly being Ruiter’s negativity, MKC’s late reports or TG’s personal agenda.

    I need a drink.

  • Jaker

    Great read. Afterwards I just wanted to scream YES. But I’m at work and TG ain’t worth the time

  • mgbode

    Thank you sir.