Is “The Plan” working for the Browns?

Consternation over the 2017 winless season has led some to calumny regarding the front office of the Cleveland Browns. The perceived maliciousness between the coaching staff and personnel decision-makers at the trade deadline did not help ease any minds. As owner Jimmy Haslam sees another campaign steer closer to fruitless endeavor than even a playoff pretender, the fates of those he entrusted to demolish the 2015 roster must now be evaluated upon their expected ability to create future contending clubs.

Leadership often operates within only the gray area of a process with a required need to balance the qualitative and quantitative measures throughout an organization. As such, a methodology is required to base the current status of The Plan the Harvard Brain Trust (HBT) unveiled when they came into power. Asset accumulation, allocation, development, cultural improvements, and on field results each an important but separate component of the overall scheme. After one season and nine games, here is the current status of the HBT Plan.1

Asset Accumulation

Extra draft picks in upcoming years

  • 2018 first-round Texans selection
  • 2018 second-round Texans selection
  • 2018 second-round Eagles selection
  • 2018 fourth-round Panthers selection
  • 2018 fifth-round Chiefs selection (conditional – Cameron Erving)
  • 2018 seventh-round Colts selection (conditional – Billy Winn)
  • 2019 seventh-round Steelers selection

Is there one among us who thinks the HBT have not succeeded in the arena of obtaining the maximum number of assets possible? No other team can match the vast quantity of high-round, and high-per-round, picks the Browns have held over the past several drafts and for drafts yet to come. There is a strong possibility the Browns will hold two Top 10 picks and four Top 40 picks in the 2018 NFL Draft. Yes, 10 percent of the first 40 selections are likely set to don the brown and orange should the HBT see it wise to select players at those positions rather than continue asset accumulation.

The accumulation has gotten to the point of overabundance where there have been some odd machinations with the asset utilization. For instance, the Browns traded cornerback Justin Gilbert to the Steelers for their 2018 sixth-round pick. The Browns then used that same 2018 sixth-round pick to obtain wide receiver Sammie Coates from… the Steelers. The end result was a Justin Gilbert for Sammie Coates trade, so neither team was helped on the field. The league office did have to process quite a bit of paperwork though.

Asset Allocation and Development

Note: It is worth mentioning all of the players above are either rookies or second-year NFL players. Quarterback Jared Goff of the Los Angeles Rams should be an obvious example of how foolish this table might look in even just a year or two. The development patterns of players are often erratic and the sample sizes of NFL games are small. These are not meant to be a final arbiter on their careers but a simple snapshot as best we can guess at this particular moment.

courtesy of

Acquiring a vast array of assets does nothing of substance if they are not utilized properly. Divergence of opinion is expected to find genesis in the color coded table above. Each pick is depicted with a corresponding hue to note the current space the player exists on their development cycle. Careful consideration has been taken with respect to the associated development per position and draft location before separating into four categories: good (green), OK (orange), poor (purple), and released (red).

The Browns have had 24 selections over the past two drafts. Of these, three players no longer reside under control by the team (Payton, Caldwell, Wright). Three more have not only secured starting positions but have shown themselves to be players worthy of having the team built around them (Garrett, Ogbah, S. Coleman). Therefore, 18 players reside in the murkiness of determination between whether or not they will require to be extended beyond their initial NFL contracts as part of the future of the football team on the Northcoast of Ohio.

The seven individuals registering in the OK range from the above chart range from starter to rotational player. None of those starting appear to be fully entrenched as Derrick Kindred would need to battle Jabrill Peppers should the Browns ever see it wise to add an actual free safety to their roster. Devalve is being pushed by Njoku, who is also on this list. Drango is only on the field for the initial snap due to Joe Thomas booking his first-ever trip to Injured Reserve. Schobert remains the lone member in this class who does not appear to be in direct danger of losing his starting grip with Ogunjobi and Brantley striving to scratch the ranks of those who top the depth chart.

The depressing number of 11 players are left to don purple as they have yet to navigate the NFL in an acceptable way.2 Many of the players within this sect have shown glimpses of the promise the front office saw when writing their names on the draft cards. The issue might be with the dependence upon them to provide more than their youthful status has earned or skills can provide them. Gonzalez is still learning the speed of NFL special teams. Coleman is leaned as as the No. 1 wide receiver (when he isn’t injured). Peppers is put into the angel position on defense despite strengths geared towards being close to the line of scrimmage. Louis and Higgins cannot blend into the background as they have had to be THE targets at times in the passing game. Having such dependence on those types of receiving options helps demonstrate the situation Kizer has been placed within. The remaining are Dayes and Nassib who appear to be best served as backend rotation options, even for a team as needy as the Browns.

Cultural Improvements

The analytical minds of the front office scouring the field of players within the NFL and college ranks and utilizing every loophole and market inefficiency possible in order to maximize the talent on the 53-man roster and supply positions of need for the old school coaches who focus on the results on the field is the vision attempted to be sold upon the hiring of Brown and Jackson as counterparts.

The optics have not matched the message. National reporters have been able to write of the constant discord between the vision in the offices in Berea and on the field. Wins have been even more scarce than envisioned as historical marks of futility must be dredged up as the only measures of comparison. Full-on mutiny did not seem beyond the realm as discord hit at the trade deadline.

What now?

The Browns are not without talent. The defensive and offensive lines have been the strength of the team. There have been flashes of progress from the skill positions on offense, and the cornerbacks have surprised (in a positive way) on defense. Far too many self-inflicted wounds from turnovers and penalties have stunted any attempts to win games, but, as those are filtered out, the team the Lions lauded for talent has the opportunity to change the discourse about the Browns.

If the Harvard Brain Trust expects to still be in charge of the team when such conversations steer to the positive, then they must hope their drafted players show higher aptitude over the remaining weeks. To do so, more of the players who have shown glimpses must do so with a much greater consistency. Those who have shown progress must continue on that path (at an advanced rate if possible). The purples to orange, the oranges to green. Otherwise, they might find themselves watching the progress from afar.

  1. Yes, free agency plays a part in the overall process of what the Browns are attempting to accomplish. However, the main focus here is the building of the foundation, which is accomplished through the draft, which is why it is the focus. []
  2. Wilson and Johnson have spent the season on Injured Reserve. []

  • Steve

    But the precedent wasn’t there in the other two leagues to the same extent as what those four teams have done, and I think that is precisely why it worked so well.

    The Browns should zig when precedent says to zag. The Browns marching in line with the rest of the NFL when they are so far behind doesn’t catch them up. Trying something completely different might. And the worst case scenario? They get to pick Myles Garrett in the draft.

  • Steve

    But the chances of getting a Watt at 11 are much lower. You need to still scout well, but now you also need 10 teams to miss on him.

    This franchise chose the risk that Browns fans might not show up for one win instead of four over the risk that 10 teams would pass on the next Watt.

  • Pat Leonard

    But they were a missed field goal away from losing out on Myles Garrett. They were awful for 18 years and were almost never in position to draft the first QB in the draft. Tanking as a philosophy in the NFL has definitely been done before, but I don’t see it being more successful than non-tanking strategies.

  • tigersbrowns2

    i can’t say for sure if he’ll be here in 2019 , but if they keep everyone intact going into next season , I think they’ll all be here in 2019 … if the McCarron non-trade was such a fiasco , he would already be looking for work. success is coming & many are going to have to learn how to start dealing with something so new.

    i will be here to help any who might need a little help in this transition.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi STEVE … i personally think Andrew Berry is under-rated , is the most valuable member of the HBT & will continue to get better.

  • tigersbrowns2

    good post FOG !

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi GARRY … miss ya , man .

  • Garry_Owen

    Thanks, tb2. Some people think they’re part of #TeamApathy. I guess I’m just showing them how it’s actually done.

  • mgbode

    Why does #TeamApathy have to mean #TeamForgetWhereYouCameFrom ???

    (just kidding G_O, we love ya)

  • Steve

    “They were awful for 18 years and were almost never in position to draft the first QB in the draft.”

    In no small part to taking half-measures at the whoe rebuilding process.

    “Tanking as a philosophy in the NFL has definitely been done before”

    But I would say not to the extent the Browns are going for. The Colts seeing that Manning is out for the year, adjusting, and being back in a position to contend with a solid QB the next year is like a MLB team trading off guys at the deadline and different than this years-ahead planning that the Cubs, Astros, and Browns have done.

  • Garry_Owen

    Haven’t forgotten. It’s just a combination of factors: from the busiest work season I’ve ever experienced; to general world-weariness, including sports; to the natural and necessary re-examination of life priorities that follows. I have been reading when I can. The love is mutual, if quiet.

  • Skulb

    Yes, but only because it is so bad that it has already set several NFL records for badness, with no end in sight. At this point, the men with plen (Man with a plan, plural. Clearly) are competing only against themselves in terms of all time trash of the NFL. And I could understand this relentless drive to be awful if they were competing against another franchise, so unattainably horrible that it is buried beneath ten feet of bad. Being second worst would make you overlooked, which is even worse. But they aren’t second worst. They are worst. The Browns won the award already! Please stop it with The Plan! There is no need for the Browns to get any worse than they already are.

  • Skulb

    You know, there was a German surrealist band in the 70s and 80s called Der Plan. Maybe it can become your new favorite band.

  • Skulb

    Creative destruction is a very popular delusion in business circles and politics these days.

  • Robert Sass

    1 win in two seasons, means NO the PLAN is NOT working… simple as that…

  • Skulb

    1: Hire a talent evaluator who understands what to look for in players.
    2: Let this talent evaulator hire a head coach who is also a good talent evaluator, as well as a motivator and a teacher.
    3: Let the HC hire coordinators who are primarily tacticians, meaning that they know how to use their strengths and exploit their opponents’ weaknesses while hiding their own.
    4: Hire position coaches who are obsessed with technique and nothing else.

    Simple! Next:

    5: Draft BPA. Fill in the roster with reasonably priced free agents. Never trade up. Trade down if the value isn’t there at your draft position. Take talent when it is there and hang onto it. You’re not running a car wash where there is an endless stream of poor students to exploit for you with more or less the same results. You need talent to win NFL games.
    6: Look for a long term solution at QB, but don’t force it and don’t experiment. Stick with experienced vets like McCown until you find a slam dunk, which shouldn’t take long with enough consecutive 0-16 seasons.

    Can’t understand what’s so hard about this.

  • Sam Gold
  • mgbode

    You like that!

  • RGB

    Gotta catch up on those billable hours.

  • KFunk

    IMO, one of the biggest issues is the lack of veteran leadership. These young guys need to be taught literally every little thing by the coaches, with little peer input/oversight. That will not help them develop as quickly. The FO should have hung onto more vets so JT isn’t the only vet who’s respected. Could have been Schwartz, Gipson, Demario Davis & Haden. Then cut DD & Haden after this season, making room for younger guys to play (Shobert, for example). Make the young guys earn their stripes, and be willing to pay the $$ for the learning that will take place in the meantime.

    It worked for the Tribe in 2013 when they got Swisher & Bourne. Even though they didn’t play great, they helped to change the tenor of the locker room, and bridge the vet leadership until Brantley, Kipnis, etc were ready to be the vets. Right now, the Browns vets are a bunch of guys who haven’t won more games than they have fingers. The Browns need some vet leadership to facilitate the learning process, and help show the young guys how to prepare and win (at least a few games).

    I fear next season is going to be an almost-as-painful 3-13 because there are so many rookies, etc. The 2-3 yr plan to get to the playoffs will stretch to be 5-7 yrs without an influx of vets.

  • mgbode

    You had me until Swish and Bourn. Man, people did not seem to like that guys (Swish) and the team noticeably took off when he was removed from the team.

  • KFunk

    Fair enough. But the sentiment behind it is this: new manager comes in, demands some vets to help in the clubhouse, and the FO supports that. The manager knew what he needed, and the FO delivered. The Browns FO needs to listen to the HC (i.e. the highest ranking “football person”) more often, especially when he asks for vets.

    For example, I understand he did not want to let Demario Davis go. And Gipson would look good in a browns uni. I just think the FO tore it down too much

  • What’s so hard about this plan is that it’s more easier said than done.

    Problem 1: You need people that fit the qualifications that you’re looking for. Looking at the landscape of the NFL, finding the right people is like looking for a needle in a haystack.

    Problem 2: Do they want to work for the Cleveland Browns? If they can’t, or won’t due to reasons, then you’re out of luck. And no amount of money will change that.

    Problem 3: Are they willing to work with each other towards a common goal. If not, arguments and possibly fighting about the direction of this team will occur. Afterwards, resignations galore.

    And probably the biggest one yet?

    Problem 4: Do you have the patience see this plan go through. Because if you’re going to let go of your newly hired people shortly after you hired them, you’re not going to accomplish any type of success.

  • Skulb

    Fine. But hiring people with experience from baseball, which has a completely different structure and player longevity than football does, might just be completely futile. A team directly controls so few players as well, that you almost need luck to retain talent beyond 53 even if you do have a good plan. Ergo, talent is at an absolute premium simply because there are so few spots. I think my plan will work if you get the right people in place, and starting at the very top, where many teams seem to be hiring people based on almost any other criterium than football knowledge and talent evaluating skills. I know this from the Redskins, who basically have a sleazy lawyer as their GM. If Bruce Allen does anything right with the roster it is down to blind luck. He has a job exclusively because daddy had a job. And this is a futile way to run a football franchise too.

    But of course it has nothing on the Cleveland Baseball Browns. I have no idea if The Plan will work, or even if it can work under any circumstances. No one does, including the people who concocted The Plan. And I just presented a plan that would certainly work given certain requirements. Isn’t that better then?

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  • mgbode

    Jordan Poyer is the FS we let slip away I preferred, but these are fair points. It is a wonder if we went too far or if it was needed and these are just the painful first years as it happens in other sports w/ similar overhauls. We shall see.

  • KFunk

    Yeah, I’m curious to see if this model works in FB also. Something tells me they’re missing the human element to all this, in terms of professional growth & learning.

    I look forward to 5 more highly-drafted rookies next year, *but they will still be rookies*. Meanwhile, I’m holding out hope that Kizer shows he’s worth building around, so they can focus on adding pieces around him rather than draft a QB #1, esp if one isn’t a clear slam dunk, which appears to be a growing possibility. I feel pretty strongly that if Kizer had stayed @ ND, he’d be right up there– if not leading– this QB class. I think we got lucky in landing him @ the end of the 2nd round last draft. I don’t put hardly any of this roster crap at his feet.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi SKULB … i can handle this stretch , especially if it leads to sustained success.

  • mgbode

    It is going to be difficult for Kizer to show over these last few weeks that we shouldn’t draft a QB early. As for who should be QB1, Jake Burns is going to lay out his case for one later today at WFNY.

    I do think we got lucky landing Kizer because he has talent. Whether or not we are able to properly utilize it and develop him is going to be the question.

  • KFunk

    Cool, I look forward to reading it

    To your second point, how would that be any different with a new, competing rookie in the QB room.. all they’d do is take reps from one another.

  • mgbode

    The hope would be that one would show they were demonstrably better, but you never know.

  • KFunk

    I would sure hope that the guy who’s been playing professional football, has had full-time professional coaching, has the right skill set, and a year under his belt would easily outperform a rookie! Which leads to the inevitable question of why have both around, at the expense of drafting a stud playmaker or a new tackle to groom.

    I know I’m early with all this, but I think there’s far too little talk of “shouldn’t we just invest in supporting Kizer?” If we agree the answer is yes, I don’t think wasting the top pick on a bench QB is the best way to do that.

    I don’t think any QB would have come in here and lit it up, given the offensive roster, so I don’t think it’s fair to say Kizer hasn’t proven himself enough. And BTW there doesn’t seem to be a no-brainer QB coming out this year. I can already smell a trade down coming, and (gasp!) that might not be a bad thing in this case

  • Skulb

    But what if it doesn’t lead to success at all?

  • paulbip

    Drafting better than the last 3, no, that means nothing. Did you know that Lombardi had his draft board posted in alphabetical order?

  • paulbip

    I wish that I could run the Browns draft. Last year, Garrett, Allen, and Foster were there for the taking.

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  • tigersbrowns2

    … it will.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi PAUL … it does mean something. they improved from their 1st draft to their 2nd & they are set-up real nice this next off-season. yes , they will have to make this next draft count in a real big way … and i think they’ll do it.

  • Skulb

    I have to ask; what are you basing this pious hope on? If we overlook the Chargers game for a moment, this is now a team that is almost TWO YEARS removed from its last win. I still had hair the last time it won a road game. This is what I mean when I say that Browns fans have become connoisseurs of losing. To the uninitiated, like me, it is very hard to tell the difference between losing all your game pre-baseball coup d’etat and losing all your games post-baseball coup d’etat. It looks exactly the same to me now as it did before, except that it has been going on for even longer.

    Is there some hard-to-detect qualitative improvement here that I am missing? And if so, what exactly am I supposed to be looking for? I just don’t get it.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi SKULB … since 1999 no regime has lasted longer than 2 years & there has been a lot of bad drafting since then as well. The Browns have had seasons where they had some decent players & managed to go 3-13 or 4-12 … what’s special about that ? … not a single thing when you’re doing this almost every season.

    so last year they blew-it-up almost down to the bare bones … thus 1-15. this year we have an even younger team than last year & Hue is trying to win games with the youngest team in the NFL , starting a rookie QB who has no WR’s to throw to …. makes it tough to win games. however , they actually should’ve beat Indy , TEN & the NYJ , but they didn’t. let’s say they did win 2 of those games & were 2-7 … would that be considered improvement over last year & it means we’re moving in the right direction ?

    after blowing-it-up so completely , they weren’t going to fix everything in 2 drafts / off-seasons … so , what’s a reasonable amount of time after a complete blow-up ?

    here’s why i think the current FO will be successful : they have done excellent on draft capital … they may not have hit on every single pick & they may have passed on some good players , but they still did a good job with stocking the roster with young athletic talent … 14 picks in 2015 , 10 picks in 2016 & another 13 picks this year , including TWO 1st rounders & Three 2nd rounders … they are also sitting with a ton of cap space & are set-up real nice to make a big splash this next off-season.

    they started in the trenches … the O-line & D-line are very solid … they did well in this area … so , the biggest holes right now are QB , WR , RB & FS … though the last 5 games Kizer will have Gordon , Coleman & Britt at WR … i am looking forward to these last 5 games.

    i don’t think the owner , FO , or Hue really cared about wins last year or even this year … i seriously think next year they start caring about wins & i have already predicted they will challenge for the division title in 2019.

    and you know what ? the biggest thing i want is continuity … when you hire people , give them the time it takes to execute their plan … not firing everyone every 2 years because you aren’t getting the desired results.

    i happen to like the plan & think it will pay-off BIG TIME if they just leave everyone in there & have a little patience.

  • tigersbrowns2

    okay , improvement … here is something tangible for you :

    2016 defense – 31st
    2016 offense – 30th

    2017 defense – 10th
    2017 offense – 25th

    and you can already see the defense is better than last year , especially against the run & the O-line is performing much better than last year’s unit.

    so , it’s not just wins & losses right now …

  • Skulb

    Alright then. I guess we’ll find out about this as well. And I’ve not said I want people fired either. Even if my views on the matter were important I wouldn’t be calling for that, because it seems pointless even if the plan is bonkers. Who would even want the job now after these many years of Mad Jimmy running the shop. You don’t get a job with Joseph Mengele if you know what he does for a living, do you?

    I just wanted to know what the optimism is based on that this alleged plan will work. Also, you’re talking dismissively about winning four games in a season;, which, sad as it is, is four times as many as the Browns are presently on pace for. Eight times as many if you count backwards the wrong way. All I’m saying is that there is a pain threshold here for most people, and for most owners. And this presumably includes the ever trigger-happy Jimmy Haslam. And I think less than one win pr year would be cutting right to the bone for anyone, no matter what the excuse is. Please stop cutting me, basically. Can’t you see I need a medic?

  • Tom Henry

    I’m kinda old and have been a Browns fan since I was little. I can hardly believe my attitude toward them now as I used to seemingly live and die with them.
    I actually root on them to loose, because it’s the only thing that makes them special, now. They make horrendously foolish decisions that I used to hate, and they loose. Accepting this as fun has joyfully enriched my life. Now we can let Kizer finish this season to fully realize his greatness and compare his stats to those of last year’s rookie starter and see how the Browns use that knowledge and why they need more of a Kizer sample to make the assessment to find out if they are sitting on a future 3rd string QB worth keeping somewhere on their present roster that now features a HIGH dollar offensive line. Also a pair of tight ends that are apparently each better than pro bowler, Gary Barnidge.
    It’s so freaking fun that they give the biggest chances to their recent most historical failures.
    That’s why the Browns are still worth watching. That and the Walking Dead.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi TOM … it’s sad , but whatever “does it” for you , just go for it … I have been a fan since the early 70’s , so i just want to see them do well before i kick-it.

    I used to take the losses pretty hard … now , I just watch the games.

  • Tom Henry

    The Browns are showing the most conclusive results of any team, even the Eagles.

  • Tom Henry

    Build onto. Not rebuild. They have lots money and a good defense, so….
    1)Very good FA QB (Alex, Eli, Kirk)
    2)Best QB in draft (not someone short or weird)
    3)1st round tackle
    4) A coach that will win at least three games his first year (Anybody but Hue)
    5) The rest won’t matter. Just find the best remaining draft talent available and make your safety play safety.

  • bossman09

    Need to compare this chart in the context of acquiring draft choices. Part of “the process” is the tenant that more choices = more success. I.E. it’s a numbers game.
    Compare the results of the last 2 years compared to an average of 14 picks in 2 years
    Browns – 24 picks, 3 good, 10 OK, 10 poor, 3 cut
    Average – 14 picks, 3 good? 5 OK? 3 poor?, 3 cut?
    I think it’s fair to say that any team would be out of their shoes excited to get 3 good and 10 OK out of 14 picks after 2 years and 5 good, 7 OK, after 4. The Browns are well on track to exceed that. Of course, this is a statistical exercise as it doesn’t take into account the value of QB which is a total miss, vs Kicker.