Execution of ‘The Plan’ has always been the biggest problem

Former Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown found himself in a peculiar situation when he was awarded the job in January of 2016. Whether through his own desire, or collective group think, the plan was to tear the roster down coming off a 3-13 season and seek the type of base needed for long-term success. A five-year plan was laid out, and the fans, through the media, were sold this narrative.

On the surface, such a plan (“The Plan”) sounds intelligent. With many organizations around the NFL, it likely works. The problem is the Browns never quite figured out they had taken The Plan too far until it was too late.

The situation the Browns were facing was simple: The franchise kept winning three-to-six games a year. It was just average enough to keep hope alive that a winning season was just around the corner. The results, however, were too poor to attract the necessary free agents, and never quite bad enough to get the top three pick for a quarterback-starved franchise. The thought became clear to the organization: The current path isn’t working, and a restart was needed. This was exactly the route the Browns decided to take.

Poor timing

The single biggest problem in The Plan was the timing by which it was set in motion. Think back to 2014 for just a moment. The Browns roar out of the gates to the tune of a 7-4 start and have the AFC North lead 12 weeks into the season. The organization was in a rare position for once. The city was on fire. People were euphoric about the hometown hero Brian Hoyer leading this group to a miraculous season. Despite Hoyer’s below average quarterback play throughout the stretch, fans thought the Browns had solved the position and forgot about rookie first-round pick Johnny Manziel. Then Hoyer played poorly over the next two weeks and the Browns panicked. They threw in Manziel, who was clearly in over his head, and never won another game going from 7-4 to 7-9.

Despite all of the disappointment, the off-season felt promising. The Browns had a core back that crept closer to the playoffs than any group since 2007, and despite the departure of offensive guru Kyle Shanahan and Hoyer, the feeling was general optimism. Then the season happened, and the Browns finished 3-13. Despite a record-breaking season in the passing game, the group couldn’t score enough points, and the run defense was one of the worst in the league. The bleak feeling set in again. The Browns fired Mike Pettine, ushered in an inexperienced front office name in Sashi Brown, and took the plunge to the full tank in order to start from scratch.

The problem wasn’t attempting to restart the process again—the everyday fan could see there wasn’t enough talent to make the playoffs. The problem was the depths they felt were necessary to reach in order to make that result happen. Depths no other franchise in NFL history has attempted to go to.

Slash the roster and trade back

The plan started with a gutting of the roster’s veterans and the acquisition of draft capital. The 2016 free agency period saw the Browns allow Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Travis Benjamin, Tashaun Gipson, Taylor Gabriel, Paul Kruger, Karlos Dansby, and Jordan Poyer all leave in one single offseason. Now that isn’t the total list of players the organization cut, but it is the list of those that impacted the Browns or have gone on to impact their new destination. The 2017 offseason was the same situation as Joe Haden, Gary Barnidge, Terrelle Pryor, Demario Davis, Josh McCown, and John Greco were all set free. This equates to 14 names in two offseasons who were set free after contributing in Cleveland, and are now contributing elsewhere.1

Alongside the roster slash was the decision to trade back in the draft in order to collect assets. The Browns went this route in two straight years. Among them were the 2016 trade that allowed the Philadelphia Eagles to come up and select Carson Wentz, and the 2017 trade that allowed the Houston Texans to come up and select Deshaun Watson. These two trades did vault the Browns into a nice situation this offseason—now owners of the No.1 and No. 4 picks in the draft—but also left the fan base wondering if they passed on these franchise quarterbacks they could have simply selected.

In a vacuum, this is true. The Browns desperately need to solve the quarterback position and will once again aim to do so this offseason, but The Plan they had in place called for a complete roster overhaul and the best way to do so is through the draft. The Browns had so many holes from letting players walk that they needed as many picks as possible for the roster to ever stand a chance. The selection of Corey Coleman in 2016 and Jabrill Peppers in 2017 will always be tied to the quarterbacks on whom they passed.

The Plan’s failure

The problem with The Plan was not the overarching idea of it all. The problem was in the execution of it. When the Browns decided they would let 14 base franchise assets walk over a two-year span, they depleted the roster. If you break down each name on that list you can come up with a reason or two that justifies them being permitted to walk. The problem is that you can’t look at just one name; it’s the collective whole that depletes an organization.  They allowed the roster to be occupied by talent that could be replaced at will, and was frequently under-qualified to see an NFL field.

Take this statistic for example: At the end of the 2017 season, the Browns had just eight names on their roster that were also on the roster during the 2015 season. Just two years separated from the 2015 season and the organization employed 45 new individuals, and most of them came from the draft. This equals a very young team, and one that is going to be defunct of the necessary talent on a 53-man roster to compete week-in and week-out.

The turnover is too alarming to ignore. Pundits love to compare the team to other young groups like the Jaguars and Rams, both of which are thriving despite their young age. Consider this:

Despite the poor records each of those teams had just two years ago, each one has at least 20 players who were on the roster from two years prior. The Browns have less than half that. When you have such a small carryover you put yourself behind the odds. Sashi Brown hit on some draft picks in his time here. There is no denying Myles Garrett, Larry Ogunjobi, Caleb Brantley, Jabrill Peppers, Corey Coleman, David Njoku, Derrick Kindred, and Joe Schobert have talent and will continue to contribute in Cleveland. The problem is the outlook by which those draft picks had to hit. Those picks had to come in and contribute at a star level for the Browns to see any semblance of success. Brown put the pressure on himself to hit on draft picks at a success rate larger than the norm. When you let that much talent walk away, the need to replace them becomes the necessity.

Sashi forced himself to have to hit back-to-back home runs in the draft, and even if he did a serviceable job with the plan within those drafts, quarterbacks like Wentz and Watson did him in. He put the pressure on himself when he didn’t necessarily need to. A franchise can only have so much turnover before the product on the field runs a risk of winning one game in two years. Sashi didn’t have to let all those names walk. He was the leader of a group who took the risk in slashing a roster to near expansion level continuity. It is no secret they could have won more games, but that fact becomes irrelevant when you step back and realize the unnecessary risk they took allowing this to be a possible outcome.

Where we go from here

“We do feel like we made a great bit of progress but there’s nothing we’re going to do in the spring until it translates to wins in the fall that matters to us. That’s our mindset. We talk about it all the time, we’re not trying to win free agency, we’re not trying to win the draft. We’re trying to win games in the fall. We do look at it, and its coming.” — Sashi Brown on 92.3 The Fan.

Leading up to his firing at the tail end of the 2017, Sashi Brown stood by The Plan while making the mistake of thinking he had more time than he actually did. It was a plan that carried major risk. Jimmy Haslam has many faults in this which have been documented, but no owner should ever tolerate one win over a two-year span. The roster slash didn’t have to go to such lows to accomplish what the group wanted to accomplish, and when they took the risk they had to understand the consequences of the lows.

Hue Jackson, brought in alongside Sashi Brown in 2016, also played a role in the failure at hand. His media blunders and gameday failures are well documented. His third year will be crucial. The biggest problem with the Browns hasn’t been the people within The Plan, but rather the execution of The Plan itself. Sashi did some things well. Hue has also done some things well. The balance is there to find.

For good or bad the success of Sashi Brown’s plan hinges on the impact this offseason has on the franchise. The pressure is immense for new GM John Dorsey. Dorsey and recently hired VP of Football Operations Alonzo Highsmith give the Browns two names with deep experience in the scouting and player selection department. What this means for Andrew Berry and Paul DePodesta remains to be seen. They are trying to find the balance in cashing in their offseason capital, and identifying the high-end talent necessary with a mixture of old school talent evaluation and analytics driven analysis. Sashi Brown can adequately serve as a GM in the NFL, but his timing in Cleveland coupled with his poor execution of The Plan is what did him in.

  1. Mostly. []

  • Craig Miller
  • tigersbrowns2

    hi JAKE … i understand about the turnover of the roster , but there was also a lot of dead weight on it … veterans past their prime & being overpaid (as far as I’m concerned).

    I still think Sashi was fired more due to insubordination in the failed McCarron trade than in any failure of the plan.

    you said it all in the last paragraph … it all comes down to this year & if they end-up achieving sustained success.

  • Jake Burns

    I truly think there was more than just “dead wieght” here. It is showing itself across the league. I see your point but I simply can’t agree with it. They went too far on this over the long-haul of 2 years worth of roster tear down.

  • KFunk

    They definitely went too far. The savvy move would have been to at least keep Gipson & Schwartz. Who knew Gabriel would thrive– I’ll give him a mulligan on that. But letting a S and OT leave just meant they had to fill those through the draft.. in addition to all the other holes they had to fill. And draft picks don’t hit 100%, so the roster is left how it is– young with a ton of question marks. And it’s about to get younger– or overpaid or both.

    Also, shouldn’t have cut Demario Davis. The team has no depth because it is so young. NFL rosters are too big to take the NBA “tear it all the way down” approach. You gotta build steadily every year. A quote Tony Rizzo likes to use is very appropriate: “You either draft them, or you play against them”

  • tigersbrowns2

    some of the guys that left , or we let walk , didn’t want to be here either (Ward , Mack , Gipson etc.).

    yes , these last 2 years have been extremely painful & embarrassing , but I was/ am willing to give it try as 3 to 5 wins nearly every season since1999 just aren’t cutting-it . there is still a chance that Sashi’s work is what helped turned the Browns around.

  • tigersbrowns2

    … i would also add that my boy , Ray Farmer , set the franchise back a few ticks with his 1st round drafting.

  • whosevelt

    This comment is based on a post I made on the Browns subreddit. Incidentally, I think I have been shadowbanned because the post doesn’t seem to show up.

    This off-season is worse than any prior off-season, and I don’t intend to pay any attention to it. 0-16 is humiliating. Hue Jackson, our once and forever coach, almost certainly did a worse job than some other coaches might have done. But the worst aspect of Browns fandom right now is not the humiliation or the missed opportunity to upgrade the head coach. The worst aspect is the hopelessness.

    There was a time when an abundance of draft picks was grounds for optimism. No longer. Not after Richardson, Weeden, Mingo, Gilbert and Irving. And yes, not after Njoku, Coleman and Peppers, regardless of what they might look like outside the gangrenous sore the Cleveland Browns have been under Haslam.

    There was a time when a new GM with a solid resume would have been a basis for hope. But no longer. Not after Holmgren and Heckert. Not after Banner, not after Farmer. Most of all, not after the last GM was fired 18 months into a five year rebuild. Not when every time the new GM opens his mouth it is simply to switch feet. Not when the rumor (of course) starts to spread that his number one pick is going to be a Josh Allen, a worse version of the terrible quarterback we already have; a player whose best hope at the NFL is at tight end. Maybe it’s not true. But no one is saying that about Belichek.

    I don’t care about keeping Hue. Nobody could have predicted 1-31, but I did predict, as documented by my Facebook memories, that working for the Browns would ruin the career of a once-promising coordinator in Hue Jackson. Browns fans don’t really have much left to care about at all, which is perhaps reflected by the half-hearted, directionless comments Haslam, Jackson, and Dorsey have given in the past month, Haslam’s inexplicable, possibly indefensible decision to hire Dorsey and not let him choose a coach, and the team’s failure to even articulate the pretense of cohesion between the front office and the coach.

    This is kind of another “I’ve had enough and I’m done” post of the type we see when the Browns Browns. But it is also a sigh of relief. The best four Sundays this year were the ones after Sashi was fired when I didn’t watch the Browns anymore. Thank the Lord the season is over and the hopelessness can just recede to a dull blank in the back of our minds, rather than constantly tempting us to flip on the game, check the subreddit, fire up Twitter.

    Jake, you’re a great writer and analysts, and I’ma let you finish. And the WFNY community is knowledgeable, articulate and witty, and a great place to participate. But please, when the next “pivotal” draft and free agency period rolls around, I prefer not to know.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi WHO … good post.

  • BenRM

    I’m sorry man, I don’t agree either. Overpaid means nothing when you’re below the cap and not spending to reach it. Also, past their prime doesn’t mean they can’t contribute. Indeed, they are all contributing elsewhere, and some at a good clip.

    Finally, some of these dudes (Poyer) weren’t even past their prime.

  • tigersbrowns2

    Bowe ? Whitner ? Dansby ? Starks ? T.Williams ? D.Bryant ? etc. … and as I mentioned above , I don’t think Ward , Gipson & Mack wanted to be here .

  • RGB

    But, but, you didn’t give The Process long enough. Luddites.

  • Mr. Clandestine

    Really nice piece of writing and analysis here, Jake.

    “The biggest problem with the Browns hasn’t been the people within The Plan, but rather the execution of The Plan itself. Sashi did some things well. Hue has also done some things well. The balance is there to find.”

    Honest question: What has Hue done well? Seriously, please tell me one, single thing that he’s done well.

  • Harv

    “Sashi forced himself to have to hit back to back home runs in the draft, and even if he did a serviceable job with the plan within those drafts, quarterbacks like Wentz and Watson did him in. ” Serviceable job? Unfortunately we now are starting to get a handle on the ’15 crop at the end of their second season.

    Sashi traded down twice and at overall #15 took a guy he proclaimed as a TD maker from anywhere on the field, a catch and streak/split the safeties to the house dude. The player hasn’t flashed that a single time, even in preseason or when perfectly healthy. His upside appears to be second receiver with some quicks, his downside an unreliable knucklehead who can’t get open, who’s barely pulled himself up the first branch of the route tree.

    Ogbah’s upside appears to be appropriate for his draft slot. Decent pick.

    Then Shobert, who’s a guy, racks tackles downfield like Wali Ranier.

    Nassib: a classic speed rusher with nothing else, no moves, countermoves or strength. After early sacks everyone saw the film, and he’s usually ineffective, even against an opponent’s back ups.

    The receiver picks: oy. One might be a depth guy on a mediocre team, the rest will have trouble making any NFL roster if they’re still playing football.

    I’m sorry, Jake. “The Plan,” such as it was, was dependent on the competent evaluation of amateur talent. Since Sashi was a cap guy who had just started learning to watch film, DePodesta was a baseball guy and Berry was 28 years old and had a few years looking at pro talent, “The Plan” is an ass. And you haven’t done a “serviceable job” parlaying high picks into roster filler you just let walk.

  • Harv

    “They play hard!” Not well, and they don’t improve. They are not disciplined. But they care, and that’s important, gosh darn it. Any coach can teach their guys how get into legal formations or not ruin a defensive stop and continue an opponent’s drive with a brainless taunting penalty. Other coaches might bench or even cut guys for that. But Hue’s guys play with unfettered joy, and that’s all Hue. They signal first downs at any stage of a loss. And those sunglasses – fans are still basking in that joyous, look-at-me glow. You think Mr. 5-11 Pat Shurmur’s guys felt joy?

  • MartyDaVille

    But let’s not overlook the fact that Hue “gets it.”

    And he’s going to “get this fixed.”



  • Was too much talent cut away? Definitely. But inept and unimaginative coaching is the reason for 1-31. These lean years were never going to be competitive, but they should not have been so utterly pathetic.

  • MartyDaVille

    Hi tb2. Look, I internet love you, but please give it up already. A record of 1-31 is not meaningless. It’s not a fluke. It’s an unmistakable sign of galloping incompetence that no amount of time could fix.

    Seriously, I wish you’d channel your energy and considerable optimism to better uses rather than continuing to defend the indefensible.

    You’ll always have the preseason. They can’t take that away from you.

  • RGB

    Watch film? Ugh, how obsolete.
    PFF player value spreadsheets are the only way to efficiently build a roster.
    Film study? Pffft. Luddite…

  • Steve

    Spending up to the cap means nothing when you win four games instead of zero or one.

  • Steve

    The goal was to be so bad and to accumulate a bunch of cap space and draft picks for 2018. The process was given long enough to accomplish that.

  • Steve

    “Since Sashi was a cap guy who had just started learning to watch film, DePodesta was a baseball guy and Berry was 28 years old with a few years on the pro talent side,”

    Whoa nellie on the strawmen.

  • Skulb

    Well, you can “trust him”.

  • paulbip

    You listed 3 busts in your drafting success,,,,,Coleman, Njoku and Peppers.


    No but Depodesta was going to Innovate his way into becoming an instant success at drafting and Andrew Berry is totally qualified god you guys are just so closed minded to the synergy involved!

  • Skulb

    At this point I think most people would settle for success of any kind. It wouldn’t even have to be sustained. I’m not sure you quite grasp all the various effects of all this allegedly constructive horribleness to be frank. People crying on draft night because they have just been drafted by the Browns. Players refusing to even come out for the draft because they think they might be. These are the fruits of endless losing. I could have had a great career, but I was drafted by the Browns so I won’t now. And Sashi Brown made a bad team even worse when it appeared almost impossible to do so. Much, much worse. So bad in fact that it is now borderline uncompetitive and unfit to even be in the NFL.

    And this is all without even considering the incontrovertible fact that there are essentially no people in the organization who remembers winning or who knows how to win in the NFL. Of course they can guess. But they do not know. And nothing they ever do receives any confirmation at all, which leads to constant change and second guessing. Maybe one or two people in the front office have seen success first hand at some point in their lives. But none of the players have past college. And what success has Hue Jackson seen? A few futile trips to the playoffs with Marvin? And ditto for Dorsey in the GM role. Multiple futile playoff trips with Kansas and some good years with the Pack as college scout. Maybe I’ll accept Dorsey as the only one with any personal history of winning in the entire Browns organization. But how many such people are there in Pittsburgh or New England? 100? 200? And that is who you’re competing against here. And that is why I would look primarily for winners when constructing a roster. Other things matter too. But finding nice guys, lunch pail grinders and physical talent is not enough. 90% of sports takes place between the ears.The more experienced winners you have therefore, the better your chance is of winning when you add some young talent to that. And the better your chances are of those winning ways rubbing off on the young talent, rather than the despondency and escapism that inevitably seems to devour any talent that gets drafted by the Browns. Sashi Brown did almost exactly the opposite of this.

    Every loss makes all these problems, and many others as well, worse. Winning would make them better. But you would have to win an awful lot of games now for the smell of the Cleveland Browns to be fully cleansed. It has taken Dan Snyder 8 years to no longer be talked about as the worst owner in the NFL. They haven’t really been horribly dysfunctional now since Jim Zorn was the coach. But people still think of the Redskins as dysfunctional to this day, because they have not yet won the requisite number of games to negate all their years of ineptitude. And there is a number of wins for any team that will achieve this. But it is more than +50 for the Browns, just as it was and is for the Skins. Gotta start winning games. And the sooner the better.

  • JM85

    Make the plan. Execute the plan. Expect the plan to off the rails. Throw away the plan.

  • BenRM

    Cutting people on your roster for no reason means you win zero games.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi PAUL … respectfully , it’s too soon to call Njoku & Peppers busts.

  • tigersbrowns2

    hi B-BO … good post.

  • tigersbrowns2

    good morning , sir … i am built to think that you cannot dwell on the past & dwell on failure … you look ahead & you keep working hard to get it right.

    it might look bad now , but you will feel different come 2019 … hang in there.

  • tigersbrowns2

    excellent post , SKULB … we’ve only had 1 win in 2 seasons , so I don’t think it will take winning an awful lot of games to get rid of the stench … 5 or 6 wins next year & the base will be hopeful , if not downright giddy.

    I feel pretty good in knowing Dorsey & Highsmith are handling things this year.

  • Skulb

    Right. I really don’t think five or six wins will change the perception of the Browns for most people. I think ten wins and a one and done in the playoffs would be a good start. But it will take a lot more than that to fully get rid of the stigma the Browns now carry. I’ll put it at five solid seasons without more than a few minor dips over the next decade. Then you’ll at last be an NFL team. Look at the Browns various records since 1999. It is just all time stink here. Even the Popsicles eventually snapped out of it after the expansion in the 70s. But not the New Browns! You don’t just have Hue Jackson and his evil scheme to sell more nerve medication in the Lake Erie region to cleanse here; you have 20 years of appalling failure. That is how long you’ve been plummeting. Hue Jackson simply marks the spot where your nose hit the gravel at 200 miles an hour. Look; you can still see the blood smear because it hasn’t rained yet! And is that a tooth I see?

  • Brandon

    What in the world has Hue Jackson done well?

    I mean, past normal things that are the bare minimum for one of thirty-two of the Earth’s NFL Head Coaches.

  • tigersbrowns2

    i’m looking for 5-6 wins next year & I’m sticking with my prediction that we will be challenging for the AFC North title in 2019.

  • Steve

    And in the grand scheme of things, zero > four. Pick first instead of sixth. Have more cap space to bring in real contributors, not keep the marginal ones who aren’t getting you anywhere.

  • BenRM

    That would be all well an good if they, ya know, actually brought in real contributors. But they didn’t.

  • Steve

    Because, ya know, getting the top pick again, to go with Houston’s picks, was the goal going into 2018.

  • BenRM

    The plan was not to go 1-31.

  • Steve

    Maybe. Definitely not publicly, but the plan was to put out poor enough rosters to pick at the top of the draft.

    This idea that 6-26 instead of 1-31 is meaningful when looking at the future of the team is baffling to me.

  • BenRM

    It is meaningful in that you aren’t the worst team in NFL history. You aren’t already removing your GM who was the plan’s architect. And you aren’t sitting pat with a coach that no one has any idea why he’s still there. This sort of stink doesn’t wash off easily.

  • Steve

    It is meaningful to narratives only. Especially those pushed by media that knows outrage sells clicks and ads.

    In preparation for the 2018 season, nothing the Browns do, and nothing about how they will play during the season is affected by going 3-13 or 0-16 the year before.

  • Skulb

    Alrighty then. We’ll see what happens. I guess the president of Team Sunshine will win in a landslide again this year too. And that’s probably for the best. Too much change at once is never good.

  • BenRM

    False. It’s meaningful in the recruitment of coaching candidates and players.

  • Steve

    Few players or coaches are turning down the Browns if the team offers them the most money and playing time/coaching authority. And those that do? They would likely see back to back 6-26 seasons little better than 1-31. The driver in people not wanting to come here is Haslam’s flakiness, which means their future is not secure. 6-26 doesn’t provide any more security under Haslam than 1-31.

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  • Eddie

    Just heard you on a podcast other day, good stuff. Great points but your title is opposite of your points, Sashi did an excellent job of executing his plan, look at the results of tremendous cap room and draft capital which was his goal. He had the best execution we’ve seen in a long time, but the plan was way off for 5 reasons:
    1 through 4- Not prioritizing the QB enough
    5 – The plan was too extreme.

    Hopefully Hue will start executing like Sashi and do what he says he plans to do.

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