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. []