Former Cleveland Browns CEO Joe Banner is now a front office insider for ESPN, so naturally he has been weighing in on the team's investment in analytics by promoting Sashi Brown to Executive VP of Football Operations and hiring Paul DePodesta as Chief Strategy Officer.
During his time with the Browns, Banner was moderately involved in analytics. In fact, he was part of the regime that first hired Brown back in January 2013. When you read these tweets at the time from Jason La Canfora -- which came before the team hired Michael Lombardi to be the GM -- it kind of sounds like La Canfora traveled to the future to echo what team owner Jimmy Haslam would be saying two years later.
The Brown hiring seems to makes it clear the next GM likely to be move of a talent evaluator, and less with the cap/contracts— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) January 14, 2013
@k_trueman he has a lot of hats to wear here. delegating some stuff. he'll be pretty involved in football ops i imagine— Jason La Canfora (@JasonLaCanfora) January 14, 2013
Nonetheless, the Browns didn't go all-in on analytics under Banner, but they appear to be doing so now. Here is what Banner is saying on the subject.
The Difficulty in Getting Coaches & GM's to Buy In
Joe Banner: "If it doesn't work, here's the why. In baseball and basketball, people are using this system and winning with it, including Paul -- who, by the way, if you're committed to this, is a good hire; he's a very smart guy; he knows this well. But in football, the coach is massively more important than it is in those other sports. To do anything that either de-values the coach or makes it harder to recruit the best possible coach, or a coach who will be comfortable with this."
Analytics: Accumulate Draft Picks & Trade Players at Perceived Peak
Joe Banner: "Listen, analytics says to accumulate a lot of draft picks, take veteran players who might be at the top of their curve in their playing mind and try to get value for them. They almost traded Joe Thomas this year. They almost traded [Barkevious] Mingo this year. Let's put aside the evaluation of the players -- those are things that analytics is telling you to do. So you're going to walk into a head coach and tell him 'I'm trading Joe Thomas' in the middle of a season? I traded Trent Richardson and the coach almost killed me. I had a trade lined up for Josh Gordon, which I didn't make because I literally think I wouldn't still be here today.
[With trading Richardson], it was a combination of things. We didn't think Trent was quite as good at the value we could get for him. But it also said that, listen, we were in the first stage of a building process. At that point, to me, accumulating draft picks was the most important thing."
Experience Trying to Sell the Analytics to Coaches
Joe Banner: "I can't give you a name, but I can tell you this: the names that we're hearing [in the Browns' coaching search], the Austins, the Jacksons, the Marrones, the Gases, which I think are all good coaches, if they hire one of those guys, I think we'll have conflict in a relatively short period of time. They don't believe in this being as big of a driving force as it is.
This is the challenge [the Browns] have at the moment. First of all, you've got the receptivity to the information, and then you've got this collaboration you have to create. It's not that long ago that everybody in baseball bunted to sacrifice the guy from first to second. Then, the math came in and said, 'I know that's how you guys have always done it, but you don't give up an out.' It's under-valuing an out. In basketball, they weren't shooting threes all the time. Then, they showed the math that in basketball, if you build your offense around shooting threes and inside, with nothing in the middle, you increase your productivity. There are a bunch of versions of that in football that people are not utilizing at this point.
I'll give you a very simple example, and this is not deep, sophisticated analytics. If you're drafting a pass rusher and your goal is to draft somebody who is going to set a lot of sacks and he doesn't run the 10-yard dash in about 1.6 seconds or less, his chances of being a productive sacker in the NFL are very small. Most teams in the NFL don't know this, believe it or not. They have other correlations. There are a whole bunch of other things, by position, things that are being tested at the combine that correlate directly to success. I'll tell you this -- we did all these studies that showed that arm length in offensive linemen was not as important as everybody in the NFL thinks it is, and we could not get one coach in three different staffs to believe that."
Banner was also in agreement that analytics shows that teams should not pick certain positions in the first round of the draft -- they tell you to place a premium on some positions. During the Browns' coaching and then ensuing GM searches, you have to imagine that the Browns will be asking candidates to be brutally honest in whether they are receptive to these types of things. If Cleveland wants this analytical approach to have a serious change and for their to be harmony in the organization, they are better off going with a lesser-experienced candidate who is on-board with the philosophy than one who will take the job and then isolate himself from his new "partners."