The Cleveland Browns' new front office has gone back-and-forth when it comes to how much information they are willing to reveal about their unique analytical and strategic approach to running an NFL franchise. They've been fairly quiet during regular Browns functions -- such as press conferences or TV interviews -- but more open when interviewed by various publications such as Baseball America.
Thursday night, the folks over at FiveThirtyEight published an article with quotes from various members of the Browns' front office, which revealed some nuggets about the team's draft philosophy, their intentions at the wide receiver position, and how analytics has already played a role in their offseason.
Talking About Josh Gordon
Perhaps the most startling part of the interview involved the team's stance on WR Josh Gordon, who is still awaiting word on whether he will be re-instated to the NFL. We originally thought that the team would embrace a talent like Gordon if he were re-instated due to the low price of his contract, but that might not be the case now.
"When Josh [Gordon] is on the field, his floor is probably a Top 10 receiver in this league, which speaks to the level of his talent," said Sashi Brown, the team's executive VP of football operations. "But when I asked Paul [DePodesta] to analyze the situation, he said since 2010, every year that Gordon gets re-instated from a suspension, he ends up getting suspended again 100% of the time. So, even if the NFL re-instates him, how much time do we have?"
Turning Adversity Into a Strength
Brown then talked about how the team could handle the Gordon situation, and how it differed from what they went through with QB Johnny Manziel.
"With Johnny [Manziel], the conduct was not up to the standard of what we wanted as an organization, and we didn't feel another team would listen to trade offers given his pending case," said Brown. "With Gordon, people know he has talent, but they might not be privy to the same information we are regarding his background. 100% of the time is pretty clear-cut -- others might try to find the grey area through the statistics, and that's their prerogative."
Does that mean the Browns would be seeking a trade for Gordon if he returns?
"Let me put it this way," said Brown. "A lot of teams place grades on draft prospects -- such as a first-round grade, second-round grade, etc. Paul has come up with something very unique for us -- a two-grade system, where we place grades on players, but then we also have a projected grade of where we think they will be selected. Using some of our analytical attributes on players, which I won't speak on specifically, I can say that we have a lot of first-round talent grades on prospects projected to go in the seventh round or undrafted. Other teams might treat seventh-round picks as throwaways, but they are like gold to us -- so if the right offer comes along and we don't think the player is a long-term fit for our franchise, we'll find someone who is."
Second Thoughts on Manziel & Signing RG III
Two weeks ago, there was a March Madness bracket conducted on Cleveland.com, in which legendary RB Jim Brown suffered a first-round defeat to the recently-released Manziel. Brown couldn't believe the results.
"I was shocked," said Brown. "I've personally never seen Brown play, but his reputation precedes him. The first thing I did was call up Paul to make sure we didn't make a mistake. He ran a few of his more straightforward analytical studies to see if we missed something, but he said there was no doubt that Manziel isn't even close to the level of player that Brown was. Then we saw that someone rigged the poll, which gave us a little sigh of relief and confirmed that our analysis was correct."
Brown also talked about the team's recent signing of Robert Griffin III.
"I know everyone was focused on [Colin] Kaepernick for awhile, but that was a stroke of genius by Paul. He knew how close Mike Silver of the NFL Network was with Hue [Jackson], so he used various channels to plant some intel that we were in the mix to acquire Kaepernick. That bought us some time to quietly zone in on our true intentions of getting a look at Griffin, and we were all in agreement that he has something left to prove in this league."
Click here to read the full article, including some quotes from DePodesta, via Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight.