The NYJ were the subject to a few of the larger the headlines this week - releasing both Eric Decker and their long tenured (and still productive) ILB David Harris, there was significant controversy as to whether the Jets intend on being competitive this season. Earlier, they also shed themselves of Brandon Marshall, Nick Mangold and Calvin Pryor. The turmoil out East has had a much larger effect on the Browns news-cycle than anyone could have expected.
With the exodus of so many contributing veterans from New York, the football world has not been able to avoid speculation regarding their personnel strategy for the 2017 season. It is evident that they are rebuilding and trying to build cap space, but are they tanking as well? In response to this line of inquiry, former Indianapolis Colts GM Bill Polian had the following to say:
The thing that worries me is that the Browns essentially tanked the season last year and no one said — except a few of us — said anything about it. And it may well be that this is something that can spread around the league, and I don’t think that’s good for the sport in the long run. Because in the end it robs the customers of the chance to see a competitive team
What was it that led Polian to this conclusion? Maybe it was one of the 6 starters we lost? Maybe it was the trading of two first round draft picks before the start of the season? Or maybe it was a failure to pursue any of the top tier free agents despite an extreme amount of cap space? Instead, Polian states:
They lost their placekicker to injury. Robbie Gould was out there. They signed a player with no track record at all.
While it may be an interesting question as to whether the Browns tanked last year, Polian’s choice of evidence from the Browns front office seems incredibly weak. Robbie Gould was an aging veteran who would command a higher price tag, and who was released because his skills were waning. Codey Parkey was one year removed from a pro-bowl season, required a much lower salary, and 10 years junior to Gould. The decision to sign Parkey seems easily justified when looking at the long-term welfare of the team.
But let’s take a step back, and analyze Polian’s thesis that the Browns tanked last year as if he made the best possible argument. Let’s define tanking as an intentional personnel strategy which focuses on structuring a roster so that more games than necessary are lost in order to earn a more favorable draft position.
It is important to emphasize that tanking must purposely seek a more favorable draft position - an action that makes the team worse in the short term without intent to improve draft position is not evidence of tanking. Unfortunately, intent is extremely difficult to demonstrate. Team executives will never admit to tanking; the only way to show intent is to show that personnel moves have no other rational motivation. So now, let’s reexamine this question with a much more compelling argument that the Browns tanked.
After Sashi Brown assumed the position of general manager from Ray Farmer, the team quite obviously embarked on a strategic course correction. Veterans Donte Whitner, Karlos Dansby and Paul Kruger were all released. Key contributors Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Travis Benjamin, Craig Robertson, Tashaun Gipson and Taylor Gabriel were all lost in Free Agency. Perhaps most indicative of the Browns’ past draft performance, two first round picks were traded away for peanuts: Barkevious Mingo to the Patriots for a ‘17 5th round pick, and Justin Gilbert to the Steelers for an ‘18 6th round pick.
In the offseason, the Browns chose not to address their clearly weak QB situation, despite having the #2 pick in the draft. Instead of choosing Carson Wentz, they traded down in favor of stockpiling picks in future drafts. They relied on newly signed free agent Robert Griffin III, 3rd round draft pick Cody Kessler, and journeyman Josh McCown to fill the team’s most important position.
This sequence of decisions by Browns management fit the tanking narrative: the Browns are devoid of talent and need playmakers desperately. They need a high draft position to get a QB, and they need to infuse as much high-round talent as possible. The fastest way to do this is to lose now to increase their probability of obtaining the desired talent in the 2017 draft.
But, is there another narrative that might explain their personnel strategy better? The counter argument is best provided by the Browns front office themselves - that they are rebuilding attempting to redefine the team’s culture and build for the future. The team was seeking to optimize team performance 3 - 5 years later. If that lowers today’s record, then so be it, but the intent is not to lose games but to develop talent in culture to maximize future performance.
While Polian uses the choice of kickers as the smoking gun for tanking, the perfect counter argument may be the acquisition of Jamie Collins. The acquisition of Parkey can be explained by the narrative of youth over tanking, but the acquisition of a probow linebacker mid season is contrary to every argument that the Browns were attempting to play as poorly as possible in 2016. Instead, it shows that the Browns were intensely focused on future performance, gaining exclusive negotiating rights to a very talented player before Free Agency.
Did the Browns tank the 2016 season?
This poll is closed
I don’t care
On WR Possibilities
Despite the large number of draft picks invested last year, the WR position is still one of weakness for the Cleveland Browns. After losing their #1 receiver, Cleveland is hoping that Kenny Britt can pull some of the load that Terrell Pryor carried last season. Fortuitously, two high profile WR’s were released late in the off season giving the Browns an opportunity to immediately improve the position group. The first, Jeremy Maclin, has already signed with the Baltimore Ravens. The second, Eric Decker, was just released from none other than the New York Jets.
After a 1000+ yd/12 TD season in 2015, Decker injured his hip and only had 9 receptions in 2016. After undergoing hip surgery early in the season, Decker is attempting to make his comeback in 2017. His known for his excellent route running skills and hands, with deceptive speed. In NY, he played slot - and could be a perfect complement for Coleman/Britt on the outside. While the Browns were rumored to be interested in Maclin, the only team thus far reportedly interested in Decker is the Baltimore Ravens.
On Calvin Pryor
Calvin Pryor exited college an extremely talented prospect at Safety, however has had a disappointing career thus far with the NYJ. The Browns, desperate for more talent at the Safety position, traded Demario Davis for Pryor which ultimately facilitated the above tanking discussion by making David Harris expendable for the Jets.
While Pryor has traditionally played SS, the same as both Derrick Kindred and Jabrill Peppers, he immediately enters the locker room as the most seasoned in the position. Williams has been known to play 3 safeties simultaneously, and perhaps that is how he will use all of these players, however even if ends up as a backup the trade for Pryor was low risk. Davis was going to receive very little playing time as the switch to the 4-3 (or nickel) base took place. The Browns received a player with a ton of physical potential in exchange for a player that was not going to contribute. Whatever problems Pryor may have had with NY, he has now been given a second chance with Cleveland and let us hope that he makes the best of it.
- Browns unify their philanthropic efforts under “Browns Give Back” Umbrella
- WR Richard Mullaney signs with the Browns
- Mike Florio clickbait posing the question - could a team of Free Agents beat the Cleveland Browns?