Saturday, January 20, 2018

NFL Draft Analytics: Is a 7th Round Pick Worth More than an Undrafted Free Agent?

It might be that Undrafted Free Agents (UDFAs) are worth more than a seventh round draft pick.  What?  How can that be, you may ask,  since the seventh round pick is chosen ahead of all the undrafted players?   

Well, hear me out.  AN NFL team adds about ten undrafted guys upon conclusion of the NFL draft.   That number is a little imprecise because teams rapidly cut players and other teams re-sign them tried to figure out.  But the talent pool is roughly 320 players, give or take. 

I found a 2014 article by Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette Free agent numbersthat says that 64 players made the opening day roster, or two per NFL team.  That's about 2 per team out of 10 candidates.  There's a 20% success rate for UFA, but 7th rounders are not a 100% but I hardly ever hear of a draft pick failing to make the roster.  So let's say the typical NFL team roster has 1 (new) seventh round guy, and 2 new UFA's.  

But how many of those are actually good players?  To answer that question, I rely on a small study by Forbes  Magazine (Patrick Wishe via RIchard Thaler) and tells where NFL starters came from circa 2014.  Using  60% as a crude estimate for the probability that a round 1 draftee becomes a starter, I estimate the success rate for other rounds as being scaled back from 60% by the number of starting players from each round, divided by the number of starters from Round 1.  That is, 

Success Rate  = 60%*(number of nth round starters)/(number of 1st round starters). 

So I added a column to the table that estimates what the chances are in each round for getting a player who becomes a starter during his career.

Source of Players Number of Starters Success Probability
Round 1 178 60.0%
Round 2 105 35.4%
Round 3 75 25.3%
Round 4 64 21.6%
Round 5 38 12.8%
Round 6 29 9.8%
Round 7 25 8.4%
UDFA per tryout spot (10) 81 2.7%
UDFA per 53 roster spot (2) 81 13.7%
UDFA total 81 27.3%

Note that only about 8.4% of NFL starters come from Round 7.   Yet three times as many come from UDFAs.  How can that be? Probably it's because you get to audition about ten guys, and usually pick about 2 for the 53 man roster. So even if the average talent level is lower, you get to identify the standouts in Training Camp.  On the other hand, teams almost never cut the seventh round pick in Year 1, so like it or not you're stuck with him.  Put another way, you have a roster spot that is 92% likely not to produce a starter.  For your two UDFAs, there is a 27% chance that your guy eventually becomes a starter.  That's about the same as Round 3!  Again, it's not because the talent level is so high, it's because you get 10 chances and weed out 8 of the 10 during summer camp.

It's a small data set, and the definitions and categories need to be more rigidly quantified before reaching a definite conclusion.   But it appears that the roster spot occupied by the seventh round draft choice may be less productive, on the average, than the roster spots occupied by UDFAs.  The reason is that ten players compete for two roster spots for UDFAs, whereas the 7th round draft pick is usually given a roster spot without having to compete for it. Hmm.  

For further review:

Forbes Success rate vs draft position

Saturday, January 13, 2018

ALL 21 Year Old NFL Quarterbacks are Terrible

     All 21 year old quarterbacks are a new phenomenon because of the change in draft rules.   In 2017 DeShone Kizer of the Cleveland Browns became the the third youngest NFL starter of game 1 in league history.  The others were Drew Bledsoe and Matthew Stafford.   Bledsoe completed less than 50% of his passes in his rookie year, though he won 5 games, which I believe is the record for a 21 year old.  Stafford went 2-8, which is more typical.  Other 21 year olds included Bernie Kosar, Alex Smith, Tommy Maddox, Blaine Gabbert,  Johnny Manziel and Fran Tarkenton.   Some of them were legitimate stars over their total career.  But not at age 21.  

Johnny Manziel was horrible as a 21 year old, okay at age 22, but improved significantly in his second year before substance abuse ended his career.  You would think that the Browns might have learned something from this experience, but no, they had to start DeShone Kizer at the same age.  What could possibly go wrong?  

As far as I am aware, every single 21 year old starter in NFL history has had a losing  rookie season, unless you count Jack Concannon, who went 1-0 in 1964.   Other than that, EVERY SINGLE ONE has been a loser, and most have been terrible.  Tarkenton made the Hall of Fame, but not for his rookie season at 2-8 followed by a 2-11-1.  

The historical record tells us that it is stupid to start a 21 year old in the NFL.  Still, teams are going to continue to do it, thinking it will lead to a quick turnaround.  In 2018, there are a couple 21 year olds with great ability in Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen, Lamar Jackson will all be 21 years old at the start of the 2018 season.  Mason Rudolph and Baker Mayfield have had four years of major college ball and will be 23.   Josh Allen will be 22.   You might have a shot starting one of the older guys.  And I might think a little about Lamar Jackson because he is a running quarterback.  But the odds are against it.  I don't expect to hear from Darnold or Rosen till 2019 at the earliest. 

Look, draft the guy if you think he's that good, but keep him on the bench for a year or two to learn the offense. THEN you will find out whether you've got something.  You learn nothing by sending him out too soon and getting his head bashed in.  

    By the way, in case you were curious, rookies Mitchell Trubisky, Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes were all 22 by the start of the 2017 season, and they all had 3 years of college football versus 2 years for DeShone Kizer.  So it should not come as a shock if DeShone Kizer is a year behind the others.  If you believe that football quarterbacks are normally not very good until their sixth season out of high school, then Kizer might assert himself in 2019.  I would not assume he is ready to start in 2018 since he will be only 22.  

    Watson was a legitimate star in his rookie year, although I would argue that a lot of that had to do with his ability to disrupt defenses with his running ability, rather than strictly his ability as a pocket passer.    But okay, he was a legit star at age 22.   As for Trubisky and Mahomes, neither of them in their short careers has a higher NFL passer rating than Colt McCoy.  They might be great later on, but in 2017 they were not outstanding....yet they are a year older than Kizer.  You just have to wait until they reach age 23 till you can get an idea what they car really do.  

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Why didn't the Patriots Franchise Jimmy Garoppolo and Trade Him (to the Browns?)

      Now, everyone knows that Jimmy Garoppolo is a franchise quarterback.  Fans wonder why the Patriots didn't franchise tag Garoppolo and then trade him to a qb-hungry team like the Cleveland Browns for a first round pick.  Instead, they now have a second round pick, and no logical successor to Tom Brady. Stupid Patriots! Well, maybe not so stupid.  First of all, if you wind the clock back to the trading deadline in November, everyone suspected Jimmy G was a franchise qb, but they weren't sure.  NOW they are sure.  
       So, if the Patriots figured they liked Jimmy G but couldn't afford him in 2018, why not just keep him through the season, franchise tag him and trade him for a first round pick?  The "franchise tag" would have allowed the Patriots to keep Jimmy for one year, but they would have to pay the average of the top 5 players at his position.
         Sounds like a great plan, but it would not have worked.  First of all, do you realize that the Franchise Tag for qbs is going to be around $23 Million dollars in 2018?  The perception was (probably still is) that there are at least five first round quarterbacks in the 2018 draft.   Now, why should I give the Patriots my first round pick and also pay $23 Million dollars for an unproven quarterback who isn't necessarily better than the rookie?  Remember, this was back in November, so we hadn't seen him lead a weak San Francisco team to five straight wins.   In particular, the Browns would predictably want to draft a quarterback rather than let someone else draft one.  Shades of Brock Osweiler!  
      Instead, use that pick on a quarterback, and take the $23 Million dollars and get, say, Le'Veon Bell plus a decent offensive lineman. 
     If you wanted to trade Garoppolo to Cleveland instead of New England, you don't get Brian Hoyer who was a Patriot for several years under Belichick and McDaniel and already knows most of the offense.  Instead the Browns cut Kevin Hogan or Cody Kessler, and that would have been Brady's backup.  What's smart about that?
     No, the Patriots knew what they had in Garoppolo and kept him as long as they could, as insurance for Tom Brady.  By trading him to San Francisco, they got the best possible deal they could from San Francisco, and get a second round pick plus a very credible backup in Brian Hoyer, for a guy they were not going to be able to keep.  Plus, this is the Patriots.  Some qb is going to slide to the second round, and they might nab him at that point.  One scary thought is what if they get Lamar Jackson, and he has the opportunity to learn about being a pocket quarterback from Tom Brady?  

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Cleveland Browns are the New England Patriots of the Off-Season

   The Cleveland Browns were not build to win in 2017.  They were built to get draft picks, draft position and salary cap.  So while they were the worst in the NFL on the field, they will dominate the 2018 off season, for what it's worth.  The Browns will be the team that adds the most talent via Free Agency, and they will also be the team that adds the most talent via the Draft.  

   Tanking is becoming a new fashion in the NFL, as bad teams realize that there is a payoff for being really bad.  Conventional theory (developed by Brandt & Schramm of the Cowboys 25 years ago) is that the first overall pick is worth three times the mid-first round picks.  So cut some expensive talent, make sure that you are awful and in theory you get much better personnel for the next few years.  The Browns took that to an extreme by getting rid of players who were still very viable and paring down the salary cap to among the lowest in the NFL.  Meantime they accumulated draft picks, including the fourth overall pick from the Texans, and 36th overall from the Texans.  
    Other tanking teams included the San Francisco 49ers and New York Jets, both of whom have accumulated draft picks and salary cap space.  On paper, the 49ers seem to have a smaller payroll than the Browns.  But, they have to sign Jimmy Garoppolo and they are potentially losing 18 players to free agency, representing 2017 salaries of $21 Million. If they franchise tag Garoppolo ($21 Million dollars at least in 2018, compared to his 2017 salary of $871 thousand).  Plus, don't you think they should leave some money to sign draft choices? All told, they need to spend about  $50 million dollars just to stay even.  Their net payroll will probably go up about $25 million dollars.  
    The Jets are in a similar situation, having to replace departing players currently earning $25 Million.  
   The Browns are losing only three: Isaiah Crowell, backup OL Marcus Martin and backup  DL Lavar Edwards, total 2017 salaries less than $5 million dollars.  Frankly, I don't think Marcus and Lavar are going to be able to make the team. 
    Forget about the inflated "total cap room" which is the maximum possible money a team can spend, meaning they sign no draft choices, re-sign none of their departing veterans, and use all of their saved-up carryover money this year.  That's totally unrealistic.
   The real stat you need is the "expected salary differential" or the estimated amount of money that will be added to the previous year's payroll, after replacing departing free agents, and includes a budget for draft choices, and paying off "dead money."  Carryover salary cap should is not included, because that is unlikely to be spent unless the team is a playoff contender.  "Carryover" money is like the team's savings account, usually not spent unless there is an emergency.  

Cleveland Browns:
Base cap...........................................................+ $178 Million
Active Player salaries.......................................- $117 Million
Departing player salaries to be replaced..........- $    5 Million
Dead money (inactive players)........................- $  10 Million
Draft pick salaries (13)....................................- $  18 Million
Value of players replaced by draft pic (13).....+$     7 Million
Net    differential..............................................+$  35 Million

So, I come up with about $35 Million, which is the amount of money that can realistically be used to sign new players.  That's enough to afford 2 or 3 very good players.  I believe they will sign a veteran, probably A. J. McCarron, and likely they will draft a qb as well.  

Does that mean that they will be a good team?  I think they will have playoff caliber personnel, but with no experience at how to win.  The computer doesn't realize that that is a problem, but my feeling is that it may take quite some time to develop a winning culture in Cleveland.  

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Cleveland Browns Quarterbacks Still in the NFL

 Everyone knows that the Browns quarterback situation is a mess.  They have continued to search for a so-called franchise quarterback, only to fail miserably.   I want to make it clear that I am not down on DeShone Kizer, but I think his lack of experience and lack of receiving talent around him doomed him to be the worst performer in the NFL this year.  By far.  The other guys on the roster are presumably even worse (Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan, and Brock Osweiler in the pre-season).  

    Typically, the Browns have been so fearful of "quarterback controversy" that they ALWAYS trade or cut the backup quarterback.  So not only have they never had a long term solution at quarterback, they have also failed to identify a reliable backup.  
   The Steeler have Landy Jones as their backup, and he is in his fourth year.  That's an inconceivably long time for the Browns.  Prior to that, Charlie Batch backed up for NINE years.  Unbelievable. 

   But consider this.  Somehow there are eight backup quarterbacks in the NFL who are ex-Browns.  Any one of them are better than Kizer, Kessler and Hogan.  Without further ado, here is a list: 

    1.  Brian Hoyer, New England Patriots, began the year as the 49ers' top guy, but displaced by Jimmy Garoppolo trade.  Hoyer is good enough to back up Tom Brady, but not Johnny Manziel. Brian Hoyer's career record is 10-6, but that is not nearly good enough to hold a job in Cleveland, right?  Not a franchise quarterback, so fire him.  

     2.  Josh McCown has won 5 (count 'em, FIVE) games for the New York Jets. He had a good year for the Browns in 2015, but we had to cut him this year to keep Kevin Hogan and Cody Kessler on the roster.    

    3.  Colt McCoy is at Washington backing up Kirk Cousins.  Colt went 6-15 for Cleveland, but he's done well when called upon.    

     4.  Derek Anderson is still holding a clipboard at Carolina, where he has been for 7 years.  As a Browns starter he went 16-18.  He's good enough to back up Cam Newton, but not Brady Quinn.

    5.  Austin Davis also saw some starting duty in 2015. He is now backing up  In his four year career, he's thrown 13 TDs versus 12 INTs.  He is now Russell Wilson's backup.  
   6.  Brandon Weeden is backing up in Tennessee now.  He put up some good numbers in Dallas, but unfortunately did not create any "W"s.  

   7.  Josh Johnson  is now with the Houston Texans, taking Brock Osweiler's place.  Josh didn't play much as the third string guy in Cleveland.  

   8. Brock Osweiler had a brief audition for the Browns in pre-season, and is not a part-time starter in Denver. Really, he came to the Browns as a way of trading salary cap for a draft pick.  (we get a second round pick, but had to expend $16 M to eat his salary).  He's not doing well.  

  Did I miss anyone?  

    None of these guys are considered to be "franchise quarterbacks," but that's an unfair comparison.  The real comparison is whether any of them are better than the guys on the current roster.  I would say yes.  Definitely, with the benefit of hindsight all of the quarterbacks except Osweiler and maybe  Josh Johnson would have started ahead of Kizer this year.  

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Why Wouldn't the Browns re-sign Isaiah Crowell?

   This is a no-brainer, Browns fans.  There is only one current player on the Browns roster who is turning free agent in 2018.  That would be starting running back Isaiah Crowell.  Meanwhile, the Browns have plenty of cap space, as they are currently underspent by about 38 million dollars for 2018.  So SIGN THE CROW!  He can't possibly be more valuable to another team. 
   If Crow is re-signed, it doesn't mean the Browns can not also draft Saquon Barkley or another running back.  On the contrary, a normal roster has four or five spaces for running back.  Duke Johnson is a very good tough player, but he spends most of his time in the slot now. In today's NFL, the fullback (Danny Vitale) shares responsibilities with tight ends.  So really Crowell and Matthew Dayes are the only full-time running backs on the roster, and they could legitmately add a draftee like Barkley and even another guy if they want. 
   Crowell is on his way to another 900 yard season, and guys like that do not grow on trees.  He's been reliable and durable despite not being on a good team.  By the way, did I mention that as of game 14, Crowell has 27 receptions, which is more than any wide receiver on the roster?  It's true.  The immortal Ricardo Louis leads Browns wide receivers with 26 receptions, a preposterously low total. 
   It would be foolish to let him walk away.  Sign him. 

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Can Cleveland Browns' Jimmy Haslam III Learn from Past Mistakes?

I don't care if the Browns make blunders.  Hey, the Red Sox traded Babe Ruth.  

I do care if the Browns' ownership can not learn from past mistakes.  

Joe Banner came up with the idea of tanking to get draft position.  He was eventually let go despite being one of the best executives the Browns have ever had.

One time the Browns had an absolutely brilliant guy in the Front Office.  He wasn't officially the GM, and wasn't really a football guy, but had tremendous business skill, and eventually exerted great influence on player acquisition.   He devised a scheme whereby the team would shift resources to future years, let go the veterans, and collect high round draft picks and eventually win the Super Bowl.  However, he could not get along with the Head Coach because his methods were too extreme.  Basically they could not stomach weakening the team on purpose.  So they fired the guy, and replaced him with a highly regarded personnel guy who had been with the Kansas City Chiefs.  

Does that sound familiar?  However, I'm not talking about Sashi Brown, but Joe Banner.  Like many fans, I was livid when the Browns traded Trent Richardson during the 2013 season for a first round draft pick.   The whole point of football is to do everything in your power to put the best team on the field that you can, and then try to win.  It's not football when you deliberately take away a player who can help the team win, and don't replace him with anyone.   

Joe was probably right that the way you build a team is to cut veterans who do not figure to be contributing three years in the future.   You're better off if you don't overspend on temporary fixes, and if it costs you some games, you'll make up for it in the next draft because you're getting better players. 

You let some of the veterans leave via Free Agency so that the team can pick up compensatory draft picks.  You trade this year's seventh round pick for next year's sixth round pick, and that sort of thing.  You increase the level of talent on the future team. 

To some degree, the Browns did that in 2013 by signing Willis McGahee to fill Richardson's role, but the perception was that they were giving up on the season.  Players don't like playing for an organization that is not committed to winning, and agents won't steer their players to a team like that in Free Agency.  

The 2014 draft was positioned to be one of the deepest in history because underclassmen were being permitted to enter the draft.  Hence Banner had accumulated several extra picks and figured to bolster the Browns with several good players.   But what happened was that they promoted ex-Chiefs front office man Ray Farmer to GM, replacing Banner.  Farmer managed to squander draft picks, trading up to get players like Justin Gilbert Johnny Manziel and Pierre Desir.  Though they entered the draft with ten picks, they came away with only six, and the top two players had lifestyles that were incompatible the NFL.  Whiff! Whiff! Farmer did better with Christian Kirksey and Joel Bitonio, but the damage was done.  

This same pattern has repeated itself.  When Jimmy Haslam III hired Sashi Brown, I hoped that Brown would implement Banner's basic draft strategy, minus some of the more draconian moves. Instead, Brown was even more destructive to the roster, purging current year payroll as much as possible while cutting or failing to re-sign an incredible number of valuable players:  Joe Haden, Alex Mack, Mitchell Schwartz, Gary Barnidge, Paul Kruger, Karlos Dansby, DeMario Davis, Josh McCown, Travis Benjamin, Tashaun Gipson, Starter Craig Robertson, Taylor Gabriel, Jordan Poyer, Johnson Bademosi, Terrelle Pryor, Barkevious Mingo, Tramon Williams.  These moves allowed the Browns to pare down payroll such that active salaries are an amazing 57 million dollars under the nominal 2017 cap of $167 Million.  As a consequence, the 2018 Browns figure to have the first overall pick plus a Top 5 pick via Houston.   But the Browns won only one game in 2016 and are currently 0-14.   Attendance has fallen off dramatically, sponsors are jumping ship, ratings are down, and generally Sashi Brown's tenure has been a disaster.  So once again, Mr. Haslam has fired the effective GM, and hired a personnel guy from Kansas City in John Dorsey. 

I can't believe the Browns made the exact same mistake with Sashi Brown that they made with Joe Banner.  That shows a lack of growth and a failure to learn from past mistakes.  So, my question is whether anything has improved by hiring John Dorsey, or will the results be the same as with Ray Farmer? 

Friday, December 22, 2017

Why I'm Not Down on DeShone Kizer

   Actually, the title of this article is a lie.  Truthfully I'm down on Kizer or just about any rookie quarterback this side of DeShaun Watson.  Rookie quarterbacks are usually terrible.  Once in a while you get a guy who is outstanding as a rookie, like Robert Griffin, DeShaun Watson or Ben Roethlisberger.  But it is much more common for rookies to be awful. 
    Kizer, it must be confessed, has put up some terrible numbers.  19 INTs versus 9 TDS, interception percentage of 4.6%.  But if you look around the league, that's about what usually happens if your team is dumb enough to start a rookie quarterback in Game 1.  Check out some of these numbers.  I just list the quarterback rating and interception percentages, but trust me, the rest of the numbers areq equally bad.   I'm not saying Kizer is necessarily as good as these guys, but he has not disqualified himself either:

Rating INT pct

Alex Smith 40.8 6.7
John Elway 54.9 5.4
Eli Manning 55.4 4.6
DeShone Kizer 59.4 4.6
Jared Goff 63.6 3.4
Troy Aikman 55.7 6.1

Because underclassmen are now being drafted to the NFL, guys like Kizer are coming with less experience than ever before.  Instead of four years of major college experience, he came to the Browns with only two.   Normal quarterback development would call for the player to have a good year by the second year out of college.  For Kizer, 2017 is his junior year at Notre Dame.  2018 is the senior year, 2019 he gets drafted but stays on the bench at first and he's ready to play for real in his second year as a Pro which would be 2020.  That's a normal development.  Instead, the Browns felt they could condense the development process into three months, and get Kizer ready three years early, in what should be his junior year at Notre Dame.  This is delusional, and I wish it would stop. 

DeShone Kizer is too early in his development to make any lasting judgment.  

      Kizer might be great or he might be terrible, but not very much is gained by playing him three years before he is ready. We know he has some good characteristics.  He's obviously psychologically tough, intelligent, hard working and throws a great ball.  But beyond that I can't tell where he is headed. I don't believe the coach can either.  The Browns are just going to have to keep him on the roster for another two years, and then they can form an opinion on him.    

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Gregg Williams Should be the Next Coach of the Cleveland Browns

   I don't think the Browns can go 2-30, establishing all sorts of negative NFL records, and keep the Head Coach.  On the other hand everyone recognizes the lack of continuity in management has been a major problem.  The obvious solution is to appoint Gregg Williams to Head Coach, and hire a new Offensive Coordinator. 
   Hue Jackson has done a great job keeping the team together and playing hard every week. But as Offensive Coordinator, he has been a disaster. He has managed to ruin the careers of three quarterbacks this year. He promoted DeShone Kizer way to soon to be the starter, and meanwhile sophomores Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan never got the chance to show whether they can play or not.  
     With an atrocious passing offense, Hue was not able to create a run-first offensive game plan for whatever reason.  All year long they have tried to throw the ball all over the ballyard 40 times or more per game, and with a rookie quarterback, it just didn't work. Help is needed from a true Offensive Coordinator.  
      But on the other side of the ball, Defensive Coordinator Gregg Williams has gotten results, turning around the worst  defense in the NFL.  Yes he had some help from young star Myles Garrett, but even without him the Browns were much improved, especially in rushing defense.  Coach Williams switched the team over from the 3-4 defense to the 4-3, and made a huge improvement.
     Gregg has been to the Super Bowl and won, as Defensive Coordinator for the Saints.  Yes, he was too aggressive by allowing the players to establish bounties on knocking out the other teams' stars ("bountygate"), which earned him a fine and a year-long suspension.  But truthfully, I can understand that mentality for a tough nasty defense.  If it can be controlled, the Browns could use some of that aggressiveness.    Gregg has Head Coaching experience Buffalo Bills teams.  Frankly it did not go particularly well, with his best record being 8-8 in 2002.  But after a Super Bowl win and solid performances with the Rams and Browns, he's earned another shot.   
    He has some of the swag from Buddy Ryan, his former mentor.  But he is not a Ryan clone from the blitz-every-down school.  Gregg has proven himself to be very versatile in designing defenses based on the personnel that he has available.  He seems just as comfortable with extra blitzers or extra defensive backs, depending on the personnel and the situation.  

Gregg Williams has gotten results. Promote the guys who have had success.  

    So if the team values continuity, it would be bad to throw away the current defense, especially since the offense is in chaos.  If Coach Jackson has to go, and I suspect with 1-29 he's probably earned that fate, Gregg Williams is the obvious candidate to succeed him.  Get him a good offensive coordinator, and back them with solid personnel evaluators, and we might go somewhere.  


Monday, December 11, 2017

Browns 2018 Free Agent Fantasies: Reality Check

    Estimates are all over the place for what the Browns will likely do in Free Agency.  Yes, their total cap space is $108 Million dollars, but no they are not going to spend nearly that much.   The carryover (unspent money from previous years) is not likely to be be all blown in one year, plus don't forget to leave some money for all those 2018 draft choices.  Hence here is the Village Elliot's attempt to determine what is realistic. 
     In 2018, the Browns are in very good shape, but not to the tune of $108 million dollars as suggested in some articles.  NFL Salary cap space is compiled in  Let's break it down as follows:   The Browns have $128 Million committed in salaries for 2018 (which includes $10 million "dead money" to players no longer on the team).  That's a very low number.   The estimated salary cap for 2018 is $178 million.  There's another $58 Million in unspent money from previous years ("carryover dollars").  So the "total cap" is $178 +$58 M -$128 M = $108 M.    That's where the $108 Million in salary cap comes from, but that assumes zero rookies signed, zero departing veterans to replace, and assuming you blow all the carryover money in one year.  None of those things are realistic. 

Carryover money is just like a savings account in case of an emergency.  Likely it will not be used at all in 2018, so poof!  there goes $58 Million.  The Browns also will have a much larger than usual bill for rookies, as they have to be paid after you draft them.  In 2018, that will be about $28 Million.  Plus, we have to either re-sign Isaiah Crowell or provide money to replace him. 
   That may run $18 Million for 13 players, or in other words about $12 Million above the league minimum for those roster spots.  This number also comes from   
       My guess is the Browns let will their carryover dollars ride and spend up to the current limit or $178 Million total expenditures (including $6 Million to players not with the team). Also, the Browns have two free agents in Isaiah Crowell and backup Marcus Martin.  So let's allow $5 Million to either re-sign Crowell or come up with a replacement.  So,  compared to last year, the difference in player salaries is $178-$12-$128- $5 = $29 million dollars, give or take, above 2017.  Conclusion:  That's a lot of money, enough for three or four significant starters.  So $108 Million is the absolute limit if they sign no draftees, give zero pay raises and blow all their saved-up carryover money in one year (totally unrealistic) whereas $33 million is where I put the over-under for what they will actually add.   That's still a lot of money, enough to add two or three very significant players.  This is not going to be like previous years in which they had tons of cap space to raise fans expectations, but in which they deliberately underspent the cap and also let star players leave without being replaced.  No, in 2018 they really are going to add signficant players.  I promise.    

        In addition there are currently five draft picks in Round 1 and 2 and a total of 13.   These high picks should usually start or at least contribute significantly.   So, when all is said and done, they have one guy who might leave in Free Agency (Crowell) but they can replace him with about 8 very good players.   It sounds crazy, but I believe they will have enough firepower to contend next year if they get their act together.  

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Guest post from Jeff Mitzel: Should the Browns Keep Hue Jackson?

In our Browns Bloggers and Friends discussion group on Facebook, I asked whether Hue Jackson should be retained, especially in light of recent comments that he felt out of the loop with the Browns front office.  That is even more of an issue now that General Manager John Dorsey has replaced Sashi Brown.  This thoughtful response comes from Mr. Jeff Mitzel....

Jeff Mitzel I'll raise my hand to your question, Elliott.

1. Hue's statements are a sea change. Hue previously stated that he participated in discussions and when asked about moves he toted the company line--- that it's all about winning.

2. Except when it isn't. And when owners bereft of what to do next begin crowdsourcing and interviewing players. Hue would naturally be nervous at this point. And is making it clear--- it's not his plan.

3. Pointedly, personnel moves haven't made for winning. Gone are Gary Barnidge and Terrelle Pryor replaced by Kenny Britt who has been a no show. Sashi has continued to voice support that Britt will turn it around. No, he won't is the correct answer, but we've seen this before--- folks get stubborn about the moves they make.

4. The Browns had no business starting Kizer. Except, a solid plan B was lacking in all directions. And Kizer kept making plays in training camp. Season play is not training camp but, seriously, this may be the most difficult roster decision to make and to project play at QB when facing a defense that can game plan. Eric Mangini ran his QB competition throughout camp trying to figure things out. Kelly Holcomb was a brilliant backup. But an inconsistent starter.

5. The Browns paid $16 million for a second round pick this year, and Osweiler began to figure into things. Until he didn't. Kessler looked good until he didn't--- and appeared to lose confidence as the organization pivoted away from him. Kizer is simply a year away--- from us figuring out if he can process fast enough to avoid interceptions. It's not looking good, but I think Hue is squeezing the most there is out of this kid. Kizer is on pace to set a record for interceptions--- and also makes some brilliant down field throws in tight windows and throws we haven't seen in recent years. How exactly do you sort that out--- unless 'the plan' is to Kizer time?!

6. Toss Hue down the trash chute, and we'll never know on Kizer because the next guy will want his guy. Remember Colt McCoy getting repeatedly berated?! 

7. New coach means new QB, and with the top pick we'll be starting a rookie, again. Except this doesn't seem to work out too well, AND the scouts that favored Wentz were let go immediately before the 2016 draft which is a rare thing. So, who will be engineering the QB selection?! 

Change does not necessarily lead to forward progress. Though, there are plenty of folks who are so frustrated they can't proceed past 'fire Hue' and carry on an adult conversation on the topic?!

My personal opinion is a head coach needs to have two years with the current QB darling, and selecting Kizer is a wasted pick unless the Browns organization gives Kizer continuity in coaching.

I'll also take Osweiler at his word--- that Hue is the best coach he had been around.

And then there's this. Garrapolo wouldn't come to Cleveland because there is no organizational stability. 

And, yes, I agree. Lose Hue and we lose Gregg, and that side of the ball is improved. Do we go back to a 3-4 and play Ogbah out of position as you pointed out?! Is Myles Garrett a 3-4 defensive end?!

Will any QB be successful without a good receiving corps?!

Tough questions look ahead for folks unwilling to hold the adult conversation that lays behind the otherwise sad winning record--- but want Hue gone.

An Open Letter to the Cleveland Browns: HIre Dr. Frank Ryan!

I don't care if he is 81 years old, he is one of the best minds of the country, and he's the one Consultant who could make football sense out of the "analytics" wreckage left by Sashi Brown.  I'm talking about Dr. Frank Ryan, a PhD mathematician from Rice University who also happens to be the last quarterback to win a World Championship for the Cleveland Browns.  

    First welcome to Cleveland, Mr. John Dorsey!  We're very happy to have a personnel expert with the stature of Mr. Dorsey come to our humble town.  He has a had a very impressive career with the Packers, Seahawks and Chiefs, three teams that did very well.  I feel very about having a guy like this make the call on a "franchise quarterback" in the upcoming draft.  
        I recommend that the Cleveland Browns should hire Dr. Frank Ryan as a consultant.  He is the one guy who can assess whether the "analytics" that Sashi Brown brought to the team have any merits, or whether the whole thing should be pitched into the fire.  Frank Ryan, on the one hand is a PhD mathematician and one of the most creative minds on the planet.  On the other hand, he was the quarterback that led the Cleveland Browns to the NFL Championship in 1964.  He is the one guy who can sort through what Sashi was trying to do and figure out what went wrong and what should be salvaged.  In particular, the Browns still have analytics expert Paul DePodesta in the front office.  Should he be kept or sent packing?   I'm undecided, but I would trust Frank Ryan to determine whether analytics has value and how it should be best utilized.  He could put it in terms that football people would be comfortable with.  
      Some of Sashi's ideas were brainless, in my opinion, but in some cases he may have had some good ideas.    He and Paul DePodesta figured out  that to build for the future, you need to get more and higher draft choices than the other teams are getting.  You also need to spend more money on a winning team, so the losing teams need to avoid overpaying for veterans who are not capable of taking the team to a Super Bowl three years in the future.  Save the salary cap for the future when it might make a difference for the Super Bowl. Frank Ryan would be able to advise John Dorsey which of these moves are sensible and which are not. 
     Where Sashi went wrong, in my opinion, is to actually weaken the team to the point of being the worst in the NFL. He got rid of veterans like Josh McCown, Joe Haden, Gary Barnidge, Karlos Dansby and Paul Kruger outright.  He didn't try to re-sign guys who were interested in playing here, like Terrelle Pryor, Travis Benjamin, Mitchell Schwartz and Paul Kruger.  These veterans might not have taken us to a Super Bowl, but we would not be the worst in the NFL.  Haden is a case in point, since he actually IS still on the payroll to the tune of 7 million dollars.  From all that we know, the Browns coaching staff did not want to cut him.  That was all Sashi Brown.   
    There is a science associated with personnel moves. Should you trade a draft pick for a veteran?  When is it better to trade up?  Or trade down?  Should you draft skill positions in early rounds?  Or late rounds? How do you set a value on a starting cornerback? Math geeks and experts on valuation theory really can help answer questions like that in general, though you still need scouting and player evaluation skills.   
      Sashi may have been basically right that you should trade down if you are a team building for the future, and trade up if you are a playoff team needing one key player to get you over the hump. But you need a football guy to know when to violate those general rules.  For example, I believe that late first round is usually not a good time to look for a franchise quarterback. But when the Packers were up at 24th overall in the 2005 draft, John Dorsey advocated drafting Aaron Rodgers, and wow, was he right.  Analytics is another tool for the tool kit, but it doesn't replace the entire tool kit.  Frank Ryan could help the Browns re-establish perspective, I do believe.  

Friday, November 10, 2017

Mid-year Evaluation of the Cleveland Browns 2017 Draft Class

So far, the Cleveland Browns have uncovered one talented rookie from the 2017 draft class in Myles Garrett.  Other than Garrett, the Browns' rookies are among the weakest in the NFL.  

How's our 2017 draft class looking so far?  Pretty good, because Myles Garrett looks like an absolute stud if he can stay healthy....But other than that, things look bleak and depressing.  Jabrill Peppers has the most snaps among rookies.  He's a good special teams player, but so far looks like a backup DB long-term.  We have a nice second-string tight end in Njoku...Matthew Dayes has done well on special teams.  Larry Ogunjobi has gotten in on 21% of the defensive snaps, and Caleb Brantley 18%.  
We also got DeShone Kizer, and kicker Zane Gonzalez has done well on kickoffs but not field goals.   DB Howard Wilson and OT Roderick Johnson are injured.  

To tell the truth, you or I could have picked Myles Garrett, because that is a complete no brainer.   So as of the midway point of their rookie year, our draft haul looks like Garrett, then four decent backups, three good special teams players and the worst starting quarterback in the league.  Will that help us catch the Steelers?  

I'm hopeful there will be improvement as these fellows enter their second or third year, but the early returns are dismal.   One talented starter per year is just not enough, especially after all those trades.  Maybe we don't need to fire the Coach or the Trademeister, but whoever is in charge of the draft probably needs to be reassigned.    


Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Browns Prove You Get What You Pay For

It's Moneyball, baby! 

Why are the Browns so terrible?  It's not rocket science.  The team is shifting its resources to 2018 and 2019, and underfunding 2017.  This is part of the "Moneyball" strategy to build for the future, for better or worse.  

First of all, owner Jimmy Haslam is not cheap.  The Browns total 2017 expenditures on players salaries is within a few million dollars of the NFL average.  However what we need to realize is that the Browns have a huge amount of "dead money."  That is, $39 million dollars of their payroll is going to players who are no longer on the team.  To some extent, dead money is unavoidable because some players always underperform and have to be cut.  In term of money actually being paid to players on the roster, the Browns total is $116 Million, or $33 million under the NFL average of $149 million.  For example, the Browns are spending $16 million for Brock Osweiler, which they agreed to do in exchange for a 2018 draft pick from Houston.  A complete list appears below, broken down in terms of current starters for other teams, reserves, plus those who are out of football. In that regard, I suspect that guys like Gary Barnidge or Paul Kruger can actually still play, but are retired because the Browns are paying them really good money.  
    $33 Million is a LOT of money.  It's enough for a dozen players with Jason McCourty's salary, or two franchise wide receivers, for instance.  Or you could pay for Kirk Cousins and an offensive lineman.  
      The Browns' intention appears to be to underspend now with the intent of overspending when the Browns get good (whenever that may be).  
      However, after the terrible performance for the past two years, you have to question whether free agents will really want to come to Cleveland.  I suspect we will have to offer two to three times the salaries offered by perpetual playoff teams like the Cowboys or Patriots, just to have a chance of getting someone.   I wonder if they plugged that into their computer model?

Starters, as of 11/4/2017 Browns Charges

Brock Osweiler, starting qb for Denver. $16,000,000
Josh McCown, starting qb for NY Jets, $666,000
Joe Haden, staring cb for Pittsburgh $7,300,000
Demario Davis, starting LB for NY Jets $1,000,000

Backups as of 11/4/2017 Browns Charges

Cameron Erving, backup G for Chiefs $1,279,376
John Hughes, backup DE for Saints $1,500,000
Pierre Desir, backup CB for Colts $101,903
Tramon Williams, backup CB for Arizona $500,000
Austin Davis, backup qb for Seahawks $166,668
Xavier Cooper, back DE for NY Jets $148,071

Currently out of football: Browns Charges

Gary Barnidge $2,325,000
Justin Gilbert $1,913,364
Robert Griffin III $1,750,000
Paul Kruger, $1,200,000
Desmond Bryant $1,000,000
Alvin Bailey $666,667
Trey Caldwell $138,288
Matt McCants $260,882
TOTAL $38,837,432




Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Why Jimmy Garoppolo was Not an Option for the Cleveland Browns.

There was never a scenario to bring Jimmy Garoppolo to Cleveland.  I
San Francisco has traded a second round pick to the Patriots for Jimmy Garoppolo, and Browns fans are irate that he didn't become a Cleveland Brown instead.  But there are reasons why this could not possibly work.

First, face it, Cleveland is not an attractive landing spot for Garoppolo.  If you think he and his agent would have a warm spot for the team after spending eight weeks here, you're crazy.  No, after the terrible season that the Browns are having and a complete meltdown of the front office, there is a 100% chance that Garoppolo would leave after his eight game sentence is up. He would become a Free Agent and go somewhere else, and the Browns would have blown a second round draft pick for no reason.  The only way to be sure of having him would be to Franchise Tag him for 2018, which will cost about 23 million dollars for quarterbacks.  That's a lot of money for an unproven albeit promising kid. 

The same thing might happen to San Francisco, but they probably don't need to Franchise Tag him.  Here's how it plays out:

AGENT: Jimmy wants more money or he will go to Cleveland. 
SHANAHAN: HAHAHA! You liar! Take my offer or leave it!
AGENT: (two second pause).  Okay, I'll take it.

Some Browns fans think that they could have had Garoppolo at the beginning of the season.  That's wrong.  At the beginning of the season he would be worth more because the new team gets 16 guaranteed games instead of 8, plus psychologically a better chance to sign him long term. But the Pats have to gamble that Brady stays healthy, and that is a smaller risk with 11 games to go rather than 19. So the Pats managed the risk factor as best they could, and traded Garoppolo at the last possible minute before his trade value goes to zero at the trade deadline.  The Patriots valued having Garoppolo as an insurance policy, but that policy was about to expire, so they cashed in.  

Other reasons to not trade the pick and a $23 Million Franchise Tag fee, is that we all like Jimmy but its not proven he is an All-Pro.  Just because he can quarterback the Patriots doesn't mean he can do the same job somewhere else.  And he's still not a huge kid, doesn't have the big hands thought to be an advantage for cold weather football, hasn't been injury resistant like Tom Brady, and is still rather inexperienced. 

Conversely, A. J. McCarron would have cost a $4 M tender as a restricted free agent in 2018.  So that route is much less costly, and a much lower risk. You still have to ask whether he is actually an upgrade from Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer, but it's at least affordable if not a stroke of genius. 

Adam Schefter of ESPN had the interesting angle that Belichick might have preferred trading him to the NFC, so the Patriots would only play against him once every four years.  If they had traded him to Cleveland, the Browns might trade him to someone in the Patriot's division, and that would not be good.  Plus Belichick really likes Garoppolo, and would rather send him to a stable system led by a guy he respects in Kyle Shanahan.  The Browns, on the other hand, are the team that fired him.   He has a long memory.  

So, Jimmy G was never an option for the Browns. A J McCarron was not a good option, but he would be an option.  And we can still offer him a contract in the 2018 off-season, when he becomes a Restricted Free Agent.