Saturday, April 30, 2016

How to Win AFTER the Draft--Undrafted Free Agents

    It ain't over.  The drafting is complete, and the Browns have 15 bright new faces to compete for jobs.  But it is not enough.  
      There are a number of undrafted free agents that need to be signed and brought to the team.  The Browns need to OUTBID the other teams and bring MORE candidates and BETTER candidates than any other NFL team!  I think the Browns may decide to invest more in these low-budget players than other teams.

       You may think that undrafted free agents are a mere formality, and that you just go through the motions and bring some ultra-long shot guys to camp.  But that is not so.
     Consider guys in recent years like K'Waun Williams, Isaiah Crowell, Connor Shaw, Taylor Gabriel, Jamie Meder, Dylan Winn...these guys are not necessarily superstars but they are good enough to help the team win.  And once in a while you find someone like Tony Romo, James Harrison, Kurt Warner, or London Fletcher.   They don't just show up, they are scouted, recruited and signed to rookie contracts.   Teams like the Browns can be very successful because players want to be successful in the NFL and they may feel that a team like Cleveland would give them a better chance than, say, New  England or Seattle. 

     So there is a natural advantage for lower echelon teams in recruiting undrafted free agents, and previously cut players (that, is guys who are close to the NFL minimum).  I think if I were an analytics-oriented GM like Sashi Brown, I might conclude that the undrafted free agents, waiver wire guys and previously cut players are actually very comparable to the regular free agents, and accordingly I would want to outhustle the other teams and sign more of these guys.  

     Undrafted free agents and low budget players waived or cut by other teams are essentially like 8th round draft picks.  It's not the same as a first round pick where most every player has some level of success.  With undrafted rookies and You have to go through several players to find 1 good one.  As I point out below, it doesn't take much to outbid the other teams for these guys.  
 Let's compare the expensive free agents as well as undrafted free agents and waiver wire guys:

Best regular free agents:  Gary Barnidge, Paul Kruger, Josh McCown, Brian Hartline, Desmond Bryant, Robert Griffin III, Tramon Williams, Andrew Hawkins. 

Gary Barnidge was one of the best free agent aquisitions the Browns have made.  
Isaiah Crowell was one of the better Undrafted Free Agents for the Browns. 

Best undrafted free agents:  Isaih Crowell, K'Waun Williams, Jamie Meder, Scott Solomon, Taylor Gabriel, Connor Shaw, 

Undrafted K'Waun Williams is good enough to start at Cornerback. 
     Previously cut players and waiver wire guys:  under 1 million:  Jordan Poyer, Marlon Moore, Austin Pasztor. Tank Carder.

     On balance, the regular free agents are better than the low cost guys, but you have to admit it's close.  And the free agents cost big money, where as the undrafted guys and pickups do not.  
     It would be possible to triple your investment in undrafted free agents and signing previously cut players, by offering just a bit of a bonus to come to camp.   Under current rules, NFL teams are limited to 90 players on the off-season roster, meaning that the Browns can offer up to about 10 additional contracts this year.  They are allowed to offer guaranteed money to come to camp, and with even a small bonus of like $50K, I bet most of them would accept.  If you have to cut most of them, it would result in a loss of $5 M against the current yearly salary cap.  But you would probably come away with some valuable players, including a few starters. That might make Mr. Haslam feel better about blowing a few million of salary cap money.  

     Wouldn't that be better than blowing the same amount of money on a "name" player who can't actually play, like the inimitable Dwayne Bowe?  That guy cost the Browns about 11 million dollars by himself.     

      So that's what I think the Browns might do this off-season:  outhustle and outspend the competition on Undrafted College Free Agents and other low budget free agents.  They may find this is a better investment than offering big bucks to overrated veteran free agents.   

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Browns Trivia: Draft History for Browns QB's of the past.

Otto Graham was signed by Cleveland as a free agent for the new All America Conference. He was drafted fourth overall by the NFL Detroit Lions but did not sign with them.
Otto Graham was the most dominant quarterback in NFL history.  Maybe Browns fans are still spoiled by having him win championship after championship.  

Frank Ryan was the last qb to win a World Championship with the Browns. He was drafted in the fifth round by the LA Rams and was traded to Cleveland.
Dr. Frank Ryan was the NFL's only PhD Mathematician, and he helped Paul Brown win the World Championship in 1964.

Bill Nelson was drafted in the 10th round by the Steelers in 1963, and eventually traded to Cleveland where he become the starter in 1968. Nelson was the consumate game manager, with no mobility, only an average arm, but a ton of guts and the ability to win football games. But he couldn't throw the deep ball to Paul Warfield, so the Browns solved that problem by trading Warfield for a new quarterback.
Bill Nelson won with guts more than athletic ability.

The Browns traded up for Mike Phipps, giving up Hall of Famer Warfield and All Pro halfback Ron Johnson. Art Modell acted as his own GM in that gem of a trade.

Brian Sipe was drafted in the 13th round in 1972. He spent two years on the Reserve Squad and didn't become the starter until 1976.
Could a 13th round pick possibly be better than top-drafted Mike Phipps?  Um, yes, actually.  

The Browns traded up for Bernie Kosar, taking him in the first round of the supplemental draft. He cost two number 1's, a 3rd and a 6th.
Bernie Kosar was the last brilliant quarterback that the Browns had, with the possible exception of the one year Tim Couch led the Browns to the playoffs, only to be inexplicably forgotten by most fans.

Tim Couch was drafted first overall, as the Browns turned down a megadeal from New Orleans. Counting that missed opportunity, the Browns have expended 17 draft picks in the last 17 years, none of whom have been particularly good.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Browns Win the Draft Trade with the Eagles

     It feels great knowing that there is a team that is far dumber than the Browns.  Take a bow, Mr. Howie Roseman on behalf of the Philadelphia Eagles.  The Eagles move up in this year's draft and get a fourth round pick next year.  The cost is their 1st, 3rd and 4th round pick this year; their 1st round pick in 2017 and their second round pick next year.  
   The more I think about it, the more I think the Eagles are genuinely insane, will have to lose a ton of games, and will give the Browns excellent draft position.  How can they sign two free agent quarterbacks--Sam Bradford at $18 M/year for two years, and Chase Daniel at $7M/year for three years--and then go out and draft another quarterback??  Sam has a terrific arm, but has been riddled with injuries since he was in college.  And Chase Daniel has had two  (that's TWO) NFL starts and has a contract that is bigger than RG3 and Josh McCown.  Chase Daniel was undrafted and undersized, kind of like Connor Shaw of the Browns. And he gets a huge contract.  
     It would be possible to trade Bradford, but it would cost $9.5 Million to the Eagles salary cap in 2016.  The new team would not have to pay Sam's bonus, just the unguaranteed salary of $7 M this year, with an option of 2017 of $13 M plus a $4M roster bonus or $17 M total. Maybe that is not totally crazy, and they might get a draft pick back.  I bet the Broncos might offer a 3rd or 4th round pick for him.  Daniel, on the other hand, is a totally insane singing that I cannot explain.  

It's not the age, it's the mileage. For whatever reason, Sam Bradford has been banged up more than any other quarterback in the league.  It would be very tough to trade him, since he has a new $36 M two year deal. 

    The fundamental problem, however, is that the quarterbacks are over-rated. Jared Goff has good height at 6'4", but at 215 he is only 8 pounds heavier than Johnny Manziel, who was famously ridiculed for being undersized.  Goff is not fast, at 4.82 seconds.   Normally he should be downgraded to the mid first round for that, although he did put up great numbers at Cal.  

      Wentz was more of a Combine Wonder than Goff, weighing in at 235 pounds but a shade faster than Goff at 4.77.  Wentz is said to have a slightly better arm, but posted up good-not-great numbers at North Dakota State.   I'm thinking more along the lines of Alex Smith, a very good first round draft pick, but perhaps not necessarily worth the second overall pick.  

      It was smart to trade out of that situation, and the Eagles were stupid to trade in.  

I believe the Moneyball guys won this trade, hands down.  

Monday, April 11, 2016

The Village Elliot's Predictions for the NFL Draft 2016

I'm back, despite whiffing on key predictions on the NFL Draft last year, I'm back for more.  

1.  The Browns will not draft a quarterback at #2 overall. Instead they will trade down.  The Browns are committed to use "analytics" in the draft to make the best investments possible.  To me this means that they are going to draft the best players available.   Wentz, Goff and Lynch are all pretty good prospects, but none are in the class of Cam Newton or Andrew Luck.  So we'll either draft another position or trade the #2 overall pick for about three picks.  Browns fans will not like this, as they tend to view the three veterans (RG3, McCown and Davis) as a disaster with only the top rookie as a Messiah (though there is no agreement which rookie is best).    

2.  We will stockpile some assets for 2017.   I think if other teams want to move up in 2016 the Browns will help them do it.   

3. Travis Henry will be drafted in the first round.  No, he doesn't look like a classic tailback, and today's NFL de-emphasizes running backs but he is bigger stronger and faster than anyone else and I think he is an All-Pro. 

Derrick Henry is a beast.  He's huge, fast and doesn't fumble.  I think he's a first round talent.  

4.   LaQuon Treadwell will not be the first wide receiver taken, mainly because he is a bit slow.  Still a very good player, I look for him to go about 25th overall and maybe later.  This is not a great draft for wide receivers. 

5.  It is a great draft for cornerbacks.   I look for about four or five of them to be drafted in the first round, led by Jalen Ramsey, who may be the top guy overall.  

3.  The Browns will draft a quarterback of the future, but probably in round 2 or 3.   Someone like Connor Cook, Cardale Jones or Kevin Hogan might be available. 

4.  The Browns will draft a cornerback, because there are several good ones and the Browns need help there.  

5.  The Browns will be very aggressive after the draft in signing undrafted rookies.   Elsewhere in this blog I make the claim that undrafted rookies may be a better source of talent than the veteran Free Agent pool.  You play it differently however.  With undrafted rookies you have to take about ten of them to find one good player.  I think they may spend a little salary cap money on (small) bonuses for undrafted rookies.   

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Analytics: Is There a Method to the Cleveland Browns' Madness?

Are Undrafted Rookie Free Agents like Isaiah Crowell better than any veteran free agents that the Browns have brought to town?  If so, maybe they should pay for tryouts for more of these guys.  

     Perhaps the Browns simply want to destroy the team.  So far they had four Pro-Bowl calibre players leave via Free Agency, plus solid starter Mitchell Schwartz and part time starter Craig Robertson.  But this was not enough so the Browns just went and CUT guys like defensive starters Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner, Randy Starks plus partyboy (and part time player) Johnny Manziel.  They have plenty of salary cap space, so perhaps they are just dumb to make these cuts.  

     Or...could it be that the analytics guys believe that rookie Undrafted Rookie Free Agents (URFA), or guys who are fresh out of college but who didn't get drafted, are a better overall investment than veteran Free Agents??   

        That sounds ridiculous on the face of it.  However, consider that bad teams never get a discount in free agency. Teams like the Patriots always get veterans to sign for less because these players are usually hungry to be on a winner. Teams like the Browns always pay more.   

         In the draft, losing teams have an advantage because they choose earlier.  In addition, losing teams also have an advantage with the rookie free agents, because the rookies (and their agents) feel they have a better chance to make it in the NFL with a weaker team.   

         So maybe what the Browns are going to do is offer more and better Undrafted Rookie Free Agent contracts to the rookies, maybe sweetened with a small guarantee, and bring about 20 or 30 of the best guys into camp.  Okay, most of them will be cut, but they hope  to find four or five guys who can play this way.  

          This is similar to the plan of 2013, when the Browns led the NFL in rookie free agent signings, and purged the roster of aging middle tier veterans and free agents such as WR David Nelson and blocking TE Kellen Davis, much to my consternation at that time.  These guys could definitely play as of 2013.   

      But in 2014 and 2015, the Browns splurged on free agents,  gorging themselves on the likes of  The big dollar veteran free agents include DE Desmond Bryant, CB Tramon Williams, ILB Karlos Dansby, S Donte Whitner and QB Josh McCown.  Though these guys can definitely play some ball, probably they are not as good as a group as the guys who were taken as undrafted rookies. 

     Consider that in the past few years, the Browns found undrafted guys like K'Waun Williams, Isaiah Crowell, Taylor Gabriel, E. J. Bibbs, Connor Shaw, Scott Solomon, Jamie Meder, Jordan Poyer and Willie Snead.  Case in point: Snead hauled in 984 yards worth of passes last year, after the Browns cut him in 2014.  Maybe we should be keeping more guys like that rather than pursuing big names like Dwayne "Gluefingers" Bowe?

      Overall, you have to admit that the Undrafted Rookies have been a better source of talent than the veteran free agent signings.   So, perhaps the Browns intend to invest more in Undrafted Rookies and less on veteran free agents.  

After getting rid of guys like Willie Snead, who starred for New Orleans Last Year, Ray Farmer bet his career on Dwayne Bowe to catch passes from Johnny Manziel.  He lost. 

    In other words, maybe the Browns figure Undrafted Rookie Free Agents are a better source of talent than Veteran Free Agents.  If so, the Browns believe they are right and the rest of the NFL is wrong! 

    If I'm right about that, look for the Browns to invite more of them to camp than any other team after the NFL draft, and to lead the NFL in spending on their contracts.  Most of them will be cut at the end of training camp, but based on recent history some of them will be good.  The Browns goal would be to have about five make the team, resulting in about 15 rookies overall.