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.     

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