Vincent T. Conroy-Villarreal | @mrconroy2u | AAVSPORT
PHOENIX- The first day of the NFL free agency period is now done and dusted. If yesterday serves as an indictment of what is to come for the future of professional football, one would think money grew on trees after seeing just how much wealth was distributed by league executives and owners. At this rate, the NFL shield will no longer be recognized as the world’s most renowned leader in the entertainment business. If the whole money on trees metaphor indeed becomes a reality, the NFL will soon stand as a global leader in horticultural commerce.
As expected, the premier talents of the NFL frolicked to the endless riches of tax-free Florida. Desperate teams in dire need to spark regional interest, snagged headlines by overpaying for career backup quarterbacks in hopes of rejuvenating their fan bases. The selfsame rhetoric continued to control media outlets and television banner scrawls alike as sports writers continued to spill out the same jargon we have listened to for the last five years. The Jaguars’ objective is still going to be tailored on buying a championship despite an yet another organizational leadership change, Bill Belichick continues to be the smartest man in football and the Broncos are pursuing yet another veteran gunslinger to bring them back to glory. It was yet another atypical day in the NFL.
But in all the rumors, the signings and the predictable moves, there was a story that damn near almost broke the internet. Arizona State University product Brock Osweiler, went from Super Bowl 50 Champion, to a prized 72-million-dollar contract, to a quarterback nobody wants. What a year it has been for the man once seen as Peyton Manning’s prodigy. After seeing news of this trade break on Bleacher Report and Twitter, I assumed Kevin Costner was still calling the shots for the Cleveland Browns. At first glance, this trade was very much a “Browns move” and lacked any sort of institutional direction or logic. But after brewing on this for the last day and doing some extensive research of my own, the more it has become apparent to me that this trade by the Browns’ brass was a absolute stroke of genius. The Browns have challenged the traditional and conventional model of winning in the NFL. While every other NFL franchise is spending, the Browns are being uncharacteristically parsimonious.
Without question, the Browns’ trade involving Brock Osweiler is perhaps one of the most fascinating deals in NFL history-and one that will prove to be next to impossible to replicate. Since Shashi Brown and Paul DePodesta took charge of assembling the team’s roster in 2016, Cleveland has became a rag-tag team of glorified card counters. They have low-balled offered contracts to free agents, let established players walk out the door, made questionable trades on Draft Day but on the contrary, have assembled draft picks hand over fist. The organizational philosophy the Browns’ are adopted since the duo took over, is the NFL version of Moneyball– the very same tactic that Billie Beane has been utilizing over the last decade with the Oakland Athletics. While it shocked many at first, it comes to no surprise that the Browns have adapted this sort of business model under DePodesta, whose background as a baseball executive is exclusively linked to Beane’s. Whether we will see if he can be just as transcendent as his boss remains to be murky, considering that he is employed by perhaps the most impatient franchise in NFL history.
Have the Browns become the living embodiment of the Athletics? That remains to be seen since we haven’t seen any tangible results. Remember that the A’s in the early 2000s were on the cusp of winning championships, where as Cleveland can hardly win a regular season football game. But it cannot be dismissed that the Browns have quietly been hoarding draft picks via the way of trades or free agency over the last two years. Against their fan bases’ well wishes, Brown and DePodesta happily let players like Mitchell Schwartz, Alex Mack, Travis Benjamin and Tashuan Gipson walk out of Cleveland, knowing that compensatory picks would be awarded at the conclusion of the season. So far the move has paid off, as the Browns have not only been awarded draft selections, but the most cap room any NFL franchise has had in the 24-year history of NFL free agency. A whopping 102-million-dollars is at the Browns’ dispense along and 11 picks in the first six rounds in the draft, including five of the first 65 picks.
Let’s be clear, The Wizard of Oz is never going to part of the Browns plan. His acquisition was made simply to accrue more selections in the NFL Draft. If they can find a potential trade partner for his services, they could possibly collect even more draft picks. I hate playing hypotheticals here, but if Osweiler had been outright released by the Texans, he would drawn a substantial amount of interest around the league. His resume, while tarnished, is head and shoulders above what is currently available on the free agent market. Given this year’s weak quarterback class, I could have envisioned him receiving yet another top-dollar contract yet again . The Browns stood as one one of the few teams (if not the only team) that could absorb his contract. With that much money at their disposal, biting a part of a 16-million-dollar contract is a theoretical “drop in the bucket” for the Browns. By no means is Osweiler penciled in to be the team’s starting quarterback for the 2017 NFL regular season. But if by chance the Browns’ can’t find a trade suitor, he is one hell of an insurance policy.
In baseball, Moneyball is designed to discover value in an inadequate market. Top-dollar contracts given to unproven commodities can hinder a team’s overall development. Acquisitions like Albert Haynesworth for the Washington Redskins serve as tell tale warning that some things are never as advertised. Contracts like this can literally handcuff a team to salary-cap hell and leave team’s stuck with players they no longer want. After a fallout with the coaching staff in the later stages of 2016, Brock and the Texans were facing the same situation. The Browns closely monitored this strained relationship and took advantage of an inadequate of a desperate Texan party. Houston jettisoned their failure at quarterback and got 10 millions in pay roll. They Browns expedited the divorce process and landed Osweiler. As an reward for their services, they ended up getting a second round pick out of the deal. While the Browns didn’t acquire their quarterback of the future, Brown and DePodesta added more assets they can someday package in order to get the one they are really sold on.
In all seriousness, the Osweiler trade while comical to a certain degree, gives a strong indication about where the Browns are heading. Are they contenders for an NFL title? No, not at all-but they are closer than most thing. Stock piling picks is smart considering that Belichick has been doing this for years in New England. You can build a strong foundation of players to build around while giving you the liberty to make considerable and logical trades on Draft Day. By either the virtue of another poor season or packaging a trade, the Browns’s are in contention to obtain the first overall selection in next year’s draft. Cleveland’s brass is telling the whole world they are in the business of acquiring the services of Sam Darnold, the rising quarterback from the University of Souther California.
While draft capital can’t throw a Hail Mary pass or make a shoe string tackle, the Browns’ are making the right decisions for the first time in a long time. Sure the Dog Pound hasn’t had much to cheer about in Charlie Frye was their starting quarterback, but Brown and DePodesta have the Browns “Brocking”.