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Accumulating Value for Future Use – The Cleveland Browns 2013 NFL Draft

May 2, 2013

On a recent radio appearance, Michael Lombardi mentioned that the Browns brass (probably Lombo, Banner, Chudzinski and Ray Farmer) decided that Barkevious Mingo, the team’s first round pick at #6, was so much better than the talent available later in the first round that they had to pick him instead of trading down. Craig at Waiting for Next Year, covered both of Lombardi’s radio spots from earlier this week here. While I still would have preferred a trade down and a chance to pick in the second round, I’m glad that the Browns’ decision makers decided on a target and took him when their pick came. I was delighted to see the Browns take Mingo, as I think he is potentially a premier edge rusher, a piece that would be put to good use in Ray Horton’s defense.

After deciding not to re-enter the second round, the Browns drafted cornerback Leon McFadden out of San Diego State in the third round. McFadden will play a large role in the Browns defense, the cornerback starting opposite Joe Haden. McFadden is an experienced college player who could be ready to step in as a starter on his first day of training camp. While I can’t claim to have a deep knowledge of McFadden, he seems to be great value where he was picked at a position of need for the Browns, similar to some of the picks Tom Heckert and the former regime made that worked out so well (thinking T.J. Ward, James Michael Johnson and Mitchell Schwartz).

The decisions made on the fourth and fifth round picks have been the source of much consternation amongst Browns fans since the end of the draft. Why? Because they were traded for picks next year — this year’s fourth for next year’s third round pick from the Pittsburgh Steelers, and this year’s fifth for next year’s Colts’ fourth rounder. Most of the displeasure around these trades stems from two reasons: first, why would the Browns trade with bitter (and consistently smarter) rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers? Second, why are the Browns trading for picks next year, when they need players to help their team now?

Addressing trading with the Steelers; am I thrilled about it? No, I’d prefer to trade with other teams. However, if the offer of the Steelers’ third round pick next year was better than any other offer on the table, then it was the right move to make. I would much rather have the Steelers’ 2014 third round pick than say, the Jaguars’ or 49ers’ 2014 seventh round pick. While that may seem obvious, what other offer do Browns fans upset about trading with the Steelers think was available that the Browns didn’t make? While the Steelers do have a better history of success in the draft than the Browns, that by no means guarantees that Shamarko Thomas (the player drafted with the pick received from the Browns) is guaranteed to be an all-pro. The Steelers have been off target on draft picks before, and just because they traded up for Mr. Thomas does not ensure his success.

Trading picks from this year’s draft for picks in a better round in next year’s draft is a classic smart team move. What team is most identified with trading back in the draft for the last decade? The Patriots. As much as I loathe the Patriots, their success is undeniable. In addition to the Patriots, San Francisco and Baltimore are two other teams identified with trading back in the draft, and they played in last year’s Super Bowl. San Francisco’s Paraag Marathe talked at this year’s Sloan Conference about the value and flexibility offered by having multiple draft picks (the 49ers entered this year’s draft with 14 picks) and I believe the 49ers have had the smartest front office in football for the past five years, given how effectively they have built their team through the draft while complimenting their young players with low risk and high value free agency signings.

Gaining more picks for next year’s draft provides flexibility for more strategic planning. With extra picks next year, the Browns could trade up for a player they believe strongly in (think the Redskins moving up for RG3 last year), continue to try and roll their picks over into slight improvements for the 2015 NFL Draft (think the Patriots method of trading picks almost every year, to the chagrin of some of their fans) or they can simply use them in next year’s third and fourth round. Given the Browns general need for talent and depth, I think any added flexibility that allows the Browns to be more strategic is a win for the front office and reflects a focus on process oriented thinking, instead of focusing on short-term results (for my thoughts on process versus outcome based thinking, read this).

Another point for consideration regarding the Browns choice to trade out of the fourth and fifth rounds – most of the scouting staff for this draft were from the prior Heckert-Holmgren regime (as pointed out by @thecaffeined last night on Twitter, give him a follow, and broken down by Pro Football Talk this morning here). Typically, when a new front office takes over, they keep the scouting staff in place through the draft, as it would be too much work thrown away and too much to catch up on if they immediately brought in their own staff. Since the draft has ended, Mary Kay Cabot has already reported that there will be shakeups on the Browns scouting staff, which to me screams that Lombardi and Banner want to bring in some of “their guys”. If this turns out to be the case, it makes sense for them to want to give the scouts they trust more picks to make next year, especially if they can be more valuable picks, rather than let guys they didn’t know six months ago and who probably won’t be with the Browns another month make picks that could have affected the team for several years down the line.

I have little to comment on regarding the Browns sixth and seventh round picks, because I don’t know a lot about Jannoris Slaughter (Safety, Notre Dame, sixth round), Armonty Bryant (Defensive End, ECU, seventh round) or Garrett Gilkey (Offensive Lineman, Chadron State, seventh round). I hope Slaughter pans out as the Browns can use more playmakers in the secondary and I’m never against adding depth on the lines. I was excited to hear that one of new Brown Paul Kruger’s brothers, David, signed with the Browns as an undrafted free agent out of Utah who I have heard a few people mention as a good size for 3-4 Defensive End.

Overall, I am pleased with the Browns draft, primarily because, from an outsider’s perspective, it seems like they had a plan and executed it. They added players at several positions of need while positioning themselves to be more active and strategic in next year’s draft, when the front office has had more than a few months to plan and also have their own scouts in place.

How do you feel about the Browns moves? What did your favorite team do in the draft and what did you think of it? Let me know in the comments.

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