BEREA—There’s been a lot of talk about executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown having final say in the finalizing of the 53-man roster.
And rightly so.
Brown’s background as a lawyer has been primarily in the contractual side of the football operations. In a 30-minute session with Brown and Paul DePodesta prior to the general press conference, Brown laid out how the process will work. Brown disclosed that the Browns will not hire a general manager, but the title will be vice president of player personnel, who will be the chief talent evaluator.
“First of all, we think the GM role has expanded a ton and as you see, we don’t think we can have enough talented people in the building,” Brown said. “We do feel like we want someone here who’s focused primarily on personnel and talent evaluation. It is critical to what we’ll be doing, so stretching him into other things was not something, in terms of when Jimmy (Haslam) and I sat back with Alec (Scheiner), Paul and Dee (Haslam) to figure out what the structure even look like. It was important to get someone that was primarily and almost exclusively focused on that.
“The position we’re looking at is vice president of player personnel,” he said. “We are confident, we’ve interviewed a number of candidates. We have had a number of candidates that come and met with Jimmy, Paul, Myself, Ken Kovash, others. We will find a very talented evaluator, we’re confident in that.”
Brown said the yet to be named vice president of player personnel will provide the most information and build the draft board upon what the decisions will be based.
“I think, first of all, we’ll rely heavily on the vice president of player personnel,” Brown said. “His job will be to set the draft board. We shouldn’t get to a point—and this is where Paul is going to be very helpful for us—but we won’t get to a point where we’re all in a room at the last minute talking through a decision. We will have a good process in place and will build to decisions where everybody has a chance to give their input and at the end of the day it’s up to me to make the right decision.”
Brown said he will also rely heavily on Hue Jackson and the coaching staff, as well.
“We certainly want to take the input of coaches and understand what they need to be successful on the field and what they’re looking for in each position,” he said. “Then send scouts out to talk to us about what these players look like. Coaches will obviously, also have the opportunity to touch and feel and see these players, as well and once you bring all of this information together, along with the medical and character background. Then I’ll weigh all those decisions and will build a draft board and follow that board.”
Brown said the process is well underway and expects to name a vice president of player personnel within the next two weeks.
“We’ve met with a couple of handful of candidates and expect to wrap up in next couple of weeks,” Brown said. “He will be in collaboration with Paul, Hue and me. I have ultimate decision making authority, but everyone will be involved.”
Brown did say there have been some obstacles trying to get permission from other team’s personnel staff since the Browns job wouldn’t have final say on the roster.
“The hubbub of back and forth about guys getting blocked is fairly natural, it’s just kind of one of the oddities of an NFL schedule,” Brown said. “At the same time, people are building their draft boards and going into free agency and relying on their personnel guys, teams are trying to pluck them out of there. So it wasn’t a surprise to us, frankly we expected it. A lot of these guys are really talented and vital to their organizations. We weren’t surprised to know that some of the GMs around the league weren’t excited about having their guys walk out the door right now, particularly because some of these teams have set their draft boards already, so there’s a lot of proprietary information.”
DePodesta said he feels one of the strengths of the new Browns front office set up is that those involved all have the same game plan.
“I know a lot is made of the 53 and how important that is,” DePodesta said. “I think the way we're approaching it is we really want to try to create a shared vision. That vision is going to be created by Hue, by his coaching staff, by scouts, even by players, by us that we all buy into this vision. And that vision largely should dictate most of those decisions.”
Brown said although his current role is new to him, he feels his experience in the NFL qualifies him for his new position.
“This is my 12th season coming up,” he said. “I’ve been involved in a lot of the decisions in terms of how do you build a roster? We think that’s as strategic as it is important to have the evaluations of players. That’s the strength I bring in terms of strategy of it. We will rely heavily on what we already have – our talented personnel staff and we’ll bring in a vice president of personnel. He and I will work together with Paul and Hue collaboratively to make sure we make the best possible decisions for our organization moving forward.
“That really is my role to bring all the information together and make the best strategic decision each and every time,” he said. “That’s going to mean in part – and only in part – using analytics but largely based in talent evaluation. We plan on putting together a great staff and that’s what we’ll do.”
Brown said he feels bringing everyone together to make a decision is one of his strengths.
“I think the one thing people will say about me is I do work across departments well and I’m able to keep them aligned strategically and get to a consensus and the best possible decisions.”
Brown said the Browns front office is different by design.
“I think this structure is designed to be a little bit different,” he said. “Paul and I, we have a bit of overlap in terms of making sure that we stay aligned and strategically oriented. The other thing I think that we’ve found and that I think one of my strengths has been is the ability to work with people and build to a consensus. The folks that we will bring into the building with be similarly oriented. Those are some of the things that are really different in terms of our vision moving forward. Different by maybe this set of people. There was a very intentional plan for how we come together, the personalities in the room. I think you guys have already felt Paul, his approach, his open-mindedness. Probably a little bit unique from maybe what it looks like in some other NFL [front offices]. That’s on purpose and we think that will build the continuity that will ultimately provide the Browns with a competitive advantage.
Brown said that Jackson bought into the whole concept when he was being interviewed.
“We had the conversation with (Jackson) right in the meeting,” Brown said. “We shared our vision with Hue, how we want to make decisions. We talked through specifically how they have done things in Cincinnati, how he did things in Oakland, how we plan to do things here with the Browns. Hue provided us his assurances and we’ve worked well through this first week together.
“Ultimately, at the end of the day, collaboration doesn’t mean lack of disagreement,” he said. “We want disagreement, we think it’s healthy. But we all have to trust in each other in our respective roles to make sure that we’ll get to the right decision. These will be Cleveland Browns decisions. Ultimately, at the end of the day, it’s my responsibility. But these will all be organizational decisions.”