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Cow Patties from Columbus: The Analytical Rationale of the Browns Free Agency Approach

The Browns approach to free agency has left many Browns fans confused. Fortunately, a member of the Browns analytics team is here to explain the rationale for you, and it's all based on math. MATH!

EDITOR'S NOTE: This message was received prior to the Browns waiving Johnny Manziel, thereby throwing their gateway to punting into doubt. We await an update on the analytical reasoning to jettison Johnny.

March 10, 2016

Barry,

It’s been a while since my last correspondence with you, but I wanted to share a most joyous update, as I’m sure your spirits can use a lift now that NFL free agency has started and many of the Browns’ best players have left Roadrunner-style dust silhouettes standing in their place as they have bolted for less forsaken football homes.

So one day I’m walking down High Street in Columbus, fending off a relentless onslaught of pre-primary political operatives like Rex Kramer dispatching of Hari Krishnas at LAX in the movie Airplane, when this homeless guy notices my Ohio University hat and bellows, “The Harvard of the Hocking!” He inquired if I attended OU and I confirmed that I had. He asked my name, and once I told him, he said, “Great. We’ll be in touch.”  That was an odd thing to say, and it creeped me out a little bit to be honest, but within a day or so, I forgot all about. Then came the job offer.

It turns out that Jimmy Haslam’s Homeless Guy Scouting Network doesn’t just apply to first round quarterback draft pick decisions. It’s a comprehensive recruiting resource for all facets of the organization. The homeless guy must have said, “Harvard on the Hocking” in his referral, and Jimmy, Sashi, Paul, and the gang heard the magic H-word and hired me, not realizing its facetiousness. It’s a pretty cool gig. I telecommute from Columbus, which is great because not driving up I-71 to Berea saves me time. Not gas money though. As part of my telecommuting agreement, Jimmy had to be made whole, so the cost of a full tank of gas from the Exit 204 Pilot station near Lodi is deducted from my paycheck each week. 

Anyway, with my exclusive behind-the-scenes knowledge, I wanted to fill you in on what’s going on. Like most fans, I’m sure you’re upset with how free agency has gone so far. Alex Mack to Atlanta. Mitchell Schwartz to Kansas City. Travis Benjamin to San Diego. Tashaun Gipson to Jacksonville. The upcoming Jim Brown statue, pending its physical existence, signing with the Los Angeles Rams. You’re upset because you’re thinking about who will block or catch or return punts or tackle or intercept passes. You’re looking at football the wrong way.

To help you better understand, let me establish my credentials. I have been hired as Senior Vice-Co-Manager of Analytically Analyzing Analysis. My main area of focus, which is the centerpiece of our entire organization going forward, is the P.U.N.T. Team. This stands for Punt Ultra ‘Nalysis Team. Um, Team. I know you have consumed a lot of Bushmills already this week, so to clarify:

* Yes, it’s unconventional that the first word of an acronym is the acronym itself. Paradigm-altering, outside-the-box thinking.

* Yes, we dropped the “A” from “Analysis” because otherwise it wouldn’t spell “PUNT.” And besides, “Ultra” ends with “A” so it all kind of flows together. Probably even more so if you’re drunk, so say it out loud right now. See?

* Yes, in terms of the acronym, PUNT Team is redundant like “ATM Machine.”

Now that I have addressed your immediate concerns, let me delve a little deeper into what we are doing. We first set out to determine our identity. What does “Play like a Brown” mean? After studying nearly two decades of written articles, game broadcasts, and internet searches, we found one word stood out well beyond all others:

Punting is our identity, so we have set forth to analytically quantify our success in that area. The primary metric that will be used to evaluate our success is TOP, or Terrificness of Punting. In order to calculate TOP, you first need to familiarize yourself with the Four TOPs. No, not the Motown group, although “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” is our unofficial anthem and mandatory work phone ringtone, to keep us focused on the other Four TOPs, which are used to compute total TOP.

Here is the formula:

You are surely confused by all of the TOPs, so I have written it out to better explain:

To compute Terrificness of Punting, we also need to know Total Offensive Punts, Time Of Punts (hang time), Traveled On Punts (distance), and Time Of Puntsession, which is time of possession, only renamed to further hone our focus, since each possession will ideally end in a majestic punt.

Total Offensive Punts measures how many times we punt in a game. One strength Paul DePodesta has brought to the Browns organization is that he is intimately familiar with how popular the Indians were in the 1990s. Why? Because of all those homeruns hit by the likes of Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome. DePodesta instinctively knows that Clevelanders love the arc of a ball flying through the air over vast distances. The Indians don’t hit many homeruns any more, but we, the Browns, can provide that long, arcing flight-of-ball experience through punting.

You may think that Total Offensive Punts is squared because of its paramount importance to a pleasing fall Sunday at First Energy Stadium. While its importance cannot be understated, this is actually not the case. It is squared because squaring a number gives an equation exponentially more intellectual gravitas. For years, Albert Einstein went on and on with his “E=mc” equation and nobody paid him any mind whatsoever. Once he squared the last bit, it became an overnight sensation and the most famous equation in the world. What Einstein did for relativity, we want to do for punting. 

Time of Punts is measured in seconds, and it is the amount of time that the pigskin is in glorious flight. When pigs fly, we are there timing it down to the very last orgasmic millisecond.

Traveled on Punts measures the distance in yards. To paraphrase from our baseball brethren, chicks dig the long punt. Also, since our post-free-agency offense will consist of mostly special teams players, longer punts will wear them out quicker, further decreasing the odds of them delaying a punt by getting a first down.

Ideally, Time of Puntsession will be as low as possible, which is why we placed it in the denominator. The more quickly we can punt, the more punts we can punt, which will increase Total Offensive Punts and therefore Terrificness of Punting.

Now that you know our analytical objectives, our offseason makes a little more sense. We do not need people who can block or catch, so Mack, Schwartz, and Benjamin were all expendable. The key to our offense will be taking care of the football—NO TURNOVERS!—so we can stop the clock with three quick incompletions so as to maximize our punting opportunities. A quarterback with erratic aim is ideal, which is why we haven’t cut Johnny Manziel yet. The only problem with Manziel is that he likes to scramble around, which burns precious clock before throwing his incompletions. We are looking to upgrade at the position. We need someone less mobile, more turnover-averse, and with a stronger arm who can throw the ball into the bench area faster, thus conserving clock. We also need a quarterback who doesn’t buy into that “a long interception is a good as a punt” nonsense. No, it isn’t. Punt like a Brown!

Gipson was expendable because the less we tackle, the sooner the other team will score and we will get the ball back to punt. The numbers clearly show that Gipson also intercepted passes sometimes. While it is true that getting the ball back quickly could maximize punting opportunities, oftentimes these interceptions would place us on a short field, meaning less Time Of Punt and Traveled On Punt, thereby greatly reducing Terrificness of Punting. Our analysis showed that Gipson could really hurt us there sometimes. For us, he’s better off in Jacksonville.

Of course, the key to our organization, and soon to be EVERY organization once this gets copycatted like Moneyball and Jonah Hill plays a fake version of Paul in a movie again, is the punter. From my personal conversations, this is why everyone gravitated to the Browns job. What, did you think it was 350-pound athletes? DePodesta already had that with Bartolo Colon and the Mets. No, Andy Lee is the drawing card. He’s the type of guy our homeless draft analysts say you would trade your entire draft for, Ricky Williams or Herschel Walker style, yet kudos to the previous regime for stealing him from the 49ers for only a 7th round pick. 

Also, credit to the former Browns front office for those new uniforms. I know I had previously been on record as saying that the erasing 70 years of dignified, no-frills football tradition in favor of a grotesquely clownish Nike-fied monstrosity was the last gasp of a dying organization not knowing what else to do in order to change its perpetually putrid performance and to distract an increasingly disaffected fanbase from the relentlessly numbing onslaught of inconceivable incompetence, but now that I am a member of the organization I have had a change of heart. We on the P.U.N.T. Team love the visual of Andy Lee’s right leg, fully extended in its graceful mid-punt magnificence, with the word “Browns” horizontally emblazoned down the side of his thigh for all to see. Without the synergy created by these uniforms, the act of punting and the word “Browns” would not have been so visually intertwined in such stunning and immersive fashion. 

Anyway, back to Andy Lee. He punts the ball high (Time of Punt), he punts the ball far (Traveled on Punt), and he doesn’t engage in any of that run-for-68-yards-on-a-fake-punt tomfoolery like Reggie Hodges did with the Browns back in 2010. If a punter wants to advance the ball 68 yards down the field, he should kick it there. Andy Lee understands that, which is why he is going to be the face of our franchise in 2016.

In fact, we are working on a poster and other promotional materials featuring Andy (with “Browns” across the uniform of his extended punting leg) with your favorite Browns catchphrase, “Puntin’ Time!” It encapsulates everything that we stand for. We feel it will get more fans in the seats, which Andy’s punting will make them leap out of. Of course, we will make arrangements with you for the use of your phrase. One of Jimmy’s homeless guys will go over the legal trademark agreement with you on the street, including a compensation package based on a series of rebates. It’s the sort of arrangement that’s best understood via a rapid-fire mumbling on a busy downtown sidewalk, not in writing.

It’s been a while, so I hope this missive has found you well. And I hope it finds you even better now that I’ve explained everything to you. Total Offensive Punts (TOP.) Time Of Punts (TOP.) Traveled On Punts (TOP.) Time Of Puntsession (TOP.)  The Four TOPs, all of which lead to Terrificness of Punting (TOP.) Learn it. Live it. Love it. Our goal with the Cleveland Browns is to be at the very top of the list whenever ever the top TOP topic comes up.

Puntfully yours,

Steve Sirk
Vice-Co-Manager of Analytically Analyzing Analysis
Cleveland Browns P.U.N.T. Team

PS— I hope Hue doesn’t read the OBR because I don’t know that we’ve told him about all this yet. I heard it didn’t come up in the interview.

Steve Sirk, once Art Bietz's co-conspirator at the AFC North TruthCenter, has taken to sending occasional letters to "home base" about life as a Browns fan struggling in the NFL mixing pot of Central Ohio. At some point in life, Sirk determined that suffering through the nexus, dips, valleys, and various low points of being a Cleveland sports fan within geographic proximity of Cleveland itself did not create sufficient emotional pain. Sneeringly dismissive of even basic survival instincts, Sirk elected to reside in Columbus, Ohio, so that he could better be surrounded by fans of winning franchises who could mock his very existence. If you wish to contact an individual of such clearly questionable judgment, you may do so at sirk65@yahoo.com or via twitter @stevesirk


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