Opinion: The Cupboard was Bare

Earlier today, John Taylor published an in-depth analysis of how teams are impacted by their past draft history, and how the Browns could be expected to perform. In the opinion of OBR publisher Barry McBride, John's analysis tells us in no uncertain terms why the Browns have struggled this season, and justifies why radical off-season change may not be the answer...

(Click here for John Taylor's draft analysis)

As the Browns left the field following their 30-0 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, a lonely fan among the empty club seats stood and lifted a solitary middle finger at the team as they trotted off the field.

Most of my peers in the media sit further down the sideline in the press box, or were downstairs preparing to pan a river of Crennel-speak for quotes. We're posted near the goal line, though, sitting two rows behind the visiting team's media.

The rest of the Cleveland press corps missed it, but I didn't. In a strange way, contrary to the emotions which created this site, that fan's silent protest mapped to my own feelings.

* * *

If you're a Browns fan, you're probably angry. If you're not angry, then you probably feel yourself sinking into apathy as another horrible season winds down.

I can understand the frustration. No one has been hit harder by the team's awful first seven years of expansion than those of us who try to scrape together a living off of interest in this moribund franchise.

We've been to every game, reported on every practice, only to be rewarded with continually diminishing interest in the team and organization. It has been very painful not only emotionally, but financially. The temptation to extract revenge by laying rhetorical waste to the Browns organization and everyone associated with it lurks everyday, hovering over our shoulders.

In the same way, every fan who has put an ounce of emotion into this team, or a wad of greenbacks into its coffers, has that omnipresent temptation to point cursing or hand signals at the inept franchise as the athletes and coaches mope their way off the field after another loss.

The anger of Browns fans is like water. It flows, continually looking for a way out. It flooded over Mo Carthon. It had drowned Butch Davis, Bruce Arians, Gerard Warren, and others. Now it is starting to rush at Romeo Crennel.

Once he's been slaughtered in the Cleveland Killzone, it will be Phil Savage next. Or maybe Charlie Frye, or Jeff Davidson.

If there is anything you should take from John Taylor's analysis published today on the OBR website it is this: Stop. Wait. Look at the bigger picture.

* * *

Jumping off from Phil Savage's comments two weeks ago, John examined each team in the NFL and how they have benefitted from their draft selections during from 1999 through 2003. That's the first five drafts the Browns had. There have been three since, one led by Butch Davis and two by Phil Savage.

The players selected between 1999 and 2003 should now be at the peaks of their productive careers.

What the analysis shows is that just 4.3% of the Browns starting squad (offense, defense, special teams) comes from the drafts of those years.

Contrast this with the teams at the top of the list - (Steelers, Panthers, Ravens, and Patriots) who are some of the most consistently successful franchises around today. The Steelers built 32.5% of their roster from those drafts, and a quarter of their starters. The Panthers built 29.7%, the Ravens 28.9%

25% vs. 4.3% of starters for the Steelers and Browns.
32.5% vs. 10.6% of the roster for the Steelers and Browns.

If you want to know why the Steelers kicked the Browns collective butts 27-7 last Thursday night, look no further. That statistic tells you why.

Look at the other teams in the AFC North and how they fared in those drafts. If you want to assign blame for the Browns likely 0-6 record in the division, look at those numbers first.

Only 4.3% of the Browns starters and 9.8% of the team's rosters were draft selections in the organization's first five years. Given the number of draft choices available to re-stock the team - double draft picks in 1999 - the Browns draft success was not just "bad". It was not just "comically bad".

The Browns draft record in their first five years likely set new levels of historical ineptitude for NFL franchises.

If I can put it in terms that all Cleveland fans can relate to, the Browns drafts were beyond "Mike Ditka with the Saints" bad. They were beyond "Matt Millen" bad. They were Ted Stepien bad.

And remember that Stepien forced the NBA to give up more draft picks just to get someone to buy the Cavaliers after he nearly destroyed them.

* * *

In a nutshell, I believe that John's analysis tells you why it is unfair to be pointing the finger at Phil Savage or Romeo Crennel for the team's failures in 2006. The Browns gained virtually nothing from their first five drafts and, I believe, performed better than the level of their personnel in 2005.

In contrast, the last three drafts have yielded a number of excellent players, if not potential All-Pros: Kellen Winslow, Kamerion Wimbley, Sean Jones, Braylon Edwards, and more. These have been solid drafts. Better days are ahead.

Unfortunately, those solid drafts are built on a base of virtually nothing.

The Browns are just three years away from essentially being an expansion team. In addition, this year's squad suffered the loss of their top three cornerbacks for most of the year, and had their premier free agent (and perhaps the new heart of the team) ripped away from them on the first play of training camp. They had an experiment at quarterback.

There are many things that go into having a successful season. Injuries play a role, difficulty of schedule, off-season acquisitions, coaching, even the lucky bounce of the ball. But there's no denying the link between past draft success and current on-field success.

We even plotted it on a graph. On the chart below, the horizontal axis represents the draft success from 1999-2003 and the vertical axis represents each team's winning percentage last year and this year.

The black line through the middle of the graph represents the average relationship between draft success in those years and wining percentage. If a team is above that line, they've out-performed past draft success. If a team is under it, they have underperformed. The Browns are just slightly under.

Given the injuries which clobbered this team this year and last, the challenge of their schedule in 2006, and their just plain rotten luck, the Browns don't appear to have been victimized much by their coaching staff and front office these last two years. Performance isn't horrible given what they've had to work with. Neither is it significantly better.

If there are teams that should seriously be re-assessing their coaches and front office staff, perhaps it should be teams like the Raiders, Lions, Bills and Cardinals who have a large number of drafted starters on their roster but haven't been successful on the field. Those teams should be taking a hard look at what decisions have been made by the front office and coaching staff.

The Browns? Not really. In my opinion, the crisis on this team has not been coaching.

* * *

There are plenty of anecdotes you can use to justify dumping Phil Savage or Romeo Crennel. There are probably just as many that indicate why you should keep them.

The New Orleans Saints will probably be trotted out by those who feel the Browns could benefit from a new head coach. Guess what? Sean Payton and company had a lot more to work with: The Saints have three times the number of starters from the 1999-2003 drafts as the Browns have. Plus they had plain old good fortune in Drew Brees' recovery from surgery, their ability to replace LeCharles Bentley, and Reggie Bush falling into their laps.

Romeo Crennel probably isn't going to be remembered as one of the Browns greatest head coaches in history. In my opinion, though, he is an acceptable head coach and a solid representative of this franchise. I also believe he needs some experienced help on the offensive side of the ball to make up for his weaknesses there.

Firing Crennel, unless the team has a superstar ready to replace him, just cements the Browns image as Death Valley for coaches and careers. Plus, it ignores a pretty solid two years of defensive performance overall (despite Thursday's horror) with players like Ben Taylor, Jason Fisk, Ralph Brown, and Daven Holly having to play key roles.

Given what the team has been through and the sorry legacy of the previous administrations, the performance of the Browns has been about what you could expect.  

* * *

If you want to be angry, that's fine. I am, perhaps more than anyone will ever know.

But my anger isn't focused on Randy Lerner, or Phil Savage, or Romeo Crennel. It's not even focused on Butch Davis or Dwight Clark.

What John Taylor's numbers tell me is that there is one person and one organization who enriched themselves on the misfortune we are now forced to bear.

It is the organization whose greed for new stadium palaces inspired it to wait until the last second to allow Cleveland to organize, by which time no experienced GMs would take the challenge. That organization is the National Football League, as it acted at the behest of its owners.

It is the man who compounded his bad situation by hiring yet another GM with absolutely no NFL-level player personnel experience to guide the team through its third, fourth and fifth drafts. That person was rewarded with 10% of the franchise and he left several years ago, a very wealthy man. His name is Carmen Policy.

Romeo Crennel? He's almost as much a victim as you and me. Phil Savage? He's our greatest hope.

If the team fires either of those fellows, they had better have superstars ready to replace them.

Because they didn't create this mess. They inherited it.

And they deserve more time to clean it up.




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