Home » Browns » Drunk… but not on Kool-Aid.

Drunk… but not on Kool-Aid.

Friend of the blog Zarathustra has been among ‘the loyal opposition’ in our comment section regarding several recent of the themes put forward here.  This is his take on the draft and how it fits with a longer view.


For the past week Kanick has been posting thoughtful, well-researched critiques of the Browns draft and I have done nothing but annoyingly peck at him in the comments section. It’s a testament to what a mensch he is that he has given me the opportunity to present what is hopefully a comprehensive case for the opposition.

I am by no means an expert in player evaluation so my purpose here is not to persuade that Mingo or McFadden or whoever else will be great players, but that the front office’s overall draft strategy was appropriate given the current state of the franchise.

Much of the contention regarding this draft is due to differing opinions about where the Browns are at this point and the expectations for next year.

Taking a second look at the 55 5-11 teams who went to the playoffs.

1998 Colts were on the list of teams making playoffs next year.

One of the Kanick arguments is that it is by no means absurd to expect that a 5-11 can make the playoffs the following year and—given his evaluation of the current state of the Browns roster and the cap space available to them—there is no reason that the 2013 Browns shouldn’t be a candidate for such a leap. He researched it and came back with 55 examples in league history where a team made such a leap. I countered from the peanut gallery that his list of 55 teams was meaningless without any context. For example, how many 5-11 teams or worse had there been? And how many had first year coaches? I believe these to be pertinent questions, but I asked as though a Google search was solely the province of Kanick and his mysterious black magic and I was utterly helpless to find this information on my own. I’ve since discovered the power of this mysterious search engine and came up with the following:

Beginning with the 1998* season there have been 100 teams to finish 5-11 or worse. Of those, 27 managed to make the playoffs the following year. I believe this on its own buttresses Kanick’s point. Though I don’t hold the current Browns roster in quite as high of esteem as Kanick I do believe they have enough good players that it isn’t unreasonable to think they could be one of the 27%. Add in the exits of Seattle radio personality Mike Holmgren and his old buddy Fritz’s incompetent nephew and it should be a mortal lock.

First year coach syndrome.

What might have been…

But let’s take a closer look at the numbers. Of those 27 only 9 had first year coaches:

  • Jim Haslett with the Saints in 2000;
  • Bill Parcells with the Cowboys in 2003;
  • Sean Payton with the Saints and St. Eric from Hartford with Jets in 2006;
  • Tony Sparano with the Dolphins, John Harbaugh with the Ravens, and Mike Smith with the Falcons in 2008;
  • Pete Carroll with the Seahawks in 2010;
  • Jon Fox with the Broncos in 2011; and finally,
  • Chuck Pagano/Bruce Arians with the Colts in 2012.

Payton had a franchise quarterback—something the Browns are lacking—so let’s throw him out.

Now our numbers are reflecting a higher selectivity.  We’ve gone from 27% playoff rate (since 1998) and have narrowed it to an 8% chance and that isn’t even considering that two of these coaches had number 1 overall picks at quarterback, another had a top-ten pick at quarterback, and two had Bill Parcells on the payroll. The 2010 Seahawks went 7-9 and the 2011 Broncos went 8-8, but I think this can be offset by the handful of 10-6 teams that didn’t make the playoffs in the same time period.

If we now consider that regardless of how you evaluate the talent on the current Browns roster, the chances of the playoffs in 2013 were remote regardless of what the Browns did this offseason. Unless, of course, you are confident that Brandon Weeden is a franchise quarterback. I think I am higher on Weeden then most Browns fans and I am certainly not comfortable working under that premise.

About that 2013 draft process…

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 5.43.37 AM

Click to enlarge TA-Stuart convo.

This does not of course mean that the 2013 offseason is not incredibly important; only that it is far from unwise of the front office to be working on a less-immediate playoff deadline. And it most certainly does not mean that the team should get a total free pass this year and that we should not expect noticeable improvement on the field and in the standings.

If we can establish appropriate expectations for 2013 the decisions to trade the mid-round picks this year should be far less controversial. I won’t even bother to address the ridiculous complaint of trading with the Steelers as that seems only to be a concern to talk radio callers with inferiority complexes. Let’s also dismiss those who say mid-round picks aren’t important. We should all work under the premise that they are very important, especially for a team like the Browns. Kanick has posted a long list of important players from last year’s playoffs picked in these rounds. Everybody agrees they are important. The Browns especially do. That’s why they traded not just for an all-important fourth round pick next year, but also a third! This past Saturday ClevTA asked Chase Stuart of the New York Times’ Fifth Down Blog—one of the best football quants out there—via Twitter how his trade chart graded the trades. Assuming all teams have the same finish in 2013, it was determined that the Colts received 78 cents on the dollar for the fifth round pick and the Steelers received just 68 cents on the dollar for th fourth. If added together he states they are the equivalent of the 41st pick in 2014 draft. This may not be perfect as there are a lot of unknown variables still, but if teams are paying that type of premium for mid-round picks you should do it every time.

Not only do those future picks provide the ability to make future trades, but they are valuable in of themselves—as we all seem to agree.

The fact of the matter is that this is a first year regime with a first year coach. Until they see their current players in practice and games they don’t know exactly what they have. And if you don’t know exactly what you have and you are working with a scouting department you did not hire you are better off accepting such a premium for picks this year and deferring to next year when you are working with far better information about your current roster and more confidence in your evaluation of college players.

We’ll part from this issue noting that it is peculiar there is such an uproar about the value of these picks this year, when in the past three years there was mostly silence—and in some cases celebration—as Seattle Radio personality Holmgren and Heckert (presently unemployed) were tossing these same types of picks into trades for the likes of Montario Hardesty and Shaun Lauvao.

The Mingo Pick.

When considering the Mingo pick we should start by accepting reality as it is. At this point there are a lot of pretty good players on the roster, but the only positions that are locked down and it would be silly to expend a top ten pick on is left tackle, running back, and maybe center. Franchise quarterback is the top need, but there weren’t any of those available. I historically have always loved the idea of drafting corners in the top ten so would not have had any problem with Milliner at six, but, I think a compelling case can made for a pass-rusher like Mingo.

Aldon Smith, impact maker.

Let’s take a look at the first round picks playing in the front seven for the elite teams and the position they were drafted overall:

  • Ravens: Suggs (10) Ngata (12)
  • Steelers: Heyward (31) Hood (32) Timmons (15) {They have course added Jones (16) this year}
  • Patriots: Wilfork (21) Jones (21) Hightower(25) {Warren(13) and Seymour(6) aren’t on team presently but were for several Super Bowls}
  • Broncos: Miller(2)
  • Texans: Watt(11) Cushing (15) Mercilus(26)
  • Giants: JPP(15) Kiwanuka(32)
  • Packers: Raji (9) Matthews(26) Hawk(5)
  • 49ers: A. Smith (7) Willis (11) {J. Smith (4) is on team as well}
  • Seahawks: Irvin (15)

These are teams that have been perennial contenders or at least are very good teams on the verge of being so. It is somewhat subjective and I attempted to be more inclusive than not in selecting these teams. What we see is that all value the front seven enough to expend first round picks—most have expended multiple picks. Of the nine teams there are 20 total first round picks; 12 in the top 15; and 5 in the top ten. Entering the draft the Browns had zero first round picks in their front seven. They did address the area in free agency, but they entered the draft with Jabaal Sheard and Paul Kruger (both second rounders) as their best pass rushers. That is not on par with the best teams. And as there were no opportunities to address the quarterback position it makes perfect that they would further bolster the front seven with what will hopefully be the type of elite pass rusher that the team currently lacks.

Another argument against the Browns draft is that Mingo would have been available at 16 so they should have accepted the Rams offer. A cursory glance at the teams picking between 7 and 15 seems to support this point. The problem is that in the alternate universe where the Browns make this trade there are no guarantees that another team would not have traded up for what they perceived to be a potential elite pass rusher who was falling. Moreover, this argument assumes that teams always operate under the conventional mock draft wisdom and would never stray from perceived need for best player available. And if the Browns feel strongly enough about Mingo as a potential difference-maker why take the risk?

But if we are going to play with hypotheticals, how about the one where the Browns trade down with the Rams and somebody else takes Mingo before 16 so the Browns settle for Xavier Rhodes or Eifert, only to see Mingo become a perennial pro-bowler while the 16th pick is mediocre at best? Would the fans not CRUCIFY the team for this? Especially if they knew they had targeted Mingo the whole time? OIC! LOLOLOL.

Prioritizing needs.

Unfortunately, you cannot address all of this team’s needs with a single pick or even a single draft. But, as I stated earlier, this front office and this coaching staff have not seen how the current players practice or how they fit into the new offensive and defensive schemes. It is certainly possible a player on the present roster will ultimately address what is now perceived as a need. If we were to try to identify the area where the team may be taking a wait-and-see approach we should look no further than the secondary—which fans (myself included) have identified as the most glaring need.

Adrian Wilson, contributor to Cards’ 5th ranked pass D.

A strong pass-rush does not negate the importance of a quality secondary, but it may alleviate the stress on a sub-standard secondary. And the Browns secondary may not even end up being sub-standard. Without being blindly optimistic about it we can all agree we have one of the top young corners in the game and maybe an ok safety in Ward. Of those elite teams mentioned above, I don’t know that any—excluding the Seahawks—have a corner better then Haden. Jonathan Joseph and Champ Bailey are very good, but I don’t know how much better they are. And then consider the history of our new defensive coordinator as it relates to defensive backs. As Biki pointed out in the WFNY comment section earlier in the week, Arizona was top five against the pass last year. They had Patrick Peterson (but let’s just say Haden is close to as good as him) and the following:

  • W. Gay 5’10 190 – 5th round pick in 2007
  • J. Fleming 5’11 206 – 3rd round in 2012
  • J. Bethel 6″0 190 – 6th rounder in 2012
  • Greg Toler 6′ 192 – 4th rounder in 2009

Maybe we are better off waiting to see what he does with this secondary before we make definitive statements about needs.

Presently the corners are small by league standards and that may prove to be error in the way this front office constructs the team. It is certainly legitimate to highlight this potential deficiency when evaluating the team. At this point though I would rather they draft who they believe to be the best cornerback rather than the tallest.


As Browns fans we have seen one failed rebuilding process after another with zero success so it is understandable to be skeptical of a new front office with pleas for patience as they begin yet another process, but as Mr. Needs Food Badly stated here the other day, “They need to earn my deference—but they also need to earn my scorn. “ Very eloquent. I just ask that you consider his words and not the fact I am writing this under a ridiculous pseudonym and quoting somebody with an only slightly less ridiculous pseudonym.

Where the hell were we when they were handing out cool, relevant fake names like Kanick?


*This was obviously a somewhat arbitrary starting point, but I did not have the time to go through decades of team records. I selected 1999 as the year to start looking at playoff teams because it coincided with the first season of the new Browns. But given that almost half of Kanick’s 55 examples fall within this period I don’t think it can be classified as cherry-picking.


  1. Petefranklin says:

    I was pretty much with you until that Arizona defense passing ranking of 5 came up. They looked good on paper only, the same reason why all the homers in Cleveland thought we had a good pass defense in 2011. NOBODY had to pass vs AZ’s defense because they were so inept on offense. I predicted last year that any gains made on the offensive side of the ball would be off set by a lousy defense that was a paper tiger the year before. Although the browns defense may appear to be improved this year, they will still not be able to hold a lead or stop a team to get the ball back when the game is on the line due to their inability to stop the run.

    • zarathustra330 says:

      This is a really good point. I normally hate these types of stats and would not be convinced by them either. Blind spot on my part. I checked with team rankings for what I feel are more relevant stats. Opponent yard per play the cardinals were a ranked a respectable 12th in the league. Opponents 3rd down conversion 4th in the league. Opponent completion percentage 4th in the league. Opponent avg team passer rating 1st in the league. Sack percentage 5th in the league.
      I appreciate your highlighting of a weaker argument, but looking at these new numbers I think it solidifies that we should take a wait and see approach to the secondary considering what he did with conparable talent in arizona.

  2. drock8807 says:

    Good stuff on the value of those picks. Also, I don’t think adding a 3rd and 4th rounder is all that important, considering all the young players already on this team. I look for us to sign a free agent or two after training camp cuts

  3. NeedsFoodBadly says:

    Nice stuff, Big Z. Of course, I would argue that a pseudonym with roots in a 1980s fantasy-themed arcade game is more ridiculous than one which recalls ancient religions and syphilitic German philosophers, but we can leave that alone for now.

    Again, I find myself eerily in lockstep with your thoughts on the matter, and I’m honored you picked what I think of as an important point to restate.

    It’s not that I think this FO isn’t open to criticism, it’s that I find some of the criticism to be too over-the-top to be taken entirely seriously. I understand the impatience some of our fellow Browns fans harbor – we’ve been snakebitten for years by guys talking about 3 year plans and processes and such. But I think we’ve gotten so snakebit that we won’t give ANYONE a fair shake, let alone guys with as much baggage as Banner and Lombardi.

    So, I’m not drinking the PR kool-aid (since I’ve avoided almost entirely what Lombanner have said in the wake of the draft), nor saying that no one should have the temerity to call out the “smartest guys in the room” for mistakes. I wouldn’t call our off-season a home run by any means, but I don’t think it was an abject disaster, either. My commentary from two days ago was just an attempt to provide a little perspective and middle ground to the topic. Cheers.

  4. maxfnmloans says:

    Nicely done. I guess what I have realized over the past week is that both sides of the fence have some merit to them, or perhaps I just don’t care enough about it to get all in a tizzy myself.

    The only thing I keep coming back to is that this roster was not completely bereft of talent when Banner, et. al got here. There were certainly some holes to be filled, but thanks to Heckert, this was probably the most talented roster any incoming regime inherited from the previous one, and on the surface, it looks like we’re starting over again (they took a relative strength and rebuilt it, while essentially ignoring a humongous need). This was not a roster that needed to be stripped down and overhauled.

    At the end of the day, I don’t think you use a top 10 pick on a guy who A: has never played the position before, B: Will most likely be a situational player and C: Is undersized. There have been a number of defensive linemen drafted by the Eagles over the years that have ended up not being worthy of their draft slot. Examples include Broderick Bunkley, Jerome McDougle, Mike Mamula, and in 1997 Jon Harris, who was drafted #25 and played a total of 24 games in the NFL. Remember, in 1997 Lombardi was working for Banner in Philly and Andy Reid wasn’t running their draft yet. And just for fun, can we throw Craig Powell in there?

    Suffice to say I have seen very little evidence over the past 15 years that either Banner or Lombardi know what they’re looking for in defensive ends/OLB edge rushers.

    Had they signed Ellerbee instead of Kruger, I’d be ok with the Mingo Pick. Had they stick with the 4-3 and not tried to overhaul one of the best units on the team, Id be okay with the Mingo pick. But the combination of all these moves seems like anything but “progress” when there was a shot at making real progress this year. Instead, they’re tearing down and rebuilding and telling us we have to be patient. Horsefeathers.

    Dod Pete Carroll whine about a process and essentially punt on a season? Nope. He had a mediocre team, but they tried as hard as they could to do the very best they could right away, and their efforts were rewarded. Sure they were only 7-9, but that’s how the breaks go sometimes. Who is to say we would not have been able to catch a break or two? I’m not saying they should have signed a bunch of Free Agents and put us in cap hell in two years (thanks, Butch…and Phil), but they could have made measured decisions with an eye on improving rather than giving us more hot air about a process.

    If we keep sitting around waiting for things to be perfect so we can make some magical leap, its never going to happen. The teams that have success are not successful because they do not face adversity, they are successful because they overcome it. They don’t privately tell themselves that this “wasn’t their year anyway”.and punt the season because they need to “see what they have” before the “real” work can be done.

    • humboldt says:

      “in 1997 Jon Harris, who was drafted #25 and played a total of 24 games in the NFL.”

      As of 2010, there is a newly minted verb for this phenomenon, my friend: “Veikuned”.

      This is a great exchange; am grateful to have a venue for such intelligent, considered dialogue about the Browns. Nice work Kanick

    • zarathustra330 says:

      Time will tell if Mingo lives up to his draft status, but, as I mentioned above, the decision to address the pass-rush early in the first round is one that every good team has made. Mingo won’t be the first college defensive end to convert to linebacker selected in the top ten. Not all have successfully made the transition so there is certainly a risk. If Mingo does make the transition he will be one of the best picks since the team returned. Given the importance of the position, the player’s athletic ability, and the quality of his college competition I believe it was a calculated risk worth taking.
      As far as what happened with the eagles, I doubt banner was actively involved in the talent evaluation of those players. But if you want to lay the blame at his feet you will also have to credit him with a litany of players I suspect you do not want to credit him.
      I don’t share your view that they are tearing this down to start a new. I am a supporter of this front office, but if I believed that was their plan I most definitely would not be. This is year one for this group and believe they are entitled to at least a little bit of leeway in building a team that meets their vision for a successful franchise. But all year one’s are not created equal. Whereas in some such instances I woul expect an initial step back before a step forward, that should not be case here. Everyone should expect pronounced improvement in year on under this front office and coaching staff. Anything less shoul be unacceptable to all.

  5. Dylon561 says:

    This seems dangerously rational and level headed. Very well reasoned and presented. Nice work.

    • jimkanicki says:

      yeah, zara’s writing chops are well-known to cheddars, was easy invite to offer.

      • zarathustra330 says:

        Thanks again. I think everyone is weary from the great draft war of 2013 at this point. Until next year….I predict it will be a fun one: haslem is forced to sell the team back to randy, who of course fires everyone, and with a renewed vigor after his year off decides he doesn’t need a general manager or even a personnell department and drafts player all by himself with nothing more than a copy of ourlads.

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