Regardless of your opinion of them, at least give credit to Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi for one thing:
These guys make you think.
After previously stressing the importance of building the Browns through the draft, Banner and Lombardi circumvented the actual selecting of players – a move that is either next-level genius or one that reeks of sheer contempt for this year's process. Instead of literally building roster depth through the draft, Banner and Lombardi decided on a vague strategy of building assets.
Or, in Banner's words:
The philosophy really is to treat everything we have, whether it's a draft pick, an undrafted free agent, cap space, whatever it is as an asset and try to maximize the value we can get for it. We took our fourth round pick for example, traded back to pay for part of Bess and then traded that for a future third round pick. We feel like, for a fourth round pick that's about as much value as you can possibly hope to get.
Right. Fourth Round picks are the worst.
Just ask this guy.
But in all fairness, the meaning of "assets" can greatly differ. Some view "having quality players" and "roster depth" as classic examples of the term, while clearly Banner's beliefs trend towards a flexible future. And admittedly, the 2014 draft could prove to be a deeper and more talented version compared to this year's event.
Anyway, the days after an NFL Draft mean that everyone has their opinion. So, instead of assigning some subjective, arbitrary grade to an event whose true meaning won't be revealed for years, let's do this instead.
There are two ways to view the Browns' draft:
Banner and Lombardi are the Smartest Guys in the Room
It's a striking move for an NFL front office to sit out large portions of the draft – especially when the team in question still claims a sub par talent and depth level. However, in trading out of the fourth and fifth rounds, Banner and Lombardi sent two messages:
1. They didn't like any of this year's mid-round draft prospects. In return for not finding possible 2013 roster depth, the Browns now have two additional 2014 mid-round picks – or "assets" to be used for a stronger future draft.
2. The Browns' rebuilding plan – begun under Tom Heckert – continues. In claiming Josh Gordon (sort of) as a virtual 2013 draft pick and acknowledging an ongoing process, Banner and Lombardi are giving themselves the flexibility to make more moves as the team evolves.
As for the positives of this strategy, it's worth considering the following:
1. While it was disappointing to see the Browns not gain additional picks from a first round trade down, the (non) move makes logical sense given Banner and Lombardi's ambivalence towards this year's class of prospects.
2. Included in this year's draft group is veteran slot receiver Davone Bess – who arrived at a relatively cheap draft price. While Bess is far from an explosive playmaker, he's a reliable third-down receiver – something that the Browns haven't had since Joe Jurevicius some five years ago.
3. Two clear needs were targeted in finding a pass rusher and cornerback. Given the thin collection of draft prospects, both Barkevious Mingo and Leon McFadden will be heavily scrutinized by fans and media – but each player fits a specific need for Ray Horton's defense.
4. Speaking of the coaches, the Browns' light draft haul reinforces the idea that overall team improvement will mostly arrive through the upgrades of a more skilled and competent coaching staff.
As for another view:
Banner and Lombardi Outsmarted Themselves
It's not that difficult to buy into Banner's logic for essentially punting on this year's draft. In terms of an overall rebuilding process, Banner is conceding that the process is much bigger than an individual draft. But at the same time, it's a bit troubling to realize the following:
The Browns were the ONLY team in the league to employ this strategy.
The value that Banner and Lombardi didn't see in this year's draft was a belief not shared by any other team. Particularly, the likes of the Steelers and Colts – two of the league's more successful franchises – saw enough value to jump ahead of the Browns and grab fourth and fifth round picks. Based on these moves, we either have to concede that the Steelers and Colts were suckers for actually taking players or that maybe Banner and Lombardi weren't fully invested in scouting this year's talent.
After all, it's hard to build a team by NOT drafting players. But again – maybe these guys are operating at a level of genius that the rest of us are too unsophisticated to realize.
Or, the following is more appropriate:
The Browns' 2013 draft "haul" consists of the following:
1. A HUGE first round reach in Mingo – a talented athlete who could project as an NFL pass rusher. However, Mingo is thinner than most NFL cornerbacks and virtually disappeared when playing against quality college blockers.
2. A smallish corner.
3. An injured safety and two small school seventh-rounders.
4. End of the round 2014 3rd and 4th round picks.
Regardless of your belief in long-term rebuilding processes – a line that we've been fed for 15 years now – teams are built through the draft. If you subscribe to the idea that teams win based on their past draft classes, then the 2016 Browns can only boast a situational pass rusher and backup cornerback.
That is unless, the 2014 draft manifests itself as the greatest collection of draft talent procured in the history of the league. Otherwise, this year's draft could represent one of the worst offerings in team
The bottom line is that the Browns still have a variety of roster needs and a limited amount of depth. To recap, the team is still thin at the following positions:
-Guard and overall O-Line depth
While there is certainly no guarantee that a fourth and fifth round draft pick would have filled any of these needs, the whole point is to at least try to find talent. Again, it's hard to win when you don't play the game.
But then again, maybe the game hasn't started yet.