At first glace, the New England Patriots and the Cleveland Browns have adopted diametrically opposite draft strategies. The Patriots have shipped away their first and second round picks for veterans still on their rookie contracts, while the Browns are hoarding picks like Smaug and his stash of gold.
But if you dig a little deeper, you can find parallels between the two franchises and note that the two just so happen to be on opposite ends of the team-building spectrum.
MMQB’s Peter King spoke with Paul DePodesta, the chief strategy officer of the Cleveland Browns, to get more insight on the Browns current strategy.
“We’ve looked ourselves in the mirror and said, ‘Do we think that we are actually superhuman when it comes to picking players?,’” DePodesta told King. “And we pretty easily answered that with a resounding no. So how are we going to increase our chances? We need to have more picks. So, if we have the same number of picks every year as everyone else, we don’t expect do better than anyone else.”
From 2009-11, the Patriots had 33 draft picks and turned them into the foundation of three trips to the Super Bowl and two titles, with the likes of S Patrick Chung, RT Sebastian Vollmer, WR Julian Edelman, FS Devin McCourty, TE Rob Gronkowski, LB Brandon Spikes, TE Aaron Hernandez, LT Nate Solder, RB Shane Vereen, RB Stevan Ridley, and RT Marcus Cannon.
But the Patriots also missed on DT Ron Brace, CB Darius Butler, WR Brandon Tate, LB Tyrone McKenzie, EDGE Jermaine Cunningham, WR Taylor Price, and CB Ras-I Dowling in the first three rounds of these drafts. The sheer volume of picks allowed the Patriots to make mistakes and to take calculated risks on prospects.
This is where the Browns stand in their team-building. The 2009 Patriots were “re-loading” instead of “re-building,” but a lot of the principles were the same. Veterans like Tedy Bruschi, Rodney Harrison, Richard Seymour, and Mike Vrabel were leaving and the Patriots needed to replenish the roster with youth. The Browns are simply looking for talent in the first place.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick borrowed this team-building strategy from Jimmy Johnson, the former head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.
“There’s strength in numbers,” Johnson told King. “I always wanted to have more picks in the middle rounds and at the end, because you can build a good team with the role players you get in the third, fourth and fifth rounds. With the Browns now, with all those picks, really, you’re one free-agent class and one draft from being a contender.
“But I’ll tell you, here’s the danger of having so many picks: You think, ‘We’ve got so many picks, let’s move up and take that guy with a little risk.’ You think you’ve got so many picks and you can afford to waste them on guys. I never looked at it that way. You have to look at every pick like it’s the only one you’ve got.
“Like I’ve told Bill Belichick, ‘You don’t have to use ’em this year. Bank ’em. Trade ’em.’ He knows. One time he told me he had a good team, and he had some extra picks, and he was afraid the guy they’d take might not be good enough to make his team. Fine. You don’t like what’s there? You can always find someone to take your four this year for a three next year. Like I said, bank ’em.”
The Patriots have been one of the most active teams in the draft at both trading up and down the board and into the future, along with flipping draft capital into proven NFL talent.
Belichick must have looked at his current roster and thought, I don’t know where a rookie fits into this line-up in 2017 or 2018, before moving to acquire the likes of WR Brandin Cooks, EDGE Kony Ealy, and TE Dwayne Allen.
The Browns, on the other hand, have holes everywhere on the roster and need a quarterback before they’re a season away from contending. Belichick wasn’t the first team-builder to decide to draft as many players as possible, but the Patriots are absolutely the team the Browns are trying to emulate.