Everyone laughed when the Browns hired a front office that was going to try and bring Moneyball to the NFL. Cleveland annoyed player agents with lowball offers, they accumulated draft picks, and Wednesday, they pulled off something previously unthinkable in the NFL – they acquired a draft pick, essentially, for $16 million.
Here’s how significant the Texans trading Brock Osweiler to the Browns was: Anytime a team unloads a bad contract to a team with cap space in return for draft picks, the trade is going to be known as, “he got Osweiler’d.”
I like how Charles Robinson of Yahoo put it:
With the cap rising exponentially and teams reticent to sign second- and third-tier players to overpaid deals, they now have the “Browns option” on the table. That lets teams know that cap space is open in trade talks, and a team can serve as a misfit island where mistakes can go.
This will put a premium on salary cap space – just like how things work in the NBA. It allows for more creativity in front offices. Instead of over-spending on players, teams will crave draft picks, a strategy the Patriots have used for the last decade-plus to consistently stockpile cheap talent and consistently reload rather than rebuild. (Yes, it helps to have a QB.)
Look closely at the Patriots – they rarely spend lavishly in free agency (a one-off here with Revis; a one-off there with Stephon Gilmore), but instead take advantage of players on their rookie contracts, ride them to glory, and then when it’s time to pay them, move on. The only constant? Tom Brady.
This allows more whiffs in the draft.
What the Browns just did puts them on the smart track. Look at how loaded they are in the upcoming drafts, pick-wise:
First Round: #1, #12
Second Round: #33, #52, #65
First Round: Their pick
Second Round: Their pick, Philadelphia’s pick, Houston’s pick
That’s nine picks in the Top 65 in the next two drafts. Fans are excited. Would it have made more sense to get two middling starters for that $16 million against the salary cap, or is it better to acquire a 2nd round draft pick, where you could find a star, but better yet, that player will be cheap for several years?