NFL

“Moneyball” Has Turned the Cleveland Browns Into the Land of Second Chances

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As the Cleveland Browns once again try to reboot the fortunes of the franchise, they have tried to do things a bit differently. They’ve embraced analytics, brought in front office personnel from new and different directions and they’ve given a few people some second chances.

Chief among these fortunate souls are head coach Hue Jackson (formerly head coach of the Oakland Raiders in 2011) and quarterback Robert Griffin III (former quarterback for Washington). They’ve also got Terrelle Pryor, getting his second chance, now as a wide receiver and Andrew Hawkins, who to be fair is probably on his fourth or fifth chance by now.

They’ll also be welcoming Josh Gordon back in Week 5. Gordon is on his second chance as well and the team has stuck with him despite multiple failed drug tests.

Why is Cleveland suddenly the land of second chances?

While overall it’s a case by case basis, it’s all about the analytics approach.

The Browns could go out and spend a ton of money on free agents—no offense to the Dawg Pound, but right now the only way you’re getting impact free agents is to bury them in an avalanche of cash—but the approach a guy like Paul DePodesta, who made his bones creating the whole “Moneyball” approach with the Oakland A’s, is to not spend money wildly, but wisely.

That’s how DePodesta has helped build teams in baseball, and it’s a big reason why the Browns are looking at guys who have issues as well.

They’ll be the place Griffin tries to resurrect his career because they know he won’t cost them all that much. A 2-year, $15 million contract with just $6.75 guaranteed isn’t a lot to shell out for a guy who has tremendous upside if he can pull it together.

“The biggest area he has grown is just his confidence in playing the position,” said head coach Hue Jackson. “You have to know how to play quarterback in the National Football League, and with (associate head coach – offense) Pep (Hamilton) and myself, we pride ourselves on getting guys ready to play. He has accepted every challenge we’ve given him.”

It’s a low-risk, high-reward move. So is hiring Jackson. While the contract details have not become public, it’s easy to guess he’s not making massive money. However, Jackson never really got a chance to do much in Oakland and the Browns are risking very little for the possibility that, given a chance, he could be much more than he was with the Raiders.

Gordon is in the last year of his contract, one where he has barely played since 2013. That contract is dirt cheap right now, but even when it is up, there is a good chance he won’t make the same money he would have had he avoided repeated suspension.

“What’s important is that I don’t really know him yet as a football player,” Jackson said. “I’m learning and I need to see what he’s able to do. He’s talented, obviously. The more I can see him and feel him before because he’ll be away and not able to do that, the more I can understand when he gets back and he can hit the ground running the right way.”

Meanwhile, as the Browns have been loyal to him, they might find that loyalty returned. Oh, they’ll have to pay him well, but they might have an easier time with that given the support they have shown him.

With a talent like his, it’s worth the risk that he screws up again. Naturally there would be language in the next contract protecting them in the event he gets suspended again, but any team will request that (or any team with a brain).

The upside is worth the risk.

So why is Cleveland suddenly a place where you can get a fresh start and a second chance? Simply because the Browns have nothing to lose in trying a different tack. By spending money on people and players who have heavy upside, but cost very little, the Browns have a chance to find some great players.

If it fails, the net impact will not set the team back financially, and set them back very little on the field, as none of these players are guys who the team is so locked on to that they can’t survive without them.

And if it works, the Browns could find themselves in the position to use the money they saved on some other impact players.

 


About Andrew Garda

Andrew Garda is a freelance writer primarily covering NFL football, with frequent side trips to everything else. A member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he is a contributing writer for Sports on Earth and Pro Football Weekly. He also covers fantasy for Footballguys.com. Garda is the host of the At the Whistle podcast and has been credentialed for many NFL drafts, Senior Bowls, pro days and various NFL events.