Analysis of Joe Banner’s first season.
For a team that’s won one game since early October, I read a lot of positive pieces and comments about Joe Banner’s work to date. And while I appreciate some of the play on the field and believe Chud will be a good coach and note that the players are still working hard… the sanguine mood toward Banner seems curious.
Now let me be clear: I’m not saying this won’t work out. I’ve seen good things from this team same as you. I agree with those who say healthy Brian Hoyer and we’re in the playoffs. Other notable good things:
- I think Chud has been a good head coach; I like his manner. I’m more confident in him than I have been in a coach since… since the reboot anyway;
- Quentin Groves was a terrific signing and it’s too bad he got injured;
- Ditto that on Hoyer;
- Cutting bait on T-Rich was fine by me1;
- I’m so-so on Norv Turner and Ray Horton2 but they’ve been pretty good, particularly when you look back at the Maurice Carthon era.
But the fact remains that Joe Banner was very selective with where and how he committed resources to building this year’s team. The T-Rich trade (good value) and the Hoyer injury should not preclude a critical analysis of how the Banner decisions in the off-season contributed to yet another four win season.
I have yet to see one.
In fact, it seems to me he is not being held accountable for this year and on the contrary, folks are feeling good about him. This in spite of Banner’s own tough minded executive speak pre-season:
We are not asking for a free pass this year or any year. They should expect the team to be better. They should expect the team to play hard. They should expect it to be obvious that things are different. I’m happy being held to that standard, and I’m happy having everybody held to that standard. Listen, we were one of the most active teams in free agency this year in the league. That’s not a long-term three-to-five-year plan. Now we did it with players who were 26-and-27-years old, so in two or three years when we’re hoping to be really good they’re still going to be good players.
He didn’t ask for a free pass, but he’s kinda gotten one. The team is not better by the metric that matters. Things are not different judging from the orange seats at the stadium in December.
So even though his proclamation of “being happy to be held to that standard” is completely hollow3, I’ll take a swing at reviewing his work critically and holding him accountable. Whatever accountable means.
Players brought in.
1. Paul Kruger
Free agent, 5yrs/40.5M$; 20M$ guaranteed. Now I’m no cap savant like Joe Banner, I’m just a dum fan so I probably am missing something and really dum. But how come Kruger is getting $700K this year when we’re swimming in unused cap space and then is drawing $7M/year the next four years when we’re, you know, competing and shit? Banner is so freaking smart that I must be missing something here.
[I DID miss something here which was the bonus buried in this year's cap hit. In other words, if you look at the cap hit each year for Kruger, it does NOT escalate. Thank you @ClevTA for pointing this out.]
Anyhoos, how’s Kruger playing? He looks the part and seems pretty competent. Lots of energy and hurrying the QB consistently even if his sack numbers are down. But down they are:
4.5 sacks this year against 9.0 last year;
17+19 tackles + assists this year against 30+12 last year.
So his production is down which is one thing. But problem is that Kruger is the 6th highest paid OLB behind Hali, Suggs, Mathis, Woodley, Greenway, Kruger, Will Smith, Briggs, Thomas Davis, Matthews. He doesn’t quite fit into that company. But this is the guy Banner wanted to bring in. Questionable move, that’s all. Here’s the PFF data. (Note Jabaal Sheard at #12.)
Note: in the QB Hurries stat, Kruger is sixth tied with Elvis Dumervil. So that’s good. On the other hand, Kruger leads all 3-4 OLBs in Missed Tackles with twelve. So that’s bad.
2. Desmond Bryant
Free agent, 5yrs/34M$; 12M$ guaranteed. Another strangely back-loaded contract. Again: if the plan is to position oneself for a competitive run in a couple years, why are we stacking salary up in 2015? Shouldn’t we be using the cap that Heckert left us? For something?
Bryant seems like a good player. But the fact is that he plays a position that was the strength of the Browns coming into the season. In fact, the core of Sheard, Taylor, Rubin figured to be the core of a formidable front four for years to come, especially considering that Hughes and Winn were standing by to rotate in and keep all fresh. We covered this in the context of ‘why scrap the 4-3 defense.’ We didn’t get and still don’t get why another defensive lineman was a priority signing for Banner other than a fixation on having ‘his guys.’ Banner is no Bill Walsh.4
Welp, on top of the apparent hubris-ish motivation for signing Bryant, there’s the heart thing.
“It’s a pretty scary feeling.” Bryant spent the night at the Cleveland Clinic, where he was treated with medication. He’s expected to play Sunday against the Lions. He experienced the same thing one other time last year in Oakland and was also hospitalized, but he’s not concerned it will happen again.
One imagines Bryant’s agent during negotiations with Banner explaining the neither he nor Desmond are concerned it will happen again.
Not surprisingly, it happened again and so Bryant’s season is over; not surprisingly the corrective heart surgery required to treat it has been called a success. And not surprisingly, I’ve read nothing questioning Banner’s wisdom for giving $12M guaranteed to a redundant defensive lineman with a known heart condition.
Anyways… how’d Bryant grade out prior to his heart surgery?
By the way, John Hughes? The #13 rated 3-4 DE? He’s signed for 4years/2.7$M. That Heckert.. such was a doofus and without long-term planning capability.5
3. Barkevious Mingo
Sixth player taken overall. Three starts. Five sacks. Specifically plays a rush OLB position that was already occupied by Jabaal Sheard. (See the graphic in the Kruger section? Sheard is #12. You have to scroll down to #40 to find Barkevious.
Rookies need time to grow and Mingo looks really good from time to time. Definitely fast. Gets burned going to deep in his rush and losing contain. That’s a good problem that he can be coached out of.
No the problem with Mingo is that he’s guaranteed $12M. Meanwhile the #12 3-4 OLB is a UFA next year. Again, I’m no genius capologist but won’t a 25-year-old top-10-ish rush OLB be expensive especially when you’ve already tied up your dough in your #6 overall pick?
4. Leon McFadden
This was the second Browns draft pick (notably taken in front of Tyrann Mathieu; scroll down to the Brent Grimes’ section jpg and check out who the #2 rated CB is in the NFL). Obviously he’s a rookie and, like Mingo, could develop into something. The problem here is that … there seem to have been much better options. Mathieu, Logan Ryan, Kayvon Webster, ,,, one would think he might have seen some nickel duty. I don’t even hear McFadden’s name called on special teams which is odd because he was presented as a hard-hitting (albeit 5’9″) player. Here’s an amusing ball-washing regarding McFadden from Rob Rang last May:6
Given the significant drop-off in talent between Joe Haden and presumptive No. 2 cornerback Buster Skrine, the Cleveland Browns entered the 2013 draft with pass defender among their chief areas of concern. Rather than blast new general manager Michael Lombardi and head coach Rob Chudzinski for waiting to address their biggest need, the Browns’ brain trust could earn kudos for their patience should McFadden’s unique athleticism translate into early success.
While lacking the bulk so en vogue in today’s NFL at cornerback, the former San Diego State star possesses the fluidity to stand out in new defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s aggressive scheme, especially considering the fact that he will largely be operating against opponents’ No. 2 or No. 3 pass-catchers.
The 5-foot-10, 193-pound McFadden impressed scouts at the Senior Bowl with his coverage skills. Given Cleveland’s attention to the pass rush over the offseason, McFadden’s recognition, agility and burst could result in big plays early as a rookie, helping the Browns establish themselves as a playmaking unit capable of surprising some of their competitors in the AFC North.
5. Davone Bess
Brought in as a fairly expensive “possession receiver.” ~$6M guaranteed.
So those are the key players that Banner brought in. I like Quentin Groves (a lot). The Gary Barnidge signing only indicates that they were as surprised as the rest of us that Jordan Cameron would emerge. Who else was brought in? Armonty Bryant? Garrett Gilkey? Very good picks. Dion Lewis looked legit. Jamoris Slaughter? Who knows. It’s not a disaster.
Players passed on.
Bringing in players is only part of the story. There are infinite opportunities to bring in players to build your team. Here are a couple players that Banner seems to have passed over.
1. Alex Mack.
In spite of having a more cap space than any other team, in spite of ~$12M of rollover cap bequeathed to him by Tom Heckert which will evaporate if not used, Banner did not sign Mack in the off-season. Nor did he try. Berea felt Mack wasn’t physical enough and wanted him to prove himself (in spite of 48 consecutive starts since entering league). I know this because Lane Adkins and Brent Sobieski both informed me of this in July when I asked what was going on with Mack. If you don’t find Adkins/Sobo reliable, that’s your call.
So anyway, here’s is the current PFF Center rating.
Max Unger was drafted same year as Mack and the Seahawks saw fit to lock him in two years ago. I guess it’s possible the Browns are smarter than the Seahawks.8
2. TJ Ward
Same as Mack above except that Ward was not historically rated as highly as Mack. But he was a reliable long-time Brown and a buy-low opportunity was available. Lol… that opportunity for the smartest guys in the room appears to be gone now, note Ward’s PFF rating (among ALL safeties, not just strong safeties).
3. Brent Grimes
Remember when Brent Grimes came in and there was a big fuss about it since he used to be a pro-bowler and plugged a hole at CB? But then capologist Banner apparently balked at giving him two years? Because..? Because he knew Buster Skrine was awesome or something? (It wasn’t because they wanted to get bigger because see Leon McFadden above.)
Please see this note on the Grimes back-and-forth courtesy of Tom-RR88.9 I had it backward above but I doubt that I’m wrong in the basic point which is that Banner was playing chicken with Grimes and he lost.
I thought I’d check on Grimes’ year because I saw him against the Pats last week and he was making a difference for the Dolphins. Sure enough, our smartest guy in the room missed again.
4. Alec Ogletree
What the hell, Ogletree was my pick for the Browns at #6 so how is he working out? He would’ve been there with the Rams’ pick at #18 and of course the Browns would’ve gained a second round pick too. So how is Ogletree doing? He’s 27th in the conventional PFF ratings for 4-3 OLBs,,, not great but he his a rookie and he has started every game for the Rams. Quite a contrast to our #6 overall pick. 927 snaps for Ogletree versus 594 for Mingo. But if you sort his stats on coverage –which is nothing short of essential for linebackers in the evolving NFL PassBall League– he rates 8th. But he’s been was thrown at the most of all linebackers (three of the guys in front of him were thrown at under 20 times, Ogletree has had 81 covers). In other words, he’s #5 among linebackers who have been thrown at over 50 times.
Lookit. As I said at the top, this could all work out. I’ve seen good things. Competent coaching is refreshing. A competent QB (who NEED NOT be taken in the first round) will jump the offense. Unfortunately there are new holes10 and based on Berea’s non-fixing of last year’s holes, I fail to see why we should expect a different track this year.
I don’t want to hear about cafeteria changing or wall murals or publicly-funded stadium scoreboards or focus-groups for changing the uniforms that the freaking city had to take the NFL to court in order to keep.
Dude. Just. Stop. Stop with the window dressing. Stop with the spin.
You want to be accountable? Explain what the 2012 cap rollover is earmarked for. You want to talk about the goodness of improved IT? Explain how analytics were used in this years draft room or in this year’s game planning.
Because from here, you seem like you don’t get it.
Because Joe: I guarantee you that every Browns fan who bought ticket this year would have traded their improved cell service for a January playoff game in Cleveland.
- But also evidence that their commitment to win this year was wanting. After all Edwin Baker. [back]
- Was Norv ever spectacularly great when he didn’t have Troy Aikman and three all-pro linemen; Horton’s transparent use of this as a stepping stone to a HC gig is bothersome. [back]
- If he were really worried about winning and being really held accountable, I doubt that non-contributing draft picks, non-consumption of salary cap, and bailing out of two rounds in this draft would be the cornerstones of his plan as they were for his 2013 Browns. [back]
- The famous Bum Phillips’ famous quote –”He can take his’n and beat your’n and take your’n and beat his’n.”– was about Bill Walsh. [back]
- Don’t forget Banner’s dick-ish words about the prior regime: “Everybody talked about a long-term plan, but when’s the last time the team traded for a future draft pick? When’s the last time the team said, ‘We may not have position ‘X’ with the best player this year because there’s nobody in the marketplace who’s that good, and we don’t want to waste all the future cap money just so we win six games instead of five?’ So there’s been a lot of cheap talk about long-term plans here….” We will come back to this interview at a future date. [back]
- See it’s jive like this that has me convinced that I/you/everyone know as much as “experts” PLUS we have the advantage of not needing to maintain access so we can/should be objective in our analyses. [back]
- Not quite nuf ced: I’m fascinated by his “20 yards” longest reception. If you sort on that column, Bess ranks 107th out of the 112 WRs in the list. [back]
- Unger has been battling injuries this year and that is why he doesn’t show in the center rankings coming off his 2012 All-Pro year. [back]
- I went back through my notes on Grimes and it is actually reversed – Banner wanted to sign him for two years, hoping to leverage Grimes’ injury to get him on the cheap for the second year if he returned to health. Grimes wanted to bet on himself with a one-year deal, which is why he is in Miami and not in Cleveland. And while it cost the Dolphins $5.5 million for Grimes, while the Browns went with Chris Owens for $1 million, as you say it’s not as if the Browns don’t have the money. [back]
- Up to nine holes from the six last year: RB, WR2, OG -again-, ILB -again-, C?, SS?, CB2 -again-, FS -again-. and QB. [back]