We recently concluded our series titled “Cleveland Browns by the Numbers.” While the series discussed important numbers that will help to determine roster spots for the 2017 Browns, it did not look beyond the 2017 season. The Browns will face tough decisions when the rosters must be cut from 90 players down to 53 on September 2nd. In previous seasons, there was a date to cut rosters to 75 players before final cuts had to be made. If you think those cuts will be tough to make this season, just wait until 2018 and beyond.
The Browns started from ground zero in 2016. Sure, a few key players like Joe Thomas and Joe Haden remain, but most veterans from the 2015 team are long gone. The goal of the long-term rebuild was to add young talent through the draft. In his first draft, Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown drafted fourteen players and they all made the team. That may have been a statement move by the Browns who had little to lose in turning over a roster that produced three wins in 2015.
In watching the assembly of the 2016 roster, it became obvious that both Sashi Brown and Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta were still working on their long-term plan for the Browns. The Browns seemed to covet future picks over having talented players on the roster. The Browns began stockpiling draft picks while dumping salary in order to add precious cap space. Many fans were unimpressed with the proceeding leading up to the 2016 season, but things have gotten better in Cleveland.
It’s easy to keep fourteen draft picks on your final roster when your team is going nowhere.
Fast forward to the 2017 off season. The Browns signed several players in free agency, including Kevin Zeitler and JC Tretter. They also drafted 10 players, including three in the first round. In all, the Browns have added better than 20 players who have a fair chance of making the final roster.
The Browns already boast 12 draft picks in the 2018 draft, including five in the first two rounds. The Browns will undoubtedly add several impact players with their high picks. They will once again control the draft by holding arguably even more draft capital than they did this past April.
The Browns have done a terrific job of adding picks and most would agree that the results of the 2017 draft prove that there is sufficient talent evaluation occurring to give those picks true value. It will become harder and harder for the Browns to decide which players to keep as the seasons roll on should this trend in acquiring draft picks continue. Keep in mind, Brown and DePodesta have a knack for creating draft picks without giving up players. Look at the “Carson Wentz” trade. It’s the gift that may keep on giving until we’re all retired. It will be impossible to truly evaluate that trade until we see how all players and future picks pan out. We’ll also have to compare the careers of Wentz and the Browns eventual starter.
Think about what happens if the Browns continue to squeeze 10 or more new players onto the roster each season. The cuts would get tougher and tougher, but that’s not all. They would continuously have to choose between keeping a player they are trying to develop or the raw potential of a draftee.
Consider a player like Carl Nassib.
He was drafted in the third round in 2016 and flashed some potential prior to his hand injury last season. He now finds himself vying for playing time on a talented and crowded defensive line. How many seasons can you give a guy like Nassib when you’re turning your roster over so extensively each season?
Here’s the answer. The Browns will leverage their draft capital more and more each season as the roster fills out. They may need five top-tier talents in 2018, but that number may drop in 2019. The Browns would then be even more aggressive in trading up to get their guy. I would expect the Browns to be targeting specific positions with their high picks by 2019. You can say that they did that in the 2017 draft, yet they had a myriad of needs, so their options will much greater than they should be in 2019.
In the end, it doesn’t do any good to bring in a huge number of new players year after year if none of them have enough time to fulfill their potential as NFL players. You must be committed to allowing your core guys time to mature. I believe the Browns will take that road when the time comes.
Rod Bluhm is a Senior Writer for Cleveland Sports Talk
Follow him: @CSTRodB
Images: ESPN, Browns.com