I’ve always struggled to trust NFL front offices. They are full of humans, and humans are remarkably prone to mistakes for a variety of reasons, whether because of bias or self-preservation. It’s important to remember that no one is perfect. However, this doesn’t mean that people should get a pass for some pretty questionable errors. Let’s take a look at two such instances that have emerged in the news today.
The first one is Texans related, and seeing as this is a Texans related blog, I thought we might start with this anecdote from the really fun deep dive that ESPN’s Seth Wickersham did on the dysfunction within the Cleveland Browns over the past few years. The story as a whole is filled with really dumb Cleveland things like owner Jimmy Haslem developing something of a dislike for Teddy Bridgewater during the pre-draft process in 2014 over something fairly unusual:
But the team had soured on Bridgewater after his interview dinner and workout with team brass; something about Bridgewater’s handshake rubbed Haslam the wrong way, he told team executives.
Who knows what turned Haslem off Bridgewater? Maybe he thought his hands were too small. Wickersham’s report is full of really stupid things like this, all of which are hilarious to read if you’re not a Browns fan. Well, almost all of it is funny to read.
There is one particular passage in the story that’s kind of hard to read as a Texans fan. Recall how the offseason between the 2013 and 2014 seasons was after Matt Schaub’s collapse. There was a fair amount of bluster about the Texans needing to find a quarterback to build around for the future. The Texans did have the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft but decided to select Jadeveon Clowney, leaving the QB slot still open. At the same time, the Browns were also in the market for a quarterback despite having Brian Hoyer on their roster. Shockingly, Hoyer’s presence wasn’t enough to keep the Browns from selecting Johnny Manziel with one of their first round picks. Manziel’s selection apparently prompted the Texans to ring up the Browns to inquire about the availability of Brian Hoyer, who we all know O’Brien was familiar with from their days in New England:
Brian Hoyer, the Browns’ starting quarterback, was furious about Manziel. Farmer called him shortly after the pick to calm him down. Moments later, the Texans called, offering a high second-round pick for Hoyer. The room was buzzing with the chance to pick up a potential first-round player for second-round money.
The proposed trade was allegedly struck down by then Browns GM Ray Farmer, who was in his first year in the big chair; Farmer supposedly felt pressured by owner Jimmy Haslem to draft Manziel and wanted to assert his authority on the decision making process, so he rejected the Texans’ offer of a second round pick for Hoyer.
The Browns rejected a second-round pick for Brian Hoyer.
If not for an internal power struggle, the Texans would have given a second round pick (likely the 33rd overall selection that became Xavier Su’a-Filo) to acquire Brian Hoyer.
There’s a more passionate and less rational version of me that would be swearing with gusto right now, but it’s been replaced by a sense of numbness, like I’ve been hit in the face with a frying pan. Maybe if I took a frying pan to the face I’d lose the required amount of brain cells ito start to think that this proposed trade was ever a good idea for the Texans. This is the past though, right? It didn’t happen! All of the people in the Texans’ front office who could have had a hand in this are probably gone now!
Wait, the Texans’ head coach is still here? YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT HE IS! WAS BRIAN HOYER A FORMER QUARTERBACK BILL O’BRIEN WORKED WITH IN NEW ENGLAND? YES, JUST LIKE RYAN MALLETT! WAS HOYER A GUY O’BRIEN WANTED TO COACH AGAIN? YOU’RE DAMN RIGHT HE WAS! DID O’BRIEN AND HOYER EVENTUALLY REUNITE IN HOUSTON A YEAR LATER, WITH THE MARRIAGE EVENTUALLY CULMINATING IN PERHAPS THE WORST QB PERFORMANCE OF ALL-TIME IN A PLAYOFF GAME? OF COURSE!
Even now with Deshaun Watson firmly ensconced as the Texans’ quarterback of the present and future, never forget that somewhere, lurking deep within the bowels of NRG Park, are individuals (some of them in prominent positions) who looked at the idea of trading a second round pick for Brian Hoyer and thought, “Yeah, seems legit.” Never forget.
Our second story is actually something I can kind of relate to. I dislike math. Like, I try to avoid it at every turn in my life. I don’t speak numbers, I speak Ame - I mean, English! Apparently a certain section of NFL executives share my distrust of nerds with numbers. Per Tony Pauline of DraftAnalyst.com, there are some front office executives who don’t like this whole ‘‘analytics stuff’’:
I’m told that while owners love analytics, scouting staffs and general managers who come through the scouting ranks are starting to detest them. Owners, who are usually successful businessmen who rely on numbers, prefer analytics because of their business acumen. But scouts and even coaches I’ve spoken with since Shrine Game practices last week tell me analytics have little to do with Xs and Os as well, the work ethic and personality of players or the ability of prospects to fit a specific position. As told to me by one position coach, when the topic of analytics is brought up in war rooms as a reason to select a player, the response in their minds is, “Here we go again!”
‘‘LEMME TELL YOU A LITTLE SUMTHIN’ ABOUT THIS HERE GAME OF FUTBAW, YOU SWEATY NERD. IT AIN’T WON BY TAPPIN’ AWAY ON THAT THERE LAPTOP. IT’S WON BY MEN WHO LEAD! MEN WHO LOVE RUNNING THE OKLAHOMA DRILL! MEN WHO EAT THE TURF SO THAT THE POWERS OF THE FUTBAW FIELD MIGHT IMBUE THEM WITH SOME SUPERNATURAL CONNECTION TO THE FUTBAW GODS THEMSELVES!’’
The reason I bring this up is that Wickersham’s article makes it clear that current Browns general manager John Dorsey is not a particularly big fan of the analytical movement, as evidenced by the lead up to the 2018 NFL Draft:
The analytics team had limited influence. Dorsey was skeptical of their helpfulness when he first got the job. He told an associate that he didn’t need “f---ing nerds” to tell him how to evaluate players.
Jokes aside, it’s important to acknowledge that this is a section of the NFL Front Office communities and not a referendum on how the entire NFL treats analytics. Teams like the Eagles have embraced analytics and the advantage the data can give to teams. I don’t like math, but the information analytics provides is too useful to ignore. It provides you with a valuable way of understanding the game. Is it the be all, end all of evaluation? Of course not. There are things stats and analytics can’t quite quantify yet; they are getting there, but there is always going to be a need for context based on game tape and the experience of working in a role and understanding what kind of things have worked before. These things can coexist.
I understand where individuals from the scouting community are coming from, though. Their careers have often been built around experience, knowledge, and learning to trust what they can perceive. Stats can appear to cut against that because they attempt to explain things in a different way from what scouts are used to. There are two different paths to the same destination; it’s just one is so drastically different to the minds of those who take the other path, so there is a natural unease about it. Furthermore, you could almost understand the distrust. What if the other path is the objectively better one? What will happen to the people who tread the other path? Will they get left behind?
This refusal to try new things is dumb, but I understand the irrational behaviour behind it. The problem as always is that no way of doing things is perfect. There is a reason why I don’t really care what Mel Kiper ever says; he’s wrong a lot of the time. He and every other member of the NFL scouting community works in an imperfect world of evaluation, and sometimes those methods lead to you looking at Brian Hoyer and going:
‘‘Screw it, let’s offer a second round pick for him.’’