From the Oakland Athletics to the New York Mets, Paul DePodesta has made a career out of taking woebegone franchises and turning them into contenders.
In 2016, after two decades as an MLB executive, DePodesta left for the NFL to face his biggest reclamation project yet: the Cleveland Browns.
The Browns haven't had a winning season since 2007, finishing in last place in the NFC North in all but one of the past nine years. It's rare for a team to be so consistently bad in a league as volatile as the NFL, but Cleveland has been mismanaged over the years. The franchise has wasted a number of first round draft picks on high-profile but distracting busts, including Brady Quinn, Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel.
Now, it appears DePodesta is set on making up for lost player development. Thanks to a series of trades, the Browns will have a whopping 13 picks in the 2018 NFL Draft, including five in the first two rounds. In a couple of seasons, the Browns could look like a football version of the NBA's 76ers: unproven, but loaded with young talent.
DePodesta's dealings involving quarterback Brock Osweiler epitomize Cleveland's new strategy. In March, the Browns acquired Osweiler, his $16 million contract and two draft picks from the Houston Texans in exchange for a lone fourth rounder. On Saturday, less than six months later – and less than two weeks before the start of the regular season – the team released its overpriced signal caller and ate his salary; essentially, the Browns paid $16 million for Houston's 2018 second rounder.
To some, Osweiler's contract may appear to be a huge price to pay for just one draft pick, while to others, the series of transactions was convoluted and just plain strange. But stockpiling selections was DePodesta's plan from the beginning of the offseason, and he revealed his logic in an interview some months ago.
"We've looked ourselves in the mirror and said, 'Do we think that we are actually superhuman when it comes to picking players?' And we pretty easily answered that with a resounding no," DePodesta said to MMQB's Peter King back in April. "So how are we going to increase our chances? We need to have more picks. So, if we have the same number of picks every year as everyone else, we don't expect do better than anyone else."
More picks, more potential stars: it's a simple mantra that could pay big dividends down the road. NFL Draft guru Mel Kiper gave the Browns' 2017 draft class a "B" grade, and they'll be well-positioned for another high mark next year.
Either way, don't expect the Browns' front office to shy away from making more splashy, complex trades in order to gain an extra draft pick or two – it's totally consistent with the forward-thinking approach DePodesta showed as a member of Billy Beane's "Moneyball" front office in Oakland.
Osweiler is now back with the team that drafted him, the Denver Broncos, as a backup to Trevor Siemian. The Browns will start rookie DeShone Kizer under center.
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