Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta (4.16.20)

Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta:

Opening statement:

“Happy to get the chance to talk to everyone today. First and foremost, I hope everybody and their families are safe and healthy at such an unusual time. I wish we were all doing this in person, but hopefully, sometime soon.”

 

On reports yesterday about potential discussions between the Browns and Vikings for a trade involving WR Odell Beckham Jr.:

“In short, I will just say it was completely false. It is frustrating a little bit, obviously. I think it is pretty clear what we are trying to build at this point. We have done an awful lot in free agency. We are excited about what we have a chance to do in the draft, and we are really building around a core of players that we think have a chance to be a championship-caliber core. The idea that we would take away from that core at this moment just does not make a whole lot of sense and is really not something that we are exploring at all. It is completely false.”

 

On describing his setup for the draft next Thursday, particularly from a tech standpoint:

“My home office has definitely enhanced from what it was previously. (Vice President of Information Technology) Brandon Covert and his team of IT folks at the Browns have done an unbelievable job of setting all of us up to make sure that we are functioning. I do have an official draft phone here in my office. I have multiple screens. I have some backup generator and backup internet just in case things go down. I think we will be in really good shape. My setup is going to mirror what probably eight or nine of us in the organization have.”

 

On what he has learned about major NFL events like the draft since joining the team years ago:

“Probably not unlike anybody else in scouting, with each passing year you just gain a larger and larger library of players in your head. You can always go back and try to learn from players that came before you, but it is a lot different when you do all the work on an entire draft class and then you learn from their outcomes ultimately. I think that has been a great learning experience for me. I feel a lot more comfortable today than I did four years ago just in terms of my knowledge of players, what it is I am looking for, what are the warning signs of certain players and that type of thing, but I also know this, I will be a lot better next year and the year after that and the year after that. I think it is part of the reason it is so valuable to have some people around who have been through a lot of these. The library of players that (Browns consultant) Ryan Grigson has in his head and that he has experienced that he has been able to share with us during draft meetings has been invaluable. The more and more we are around that, I think it just accelerates everybody’s learning.”

 

On how difficult the transition to a virtual draft process has been and if obstacles faced in recent weeks:

“(Senior Vice President of Communications) Peter (John-Baptiste) and I were joking, I probably have a little more experience working from home the most (laughter). At least that is what people seem to think. It really has not been too bad at all. I think if you look at the grand scheme of things with what people are dealing with in the world, what we have had to deal with is trivial. Trying to make sure that we get set up and have virtual meetings as opposed to doing it face-to-face pales in comparison to what a lot of real people are dealing with on a day-to-day basis right now. I do not think any of this is seen as a really big deal. It has just been a challenge to overcome, but we are completely focused on the players just like we always are. I just do not think it will be materially different. My biggest disappointment for this year because of the circumstance is that we all can’t be together to really enjoy it. It has been an incredibly collaborative exercise to date, and I think it is going to be an incredibly collaborative experience next Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Ultimately, it would be fantastic if we could all experience that together in the same room and in the same building with all of our coaches, with all of our scouts and with all of our football personnel. Unfortunately, we will not be able to do that piece of it. I think that is a shame. In terms of picking players and the execution of our plan, I feel great about where we are and do not think the setup is going hinder us in any way whatsoever.”

 

On the Browns’ accomplishments in free agency:

“Excellent. We really felt great about what we were able to do in March with free agency. We had a very specific plan, both offensively and defensively. The coaches worked really, really well with the personnel to try to carry that off. (Executive Vice President of Football Operations and General Manager) Andrew Berry just did an outstanding job of executing on the plan. We obviously went after some target guys early with the offense. We decided we would be a little bit more patient with the defense and fill in a lot of the depth that we felt like we needed. I think we executed it really well and AB really ought to be commended. He was juggling an awful lot. I do not think we expected all of it to happen as quickly as it did. We knew the big deals always tend to happen really fast and we were prepared for those, but in terms of making the deals we were able to make on the defense, I think it is a real credit to Andrew that those got done as quickly as they did. I think under normal circumstances, those may have played out over the course of two or three weeks and not five or six days.”

 

On why the Browns emphasized offense in free agency early:

“I think it is just what the class presented to us. I think if a couple of players had been available on the defense in key positions and they fit all of our criteria, then we would have done the same on defense. In this particular year, a couple of them that checked all of the boxes for us happened to be offensive players. One last comment on that, the other thing is that we have talked a lot about being a quarterback-centric organization. The first few signings certainly point to doing whatever we can to support the quarterback. I think that was certainly another reason why it ended up working, but it did so happen that those types of guys were available in this class.”

 

On how far in the process the Browns are in valuing the team’s picks outside of the first round:

“Our guys have done a tremendous job over the years of getting a handle on the market when it comes to trading picks. I think we feel very comfortable there. What will be different this year is just the actual logistics of talking that through or if multiple teams are calling us at a particular spot and different people from the Browns are on the phone but in different locations and then have to communicate it all to the group, it will just go a little slower than it would if we were all in the same room. I think we have plenty of time, given the structure of the draft and the different rounds. I think we will have plenty of time to actually carry out anything that we actually want to do.”

 

On if a draft night trade needs his approval or if Berry has the ‘green light’ to execute a trade:

“Like I said, I think everything that we have done to date in the way we operate is just try to be as collaborative as possible. I do not think this is about anybody having veto power over anyone else. We know that in this environment, AB has to make the final call. Just like on Sundays in the fall, (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski) has to make the final call. We often talk about that we all have a headset on but someone has to have the main headset where they make the call. That is going to change depending on the type of decision or even the time of the year, but I think it is pretty clear next week that AB has that control headset on.”

 

On what the Browns research shows a college RTs’ ability to switch to LT in the NFL:

“I probably won’t share a whole lot of that analysis because of some of the propitiatory work that is involved, but I do think there are certainly examples historically of guys who made transitions from one side to the other. I think we make those decisions on a sort of individualized basis. I would not make any sweeping comments to whether or not we think that just universally someone can move from one side to the other or they can’t. It really is a case-by-case basis. It is something that we have talked about. It is something that (offensive line coach) Bill Callahan has weighed in on it for us and scouts have talked about extensively. I think we feel good about where we are in those discussions on each guy, but I am not going to comment on any of the individual guys.”

 

On there being past college RTs who have successfully transitioned to LT in the NFL:

“Yes, it wouldn’t be unprecedented.”

 

On weighing opportunities to sign a veteran LT compared to drafting an LT who would be on a rookie contract:

“There is definitely a balance between your short-term and long-term expectations. In the short term, even when you take great players in the draft, you have to expect that it is going to take a little time for them to get to their ceiling at the NFL level. Someone asked at the very beginning about some of my learning from my first job to now, and I can look back on that 2016 tackle class and there are some really, really good players after four years in the NFL. They didn’t necessarily play at that level in Year 1. I think we have to expect that if you take any young player, regardless of position but certainly at the tackle position, they are not going to just be an All-Pro right away. You have the rare case – you have the Joe Thomas’s of the world. I think that is what we are all shooting for, but I think those are extremely unusual. I think you have to expect that there are going to be some growing pains for any young player. At the same time, those players may have really, really high potential so going through those growing pains is quite worth it because you look up after two, three or four years, and you do have that All-Pro playing at a key position. It certainly is something that we have to weigh not just at that position but across the roster as we look at some of these players that you have a chance to add during the draft. I do think you can run into problems when you go into the draft with the idea that you are solving needs for that season. Sometimes that can be a mistake.”

 

On if the Browns are more philosophically inclined to trade down than up, given the team has traded down multiple times in recent years with a top-10 pick:

“We are very open minded in general. We have moved down in the past. We have also moved up in the past. I wouldn’t really put anything past us. I think we do have the philosophy that more picks is better. When you have more draws, you have a better chance of hitting on more guys. I think we believe in that generally, but that does not mean that we will always be trading back as a result. I think we are pretty flexible on that front. If there is an opportunity that we think makes sense to go in either direction, I think we would be open to pursuing it.”

 

On his appetite for the Browns potentially trading down from No. 10:

“I think it is impossible to say right now. I will have a better idea next Thursday night after the first handful of picks are off the board, probably. Look, we think there is going to be a very good player there for us at No. 10 – a very good player – and I don’t have one player on my mind right now. There are more than 10 players on our board that we think are going to be really, really good NFL players. I may feel differently come next Thursday night if only a couple of those players are off the board versus a whole lot of those players, but I think we really feel good about what we might be able to acquire right at No. 10.”

 

On if it is harder to plug rookies into the lineup to contribute immediately than in 2016:

“Not necessarily. Not in terms of how I thought back then because I had a similar feeling back then. It has just been confirmed now over time. Certainly, my experience in baseball told the same story that it does take a while for players to adjust, even at the highest level. Forget about the [MLB] draft and even if you were to compare the draft to AAA baseball, it is still similar. It takes players a while once they get to the highest level to adjust to that level of play. I think the difference in the NFL is the expectation is that they are going to contribute right away because they are on your team right away. You draft in April and they are on your team in September, and it is a way for teams to ‘fill holes’ that they may feel like they have in the offseason. More than anything, it probably just sets unfair expectations for the player if the assumption is that he is going to fill this big hole that you have on your team at any particular position and he is going to do it flawlessly right away. I think that is probably the biggest thing. Like I said, it is probably not very different from what I anticipated years ago.”

 

On if some teams may give up on a drafted player too soon because of those high expectations:

“Yeah, I think there is something to be said for that. Think about our game similar to the college game. There are very, very few true freshmen who walk on the field and dominate [in college], but there are more sophomores who are big, big contributors and there are a whole lot of juniors [who contribute] – and a lot of those guys declare for the NFL draft – and even more seniors. The NFL plays out pretty similarly. First-year players, you have a few who just step onto the field and they are ready to go and make a big contribution, but it is pretty rare. Then there is usually a pretty big jump between a player’s first year and second year. I think you have seen that routinely. There is usually another jump, albeit a smaller one, from the second year to their third year. I do think you can sometimes run the risk of being disappointed in a player after his first year and maybe even after his second year because it is taking a little while for him to get there, but if in our minds we are thinking about them as freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors, we would probably think a little differently about them or at least view them a little differently.”

 

On his general draft philosophy related to selecting for need or best player available:

“It would be consistent with what I have just been speaking about. I think we are probably more focused on best player available. Sometimes need will come into the equation, especially if you are trying to decide between a couple of players and you need a tiebreaker or something like that, but I think best player available is probably more of the driver.”

 

On if the absence of a typical NFL offseason will cause the team to approach this draft differently than a normal one due to the difference in offseason preparation time:

“It is a great question. It is something we have talked a lot about internally. I don’t know that it will have a dramatic impact on what we do just because I actually think our expectations for a rookie, even in a normal year, are pretty level set. That being said, the reality is, especially this year, the rookies aren’t going to have as much time on the field as they normally would in a typical offseason. I think we should at least be aware of that. I will tell you, our coaches have done an unbelievable job of preparing for what is essentially a virtual offseason program for our players. I have been blown away with how they have put together a plan to teach and to implement our philosophy, implement our culture and build our culture with our players. It has really been fantastic. It has obviously been led by (Head Coach) Kevin (Stefanski), but each of our coaches and each one of our position coaches, it has really been remarkable what they have done. It has made me very bullish on our prospects, even without a normal offseason.”

 

On if the Browns have identified ways to acquire information the team normally would have attained from pro days and other evaluation opportunities that were not possible this year:

“Yeah, we actually feel really good about it to be honest. Our scouts have done a terrific job of managing this situation, but it didn’t start in March. It started for them back last year and making sure that they had great information all through the fall so that once we got into February draft meetings pre-combine, we felt like we had 95 percent of what we needed. Then we did everything we could to clean that up at the combine and even post-combine. Our coaches, front office personnel and some other people have all participated in FaceTime calls that have been allowed with some of the prospects. In times that we have needed medical information, we have been able to get that. While it has been a different process than we would normally undertake in the past six weeks, our process was robust enough leading into this that it really did not change that much for us at the end of the day. We feel like we have all the information that we need and probably just about as much as we would normally have.”

 

On Colin Cowherd stating Beckham ‘wants out of Cleveland’ and if Cowherd’s comment is inconsistent with his views of Beckham’s feelings:

“I would probably leave that to Odell and Kevin (Stefanski) to talk about. I am not going to speculate on it, but I have no reason to believe he doesn’t want to be here. Odell has been very good this offseason. He has been engaged with Kevin. I think he is excited about the possibilities of what this offensive system could bring for him, and we are excited to have him.”

 

On an update on his contract status:

“Jimmy (Haslam) and I were discussing it through the latter part of the winter, and I think we are in a great place on it. I will be honest, with hiring the coach, hiring the GM, free agency, the coronavirus and now the draft, it just hasn’t been front-burner material in terms of getting it done. I am wholly confident that we will, probably shortly after the draft. It really hasn’t been the focus of late.”

 

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