The Browns reward another draft failure

In a move as predictable and senseless as Johnny Knoxville getting kicked in the nuts on the set of Jackass, Jordan Elliott has been named a starting defensive tackle to begin the 2023 season. Being familiar with GM Andrew Berry's maneuvering, this was to be expected notwithstanding the evidence that it seems entirely unmerited. Deserved, maybe. Merited, certainly not. More on that shortly.

Elliott's play over his first three years in the league has barely warranted a spot on a practice squad, but he was given $1.51M in fully guaranteed Paragraph 5 salary by AB earlier this summer, in a renegotiation of Elliott's Proven Performance Escalator number of $2.743M — though not a nickel of that was guaranteed, meaning he could've been cut cleanly with none of that money owed to him. But once Berry starts digging, he usually doesn't look up until the hole is filling with water. And by that point, rather than setting the fence post and moving to the next one, he apparently figures it makes more sense to keep digging it deeper and wider and then pretend it was supposed to be a swimming pool the whole time.

By all accounts, Elliott's work ethic is top notch. He reportedly has a great attitude and spends the entire offseason at the facility working on his craft. Those are wonderful traits and habits and it's exactly what you want from a young player, if not everyone. But if at some point that tenacity in the weight room and the class room and the film room doesn't translate to on-field development and improved performance, someone has to have the difficult conversation with the player. That is the job of a general manager.

And it must be like looking at a horse pill when it appears you have to swallow at least $500K ($1.01M is potentially reimbursable through offsets). But that money is the sunk cost of a poor decision that could have been avoided. If the team would be better by replacing him now — because the money's gone either way at this point — there's no good reason not to do it even though you'd be admitting you made a mess; at least you'd be cleaning it up instead of doubling down by announcing him as a starter — which should mean that he's believed to be the best option for the club, and that notion is rather absurd.

Does it make sense in a regularly rotated position group to have a better player, like Shelby Harris, coming off the bench in relief? If anyone wants to make that case, then Nick Chubb shouldn't start either. Harris just joined in August. Maurice Hurst II was signed in March. Siaki Ika was drafted in April.

Elliott's been with Cleveland since 2020, and while there's something to be said for seniority when it comes to "unofficial" NFL depth charts, the business of football is a meritocracy: those who perform the best earn their spots, or at least that's how successful franchises run their organizations. Special privileges and treatment are frequently meted out to the best performers and nothing's fair about it. But in a league where winning is the priority above all else, loyalty exists only for as far as you can stretch a dollar. And wasting money because you want someone to succeed rather than using that roster spot and cap space for someone who can do the job better, doesn't just hurt your team's trajectory this season, it's bad for its financial health which affects the ability to improve in the future.

Maybe the listing is gamesmanship. It's possible AB is trying to sell the idea of Elliott being a legitimate NFL starter in an effort to manufacture trade value in order to get his contract off the books. It seems almost twice as likely that your dropped toast will land on the floor jelly side up than it does for a team to trade for an overpaid player when better options are available for less money without abandoning draft capital to acquire them. But stranger things have happened and I've certainly been wrong before. Even if any offer were to present itself, the Browns would probably need to replace the PGRBs in his contract with guaranteed P5 and pay another $200K to facilitate a deal and, in so doing, partially "buy" an incoming pick / conditional swap, which would absolutely be worth it to do.

Earlier this year there were many avenues toward fixing the muddle that is the Jordan Elliott circumstance (as discussed in detail here); there are still/again better options available. Matt Ioannidis and Chris Wormley (ACL in December) are unsigned yet. And Da'Shawn Hand, who was recently in Tennessee with new DC Jim Schwartz, could be signed from Miami's PS.

Some of the above may be more prudent additions after week one, once Veteran Termination Pay drops well below a 100% guarantee. With just three accrued seasons, Elliott is not eligible to file for VTP. It's possible that Berry is sticking with him through September 10 for that exact purpose, to then waive him and sign someone who'd be an obvious improvement. I'd love to give him the benefit of that assumption; when it comes to his treatment of underperforming draft picks, has he earned it?

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