Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

The Cleveland Browns released their top tight end, Gary Barnidge, Friday, following a draft that saw the team picking up rookie tight end David Njoku from Miami.

It’s a move that has left many Browns fans scratching their heads, making what are now annual jabs about the team being in a “re-building year” and bitching that guys like Hue Jackson and Sashi Brown make as much money in a day as we make in a month and this is the kind of shit decision-making that results.

This coming from the team that also just knowingly drafted a DT from Florida with an assault charge and later admitted to the NFL Network the charges were still “concerning”.

No official reasoning has been given other than the standard public-relations statement of thanking Barnidge for his play and work in the community and other various whatevers. But something just seems amiss. Like there’s something the front office just doesn’t GET.

Everything in the NFL begins and ends with money, but cap space isn’t a problem and it wasn’t like Barnidge was getting paid some astronomical salary.

What about this system of analytics the Browns have been using to assist in their decision-making, did Barnidge possibly fall off the edge of a spreadsheet on Sashi’s desk? His “numbers” dropped last year, this is not news, but I think it’s safe to say on a team with no consistency in game plan and quarterback, you’ll have that. Even your best players are fighting an uphill battle under those circumstances.

“But he’s too old.” Uh, he’s 31. In football years, sure, he’s getting up there, but his current contract would have ended by the time he was 34. Analytics will tell you that a tight end’s peak performance level significantly drops off after the age of 29, but Barnidge has stayed healthy and did well enough to be the Browns’ second-highest yardage-earner last season. So maybe age is the statistical figure Barnidge didn’t fit into?    

Anyone with half a brain in business management knows soft skills are difficult to measure in numbers and I’d love to have been a fly on the wall for the conversations Brown, Jackson and others in Berea had about keeping or ditching Barnidge just to see how often the intangibles came up, and what their importance was.

Barnidge has been one of the few bright spots on this team for several seasons as both a professional and person. He became the de facto offensive team leader when it became obvious guys like Johnny Manziel and Josh Gordon weren’t going to be able to step up to that plate, in times when leadership was desperately needed. Unlike other high-profile Browns’ players, Barnidge kept his fucking nose clean for four years and didn’t get himself into any off-the-field shit.

Barnidge’s off-the-field antics consisted of hosting movie nights in the community (he’s a film buff), and working with American Football Without Barriers, a non-profit organisation he helped found that exposes American football to people all over the world and teaches them how to play. Barnidge’s organisation has been to places like Egypt, China, Turkey and Finland. Sashi was right when he said Barnidge had been a “fine representative” of the team.    

Maybe in part due to his world travels, Barnidge is obviously intelligent in a way that almost comes off as “book-smart”, kind of nerdy, qualities you would not normally associate with NFL players. He seems like a genuinely interesting guy. You know damn well that “ass catch” Barnidge made was just as much brain as it was body; having the presence of mind to make that catch isn’t a skill you can teach.

Speaking of teaching, your two priority TEs now are DeValve, one year into his career, and Njoku, just drafted. Njoku is just 20 years old. And Barnidge’s experience has no value to you there? Throwing rookies into the fire may work if you’re the Dallas Cowboys but it has never worked in Cleveland. Ever. Enter the cliched definition of insanity, doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

So what happens now? Barnidge, like other former Browns players, has a very real chance of move on to a team where he can enjoy, a few more years of moderate, at a minimum, NFL success. And the Cleveland Browns will continue to “re-build”.

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