In order to accumulate talent in free agency and the draft, general manager John Dorsey first had to stockpile talent in the front office.
Dorsey went to his Packers and Chiefs roots and shook up the Browns personnel department Wednesday with a series of moves designed to help him reshape a roster that went 0-16 this season.
The biggest move was beating the competition and hiring Eliot Wolf as assistant general manager. Wolf, 35, was Packers director of football operations and had offers to remain in Green Bay after 14 years or join the Oakland Raiders. He chose the Browns.
“I really like the direction of where leadership is headed,” Wolf said in the release announcing the moves. “We’re going to build this team the right way and to be a part of that from the ground up is going to be special.”
Wolf was just the start.
Alonzo Highsmith was announced as vice president of player personnel after 19 years with the Packers, the last six as senior personnel executive.
Andrew Berry will remain a vice president of player personnel. He was the highest-ranking executive with a scouting background in the previous regime led by Sashi Brown, who was fired Dec. 7 and immediately replaced by Dorsey.
The team parted ways after a season with senior personnel executive Ryan Grigson, the former GM of the Colts, and added Jimmy Noel as assistant director of pro scouting, Matt Donahoe as a scout and Dan Zegers as personnel coordinator.
The threesome worked for the Chiefs when Dorsey was GM from 2013-17.
Ken Kovash will transition to a vice president role in the Browns’ strategy department after two years as a VP of player personnel. He’s one of the organization’s analytics experts.
“Adding Eliot and Alonzo to our personnel leadership group, that already includes Andrew Berry, will strengthen us and help us develop into the type of personnel department we need to achieve the success our great fans deserve,” Dorsey said.
Dorsey played linebacker for the Packers for six seasons, then was hired as a scout in 1991 and worked with Highsmith and Wolf. Highsmith was a star running back at the University of Miami, the No. 3 pick of the Houston Oilers in 1987 and played in the NFL for six seasons before his career was ended by a series of knee injuries.
“Alonzo’s 25 years of experience in the National Football League as a player, scout and personnel executive give him a unique perspective when it comes to evaluating talent and building a team,” Dorsey said. “Alonzo and I share the same passion for this great game of football. We are going to set out to find talented football players that possess that same passion for the game.”
Wolf was seemingly born to work in an NFL personnel department.
He is the son of Hall of Fame general manager Ron Wolf, who built the Green Bay Packers team that won Super Bowl XXXI, is a mentor to Dorsey and talked to Browns owner Jimmy Haslam before he hired Dorsey. He was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2015, with Eliot serving as his presenter.
As young as 10 years old, Eliot would join Ron for film sessions at Lambeau Field. He filed his first scouting report at 14 for the Falcons, began as a pro personnel assistant with the Packers in 2004 and quickly received a series of promotions.
“Eliot has been a fine executive in this league for some time now,” Dorsey said. “It’s been great to watch him grow up around this league when I was with him in Green Bay and from afar for the last five-plus years. He’s been a big reason for the consistent success the Packers have experienced over the last decade.”
The Packers earned 10 trips to the playoffs in Wolf’s 14 seasons, seven NFC North division titles and a victory in Super Bowl XLV.
“Elliot (sic) Wolf’s astute evaluation skills coming to @Browns,” former Packers executive Andrew Brandt tweeted. “Remember morning of 2006 Draft he showed me tape of WR from @WesternMichU, said we were going to take him in 2nd round. We did @GregJennings..”
Jennings became a two-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl champ. Dorsey, Wolf and Highsmith bring a history of winning to an organization that went 0-16 in 2017 and 1-31 over the last two seasons, the worst stretch in NFL history.
They are charged with transforming a roster that needs a lot of work. It was the youngest in the league in 2017, doesn’t have a quarterback with a victory and lacks playmakers.
They have resources, with 12 draft picks, including five in the first two rounds, and an expected $100 million in salary cap space.
“This is going to be an exciting challenge,” Highsmith said. “It’s great to reunite with John Dorsey. He is someone I’ve looked up to and has always been a mentor to me. We had great success together in Green Bay and we both understand the hard work it takes to create a winning environment. I’m grateful to have the opportunity to be part of something special.”
Dorsey has yet to make a trade, sign a big-money free agent or draft a player with the Browns. He’s already made a big impact by landing sought-after talent.