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Browns Continue to Empower Players, Add Value Including Financial Education

The Cleveland Browns led by Director of Player Engagement Ron Brewer have been looking for ways to add value to the experience of being a player. Hillary Seiler, the team's financial coach is just another example where the Browns are trying to improve life off the field to help them win on it.

The Minnesota Vikings hiring Kwesi Adofo-Mensah as their team's general manager highlights strides the Cleveland Browns have made as an organization. A critical component of that improvement comes in the form of empowering and investing in their players, trying to ensure their success as people off the field in addition to excelling, winning on it.

The goal is to foster an environment where players feel they are more than simply the product of their athletic gifts. With players including Jadeveon Clowney, Denzel Ward and David Njoku expressing desires to re-sign or extend contracts, the Browns may be reaping the rewards of those endeavors.

Heading these efforts is Ron Brewer, the Browns Director of Player Engagement. His focus is making any player that walks into the facility feel valued, better for having been a part of the Browns, whether for a week or a decade.

"Brew" to those who know him, seeks to help players in a range of issues that come up in life, both positive and negative. A large part of that is being a trusted listener, who can offer advice, direction. Players often refer to him as a big brother.

Brew's expertise can largely be boiled down to life experience. He makes it his job to understand issues a player will encounter in their life, so he's in the best position to provide guidance, enabling them to make informed decisions. If he hasn't already come across the issue, he's going to make every effort to get in front of it so a player is not going in blind.

Networking plays an important role in Brew's work as he isn't going to directly handle every situation. He's going to introduce players to experts equipped to guide or educate them in specialized areas. With the trust he builds comes the responsibility of connecting players with the right people. Knowing he has their best interest at heart, players are more inclined to listen to specialists Brew and the team make available to them.

As with most people, one of the concerns players have is money. Beyond what they are getting paid, it's what they do with it once they have it to ensure their financial future. Brew isn't managing the money of an entire team, but wants them to have the necessary tools to do it themselves.

With his endorsement, the Browns hired Hillary Seiler as their financial coach, part of their Professional Development Program. The President of Seiler Financial, the Browns are one of eight teams she works with in addition to the work she does with everyday consumers. Her consumer based program, Financial Footwork, was developed out of the work she's done with athletes, offering anyone the ability to train their money like a pro.

A partnership with the team dating back to 2018, Seiler's methodology is rooted in education and relationships which parallels the approach of the Browns organization, emphasizing individualized empowerment. Seiler seeks to help players understand their options so they can make informed decisions, giving them clarity in their financial future and the peace of mind that accompanies it.

Issues like real estate, building a business may have similar foundations as they have for decades even if they continue to evolve, but investment opportunities including the advent of crypto have created additional avenues for financial gain as well as risk.

Working with players starting in their early 20s that have exceedingly finite playing careers and earning power on the field, a better financial understanding can help them get an idea of what life after football might look like as well as preparing for retirement not only for themselves, but for their families, their children.

One of the most important aspects of Seiler's job is to help players adjust to life after football. Rarely do players leave the game on their own terms and those that do aren't immune to the shock to their identity and earning power.

Relationships started with Seiler's team don't simply end because a player goes to another team or leaves the league. Their needs may change and conversations may include a spouse, plan for their kids, but the goal is to meet them where they are, be it at the start of their careers or life after football.

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For players, this is an investment by the organization in them. For the team, it's an effort to maximize their talent with some potential bonuses off of the field. The NFL can often feel like a cold business, but teams like the Browns don't want to see stories or hear about players whose lives have fallen apart after leaving their team.

They want players to excel in life after football. Everyone can't be a burgeoning media empire unto themselves like Joe Thomas, but they don't need to be in order to succeed after their playing careers end.

Bankruptcy among NFL players occurs at a frightening rate, something Seiler can relate. It's what inspired her to get involved in the first place.

"One of my friends ended up filing bankruptcy when he left the league," Seiler explained. "And that was when I said there was a serious divide here. We need to figure out what it is. All of the companies that were providing financial education were selling a product. They weren't selling the education piece and teaching these guys what they need to know. They weren't meeting them in their space. We wanted to create something that was solely education based."

The other potential benefit deals with contracts. Virtually no player gets the contract they truly want. Rookie contracts are slotted and with free agency, there is some give and take to accommodate the salary cap. Maximizing the money players do have helps them realize they have more options than they might expect. That can reduce financial insecurity, which sometimes leads players to demand a renegotiation of their contract for more money, even holding out in the process, an unproductive situation for both the player and the team.

Simply telling players what to do is met with resistance after a while, be it passive or active, no matter how beneficial the message might be. It also only lasts as long as players are in the building.

Engaging players, giving them agency and creating a dialogue is critical to making a lasting impact. One that can help reduce tensions and create a harmonious environment. That's been Brew's approach and it dovetails with what Seiler's team seeks to do, starting when players enter the league.

Rookies throughout the league are required to take Rookie Development Courses. The Browns demand more than most teams. Seiler's team will start working with rookies a couple weeks after the NFL Draft.

"Mid May is when we typically enter the building and we're there for two to three days. We will spend one-on-one time with every single rookie, anywhere from an hour to two hours, working on very specific financial tasks that we want them aware of going into the NFL and then we build on that once the season starts. So this is their crash course in money, crash course in what it means to be an NFL player with money and how they need to prepare for that."

"Drinking from a fire hose" initially, the program is designed over the course of the year in collaboration with Brew tailored to each rookie class as they get a feel for them.

"We'll work with the guys from May until August. Once preseason hits, we won't talk to them during preseason. And when regular season starts, cuts are made, team is solidified, we'll be back in the building almost every month working with each of the rookies, as a group and then individually as well."

Mandatory the first year, the program becomes voluntary for veterans but plenty of players see the value and stick with it. Those fortunate enough to sign a lucrative second contract have new opportunities, but face additional challenges, have more questions and Seiler's team is equipped to help.

"I think it makes it a really cool culture because Brew is the reason these guys buy in. He focuses in on the guys as people and how to develop them as people, because he wants them to leave the building and lead a very successful life off the field. On it too. We definitely want them to win, but we also want these guys to know that there is a team of people who care about them as humans and help them develop that skill set off the field."

Enhancing the experience for players can help the team retain them as well as encourage potential free agents to join the team, seeking that level of care and support the Browns offer. It's also attempting to reduce stress that can otherwise interfere with reaching peak performance, a focus of these initiatives.

The risks inherent to the sport, careers lasting three seasons on average, can lead to financial insecurity. When players are preoccupied with life outside of football, often including their financial well-being, it can limit their ability to perform at a high level on the field.

"We're not there to spout crap at these guys. We're not there to tell them how to spend their money. We're there to give them a set of tools and I think that's what makes us different and that's what makes Brew different. He really wants these guys to make solid decisions, but their decisions are their own. And that is a culture that most organizations across the league want and are trying to have and some of them do, but you can see it full-fledged manifested in Cleveland and I think it's awesome."

The work done by general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski will always get the lion's share of the attention, because they have the most direct impact on the team. Nevertheless, quality of life improvements spearheaded by Ron Brewer, bringing in people like Hillary Seiler and her team has an impact on and off the field. Investing in players as people is a factor in why players are not only more open minded about the Browns, but excited to come to Cleveland. Just as importantly, it's an incentive for players to stay with the Browns.