For an eternally struggling franchise that is in the process of being sold, things are surprisingly quiet in Cleveland these days. Beyond the camp talk focusing on injured players, rookies and suspensions, not much is being said regarding the futures of Team President Mike Holmgren, General Manager Tom Heckert and Head Coach Pat Shurmur.
Naturally, the specter of the coming season looms larger than a new round of hot seat talk. During the last decade of expansion football in Cleveland, exhausting such discussion – along with hope – is pretty much its own sport. Yet, after a few games of what should be a raw offense and decimated defense, talk will quickly turn again to the future.
After all, it would probably take nothing short of a dramatic playoff run to ensure that Holmgren, Heckert and Shurmur all return in 2013. A likely scenario would see the Browns' new owner conduct a long overdue evaluation of the franchise's leaders – especially if the team again struggles. Such a thought is completely natural when attached to most NFL owners, yet is the kind of idea that has gone missing in Cleveland over the past decade.
While current Holmgren has helped to stabilize the franchise – particularly with the hiring of Heckert as GM – it's been speculated that the former Packer and Seahawk coach may not survive any organizational shakeups. Making matters more confusing is the clandestine nature of Holmgren's contract. Reports suggest that only Holmgren, General Counsel Fred Nance, Randy Lerner and super-agent Bob LaMonte know the exact terms of Holmgren's deal.
This last detail may suggest that Holmgren could easily walk away with the entirety of his generous contract – a move that could signal the arrival of former Eagles' Team President Joe Banner. Banner has been reported to be a part of Haslam's potential ownership group and just a few months ago negotiated a sort of "release" from the Eagles once the prospects of the Browns' sale appeared.
If these pieces were to fall into place, Banner would be inheriting a franchise that may have a strikingly similar structure to the one he left a couple months ago. Thanks largely to the influence of Heckert's drafting and player acquisitions, the Browns have mostly reformed their roster in a definite Eagles mold. From an emphasis on drafting young linemen, raw wide receivers, a seemingly all-purpose running back, small linebackers and hybrid safeties, the current Browns' roster is a thin reflection of the Eagles.
Throw in a young head coach raised in a West Coast offense and Dick Jauron – who as recently as 2010 was with the Eagles – and the makeover is dramatic. Of course the on-field results don't exactly match – results of injury and inexperience among the players and coaching staff. Anyway, beyond taking advantage of an opportunity to join Haslam's ownership team, the timing probably couldn't have been better for Banner.
The Browns' current design fits almost exactly with the one Banner left behind in Philadelphia. Call it coincidence or something more sinister, but it appears that Banner will not have to orchestrate a dramatic makeover of the Browns when (if) he does take over as Team President. And for a fan base that has become numb to constant franchise reboots, perhaps this is comforting news. Certainly the architect of the current Browns has been Heckert – who of course has past ties to Banner in Philadelphia.
Ideally, Heckert would be retained in any front office transition – as the Browns' GM has drafted a small core of young talent that an experienced head coach could eventually turn into a winner. But it's logical to consider that Banner would already have another GM in mind. As for Shurmur, it's impossible to predict the young coach's future, but it would appear his fate is exclusively tied to Holmgren.
On this last note, another factor to consider is Bob LaMonte. LaMonte, Holmgren's long-time friend, has probably done more than any player, coach or executive in shaping the current Browns. LaMonte is the agent for Holmgren, Heckert, Shurmur and several veteran Browns' coaches – including Brad Childress, Jauron and others. In some respects, Holmgren's hiring as a "proxy owner" opened the channels for LaMonte to flood the Browns' organization with several of his clients. Again, Holmgren has served as defacto owner of the Browns in Lerner's self-imposed absence.
Yet even with a new owner in Haslam – one whose intentions are not currently known – LaMonte may still be the driving force behind the Browns' makeup. If the Browns can show the kind of progress to warrant keeping the current structure intact (say only Banner replaces Holmgren), then LaMonte's influence will clearly remain. However, a total blowup of the organization will likely tear down most of LaMonte's work.
However, it was interesting to read the following report from Eagles' camp – if only to fuel more speculation in Cleveland.
Philly.com – Reid Distances Self From Agent's Ploy
Basically, LaMonte is doing what any good agent does – meaning he's trying to position his client to get a contract extension two years ahead of the contract's expiration. However, such a public proclamation – especially one that baits Eagles' owner Jeffrey Lurie – is more than curious. While Andy Reid's remarkable consistency in Philadelphia would seem to be enough leverage, it's possible that LaMonte would need more. Consider that if Reid does not receive a contract extension, it's likely that Cleveland – which will probably feature a head coach on the hot seat – will become leverage for Reid and LaMonte.
As such, the Browns could become pawns in another team's contract negotiations. The natural connection between Reid and Banner could be exploited, which would only drive up the veteran coach's salary. Or if total annihilation again occurs in Cleveland, perhaps Reid becomes the Browns' next head coach. Again, the scenery would look familiar, especially if Banner, Heckert and an Eagles-lite roster still remain.
Of course, all of this is speculation. The biggest unknown factor remains the desires of the Browns' new owner. While it's fairly safe to assume that Lerner helped enable the current front office structure – one dominated by outsized contracts and LaMonte clients – it's reassuring to speculate that Haslam would want to create a structure fitting his specific vision.
However, even if Haslam envisions something dramatically different than what he inherited, it will be extraordinarily difficult to remove the pieces built over the past few years. The current Browns are seemingly more a reflection of a couple powerful men, as opposed to a team built on a specific vision. Anyone who attempts to overcome this reality – Haslam in particular – is facing a monumental task.
Perhaps it's fitting then that the Browns will see the Eagles twice in the next month. In most respects, the Browns will be staring at both their present and future.