BEREA, Ohio—With all the negative publicity surrounding Jimmy Haslam this past year, I for one, am going to commend him for the bold moves he announced Tuesday.
The biggest question is why did he wait so long?
There had to have been concerns come up during the coaching search because new GM Ray Farmer wasn't even one of the four that interviewed the potential head coaches. The four that made the interview circuit were reported to have been Haslam, Joe Banner, Mike Lombardi and Alec Scheiner.
Going back to the days before Banner fired Tom Heckert, I was a proponent of keeping Heckert on because he had made better moves than most of those that had been made prior to him. I know that's not saying much, but he did draft Pro Bowl players Josh Gordon, Jordan Cameron, T.J. Ward and Joe Haden.
However, I was of the opinion that Lombardi was going to be Heckert's replacement and that ended up coming to pass. Lombardi had not been sought out by any other teams to run their personnel departments, nor had he had a great track record in his previous roles in personnel.
Banner has always been viewed as a good businessman in the NFL. He has done great things with the Browns in finding naming rights in FirstEnergy Stadium and getting the stadium renovated. However, it is questionable he was the type of personnel evaluator to bring in the right type of players to win.
It was assumed that Ward and Mack would become free agents because Banner's track record with the Eagles was, for the most part, to let high priced free agents leave via free agency. With Farmer running the team, the Browns have a better chance to retaining those players. I go back to the adage that unless you have an upgrade at a position, why create other holes unnecessarily?
It didn't appear to me that Banner and Haslam were a good match from the beginning. It's obvious the league paired them up because Banner's name surfaced as the front runner to run an NFL franchise before it became public knowledge that the Browns were going to be for sale. There was no connection between Haslam and Banner prior to him buying the team and he seemed to go along with the recommendation from the NFL as a new owner.
When Rob Chudzinski was fired, Haslam was asked when the front office--namely Banner and Lombardi-- would be held accountable and not just the coach. He deflected the question but obviously started to think a lot about that himself.
I keep beating the same drum but, to me, Mike Pettine could end up being a great coach, but he has to have talent and players that fit his system to be successful. If the players are great players, it will help speed up the process quite a bit.
Based on the past records of Lombardi's personnel acquisition and what I saw he and Banner did in the draft last year, it was less than impressive. Barkevious Mingo might become a great player, but he was the sixth pick in the draft. Who knows what will become of Leon McFadden, Garrett Gilkey, Armonty Bryant and Jamoris Slaughter, but the odds are against them as a whole. The best move they made was trading Trent Richardson for a first-round draft choice—that is if they hit on the pick.
That being said, I am willing to trust that Farmer will do a great job of evaluating and procuring talent. He has worked his way up the old fashion way from being a player all the way up the ladder to now General Manager. There will obviously be some growing pains, but I already feel better about the personnel department going forward.
There is now all new direction and speculation as to what the Browns will do in the coming weeks and months. It was not a well kept secret that Lombardi and Banner were targeting a quarterback with their fourth overall pick. Lombardi, particularly, seemed to be infatuated with Johnny Manziel. Whether those reports were put out there to mislead other teams or not, there was enough ‘league sources' linking the Browns with Manziel to make it noteworthy. Both had been on the record talking about the importance of drafting the franchise quarterback.
It is uncertain if Farmer is of the same opinion regarding taking a quarterback fourth overall or if he's of the same opinion on Manziel. There have been reports that his top graded quarterback was Marcus Mariota before he decided to return to college at Oregon.
It is uncertain if Farmer will decide to stand pat with Brian Hoyer or trade for Kirk Cousins or draft Manziel, Blake Bortles or Teddy Bridgewater at four or choose to take a younger quarterback later in the draft.
Farmer said he is confident he will get it right, but also said he wants to find players who the coaches want.
"I think that regardless of what the player is, who the player is or what position he plays, I'll make theright decision," Farmer said Tuesday. "It's more of a collaborative thing. Inevitably, Jimmy said that I'll have final say on the 53-(man roster), so picking the name off the board is one thing, but that will be a decision that we make in-house.
"I'm definitely going to be aware of how the coaches feel, I'm going to be aware of how the scouts feel and I'm going to be aware of how I feel," he said. "I'll mesh those opinions, as well as the other ones that we have, to make the right decision on who the quarterback should be going forward, assuming that's the position that we actually take at that point."
Keep in mind, with the defensive-minded head coach in Pettine, Kyle Shanahan might be the most important offensive mind in Berea. What his opinion of the Browns quarterback of the future will likely go a long way in what direction the team will go.
There have not been a lot of positive moves by the Browns in recent history, but the moves Haslam made this week might go a long way in bringing the Browns back to relevance. However, the decisions that Farmer makes in his first charge at free agency and the NFL Draft will go a long way in determining his legacy as the Browns GM.