Bewildered in Berea
The mess in Berea reached comical levels yesterday with the abrupt firing of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi by an owner who acknowledged he pretty much screwed up the first year and a half of his ownership. I’m really not sure how to react to all of this, except to say that Jimmy Haslam may have finally stumbled into a situation that has a chance of working, with competent football people coaching the team and running the front office. None of us really knows whether Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine can work well together, let alone turn the Browns into a winning franchise. But both seem to be hard working and well respected in their fields, so at least that’s a start.
As Browns fans we’re all numb to this nonsense at this point, and the Browns continue to be a laughing stock as fans and reporters chronicle the decades of futility along with the past 14 years to complete turmoil. In the end, however, all that matters is whether Haslam has finally put together an organization that has a chance to succeed.
The most troublesome part of the organization, however, is Haslam himself. It’s clear now that he and Banner were a poor fit, and adding a toxic character like Mike Lombardi to the mix only made things worse. Banner and Lombardi obviously made some smart moves, like bringing in Brian Hoyer and parlaying a disapointing Trent Richardson into a first rounder, but the coaching fisacos trumped all of that along with some very questionable personel decisions.
But we’re also hearing troubling reports about Haslam. Reportedly he listened to glowing reports from Bill Belichick and Urban Meyer about Greg Schiano and was very impressed with him after a pointless interview while Banner stewed and basically refused to participate. How could anyone want to consider Greg Schiano after his disatrous tenure in Tampa? I don’t care if Vince Lombardi’s ghost recommended him. He clearly was in over his head in the NFL, and from a PR perspective even talking to him made the Browns look like clowns. The fact that Haslam’s braintrust couldn’t stop him from seeking out Schiano drives home the point that Haslam had lost confidence in Banner and Lombardi. The main job for Ray Farmer now is controlling his owner, who seems to seek advice from everyone who has a big name in the NFL and changes his mind constantly.
Meanwhile, Banner seemed obsessed with repeating his self-proclaimed Andy Reid triumph, looking for every young coach that was building a reputation. The idea of putting so much stock in Adam Gase seemed absurd. Meanwhile, Mike Lombardi was apparently angling to bring in Josh McDaniels, someone who had a reputation of being just as toxic as him. Looking back, it shouldn’t be surprising that the coaching search looked chaotic, as the Browns had three guys with diverging agendas involved in the search.
Somehow, however, this “braintrust” settled on two solid candidates with Mike Pettine and Dan Quinn, though we now know that Haslam and Banner had different ideas on whether to wait for Quinn.
So where does this leave the Browns? On the one hand, we have an owner that looks like a poor imitation of buffoons like Daniel Snyder. On the other hand, the revolving door of people running the Browns have somehow managed to leave the franchise in a position to improve dramatically heading into this offseason. Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert certainly made some mistakes, but they cleared out an old roster and started a youth movement while protecting the team’s cap situation, leaving the team with young stars like Josh Gordon, Jordon Cameron and Joe Haden. Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi spent more money but still have the Browns in a favorable cap situation with multiple picks in the first round following the Richardson trade. The team has some young stars and is poised to draft a potential franchise quarterback in a draft stacked with talent.
Now it’s up to Farmer and Pettine to take the next steps. Farmer is respected around the NFL, but he’s a first-time GM and he faces some huge decisions on resigning players and picking a quarterback. Then we’ll see if first-time head coach Pettine can take the team Farmer assembles and starts winning.
If the Browns hit on a good quarterback and Pettine turns out to be a good coach, fans will be able to laugh about the drama of the past several years. But if things don’t pan out, how can anyone have confidence that Jimmy Haslam can fix the situation? Let’s hope he’s found a GM and coach that can stay in the job for a while.
Posted in: Cleveland Browns
Tags: Daniel Snyder, Jimmy Haslam, Joe Banner, Joe Haden, Jordon Cameron, Josh Gordon, Mike Holmgren, Mike Lombardi, Mike Pettine, Ray Farmer, Tom Heckert
Josh Gordon continues to dominate
On a day when the Browns found even more interesting ways to lose a football game, Josh Gordon erased any doubt that the Browns have one of the best receivers in the NFL. Gordon can do anything on the field, and he gives the team a lethal weapon can can carry this offense for years.
In another season marred by quarterback injuries, it’s easy to get depressed about a loss like this one versus the Jaguars. But as one fan pointed out on Twitter, the Browns lost being led by a quarterback that isn’t a part of the future. Brandon Weeden had his moments out there, but his meltdown before the half was comical. I had hoped he had the tools to develop as a good starting quarterback but reality set in a while ago.
Watching Gordon gives me hope that this offense can be pretty good once the new regime adds some more weapons and a quarterback. We should come away with an excellent receiver and a running back in the early rounds of the next draft, and I’m hoping Brian Hoyer can start next year so we don’t have to push a rookie to start before he’s ready.
After having recent “meaningful” games turn into nightmares, it’s obviously disappointing that we’re now stuck thinking about next year . . . again. But the Browns have some young talent led by Gordon, and now we’ll see if the new regime can add the necessary pieces to finally make them a contender.
Brandon Weeden takes a step back
It was particularly hard watching the Browns today. Brandon Weeden came out and didn’t even look like “bad” Weeden – he looked more like a bad Brady Quinn. His accuracy was nonexistent. As the game went on he started playing a little better, but he had already dug a hole for himself, and the defense was having trouble containing Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy. Meanwhile, the receivers started dropping passes.
Weeden needs to make progress, for this week he regressed instead. It’s going to be a really long season if he keeps this up, though at some point Chud will lose patience and he’ll have to go to Campbell. There are two tough games with KC and Baltimore before the bye week, and Weeden needs to regroup and find a way to regroup and win at least one of them. If he can’t rebound soon I think the coaches may give up.
As for the rest of the game, here are some observations:
- In the old NFL, the Tashaun Gipson hit on Jermichael Finley would have been called a fumble as opposed to a ridiculous penalty. The NFL needs to think about these rules and whether the ref in the booth can overturn a penalty like this. Gibson hit with his shoulder and actually tried to avoid a helmet hit.
- It was nice to see Travis Benjamin return that kickoff, but I was disappointed the coaching staff didn’t have any set plays for him. Every game the Browns should have several plays like reverses and bubble screens set up for Benjamin. He’s a real weapon – use him!
- Josh Gordon seemed a little out of it today. I guess everyone is entitled to a sub par game every once in a while.
- I can’t blame Chud for going for it on 4th and 15. The field goal wasn’t easy from that distance on that side of the field. He rolled the dice and it just didn’t work out.
- The Packers seemed to be holding on every play. The refs only seemed to call it when it was so blatant people in the cheap seats could see it.
This season has been a roller coaster, and now we’ll see if we can get out of this valley, either with Weeden or without him.
Chud won’t overreact to Browns struggles on offense
Fans and pundits can overreact to one half of preseason football, but Rob Chudzinski seems determined to keep things in perspective. Maybe the film wasn’t as bad as some feared. Chud initially said he would have Brandon Weeden and the first team offense get some reps against the Chicago Bears in the last preseason game, but now he has changed his mind. Weeden, Trent Richardson and the other Browns starters will sit for the game, with only guys like Josh Gordon and Oniel Cousins getting in the game. Cousins needs reps at guard to get ready for the season opener.
I would have liked to see Weeden and the offense play better against the Colts, but progress will not occur in a straight line for this young team. Last week was a setback, but it’s important to look at everything we saw in the preseason. Richardson looks ready and healthy, and it looks like Weeden can flourish in the new offense.
We won’t know anything, however, until we see several regular season games. The NFL is so unpredictable these days, and the Browns are a young team that will probably be inconsistent even if they improve dramatically. The national media types seem to be giving the new regime the benefit of the doubt, but Weeden will have to prove things on the field. This seems to be highlighted in the odds, with Cleveland’s odds to win the Super Bowl ranging from 80/1 to 150/1 at online bookmakers.
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Jason La Canfora needs a better editor
Jason La Canfora created quite a buzz in Cleveland last week with a column that basically ripped the personnel decisions of Tom Heckert. Here’s the most damning paragraph in the article.
So, while the previous brain trust in Cleveland — president Mike Holmgren and general manager Tom Heckert — received praise (some in the local media took Heckert’s departure particularly personally), the reality is this: Aside from center Alex Mack and left tackle Joe Thomas, the new regime didn’t inherit one above-average offensive talent. No one has proven he is, as training camp looms, a standout skill player.
Yes, from a personnel standpoint, it really is that bleak.
On it’s face this quote seems ridiculous. When one considers whether a player has “talent,” most interpret that as having the physical tools and skills necessary to have significant upside in the sport. With that in mind, the young Browns offense is loaded with talent, with Trent Richardson, Brandon Weeden, Mitchell Schwartz, Greg Little and Josh Gordon. Now, La Canfora can rightly point out that none of these guys are proven talents, but that’s not what he said in that blurb above.
Later in the article, he does address the players I mentioned. He calls Greg Little an “inconsistent but talented receiver.” He says that “Gordon clearly has talent.” So which is it? You can’t say they have no players beyond Mack and Thomas that are above-average talent players, and then turn around and point out that Little and Gordon have talent.
As for Richardson, sure there are questions about injuries and whether he was drafted too high at #3, but many pro scouts called him the best running back prospect since Adrian Peterson. La Canfora may not agree with that, but his argument that Richardson isn’t even an “above-average talent” seems ridiculous.
He does lay out the challenges facing the Browns on offense, but he completely misses the mark on the nature of those challenges. The Browns have plenty of young talent. The key is developing that talent and overcoming the inconsistency issues that plague most young players. La Canfora is confusing the issues of talent and youth.
Posted in: Cleveland Browns
Tags: Adrian Peterson, Alex Mack, Brandon Weeden, Greg Little, Jason La Canfora, Jason La Canfora Browns, Jason La Canfora editor, Jason La Canfora rips Tom Heckert, Jason La Canfora writing style, Joe Thomas, Josh Gordon, Mitchell Schwartz, Tom Heckert, Trent Richardson
The emergence of Josh Gordon
Photo source: Browns Facebook page
There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future for this young Browns team, and Josh Gordon certainly has emerged as a real weapon on offense. Tony Grossi elaborates on this in his latest column, where he also takes the opportunity to repeat his opposition to the absurd notion of having Mike Lombardi replace Tom Heckert.
Grossi points out that Lombardi mocked Heckert’s selection of Gordon in the supplemental draft, and Grossi is leading the charge for those of us who believe that Heckert has done an excellent job of rebuilding the Browns roster.
It will be fascinating to see if the reactions of Grossi, other writers in Cleveland and the fans will have any impact on decisions made by Joe Banner and new owner Jimmy Haslam regarding Heckert’s future. I’m taking them at their word, and assuming they will in fact wait until the end of the season to evaluate Heckert and coach Pat Shurmur.
Grossi has argued that there is little Heckert can do at this point to affect his status, and thus Banner and Haslam should have stated their intentions regarding the GM. I don’t buy that. First, they don’t want to treat Heckert any differently than Pat Shurmur in terms of deciding his future before the end of the season, so I don’t read anything into their silence. Also, Heckert is preparing for next year’s draft and free agency, so they are observing how he works in that lead role. And finally, Heckert’s resume evolves as young players like Gordon improve their performance through the season.
Jimmy Haslam introduces Joe Banner as Browns CEO
Image source: Browns Official Facebook Page
In another impressive news conference, Jimmy Haslam introduced Joe Banner to the Cleveland media today. We heard many of things that we often hear when a new regime takes over, but for the first time the chief executive was joined by an owner who is committed to being involved in the management of the franchise. After Randy Lerner’s absentee ownership, Haslam and Banner came across as a breath of fresh air.
Many in the media are quite giddy, and for good reason. Just having a leader like Jimmy Haslam coupled with a smart and capable NFL executive should bode well for the Browns in the future. That said, nothing Joe Banner said was materially different from what Mike Holmgren said when he took over as team president. The goal was to get a team of smart people who would all be on the same page working towards a common goal. Both emphasized building through the draft. Banner seems open to strategically using free agency, but he emphasized that free agents can be counterproductive if you sign them before a team is ready to compete.
Frankly, Holmgren has started a youth movement with the Browns that should provide a nice foundation for Haslam and Banner, regardless of whether they keep Tom Heckert and Pat Shurmur. On that front they seem genuine in their statements that both men will be evaluated at the end of the year. But assuming they don’t do something stupid, like bring in a GM and head coach who want to run the 3-4 over the 4-3, they should be fine as long as they can identify good coaches and GM candidates. I do hope they keep Heckert, and Shurmur should get consideration if he turns the season around, but Haslam and Banner need to get comfortable with these guys.
On offense, the system matters less, as all of these players can fit into another system. But on defense, switching to the 3-4 and in effect throwing away three productive drafts that have built the foundation of a good defensive front would be idiotic. I don’t expect that.
Many are enjoying kicking Mike Holmgren while he’s down, but his legacy is hardly set in stone. He and Heckert have gone with a dramatic youth movement. If the Browns are in the playoffs in the next couple of years with guys like Trent Richardson, Josh Gordon, Brandon Weeden, Phil Taylor and Joe Haden leading the way, many of us will happily credit Holmgren and Heckert for building the foundation of that success.
Posted in: Cleveland Browns
Tags: Brandon Weeden, Browns 4-3 defense, Browns CEO, Jimmy Haslam, Joe Banner, Joe Haden, Josh Gordon, Mike Holmgren, Pat Shurmur, Phil Taylor, Randy Lerner, Tom Heckert, Trent Richardson
Jimmy Haslam approved as new Browns owner
It’s official. Jimmy Haslam has been approved by the NFL owners as the new owner of the Cleveland Browns, ending the disappointing Lerner era.
Now we can move from the silly speculation we hear every day on talk radio to hearing from Haslam himself along with Joe Banner.
Everyone seems to have an opinion on what he’ll do. I’m just going to wait and listen. Based on what Haslam has said so far, he’ll probably make more changes to the business side of the Browns operation before he makes changes to the football operations. Also, he’s expressed his philosophy of building through the draft, so we can expect him to build upon the current youth movement.
It’s been reported that he’ll wait until the end of the season to make changes to the football operations. Let’s see if he confirms that today or tomorrow. It would be the smart thing to do. Regardless of your opinions of Pat Shurmur, Tom Heckert and Mike Holmgren, we should wait until the end of this season before passing judgement on the rebuilding process. Just several weeks ago, some talking heads were ready to write of Josh Gordon for example, but after the past two games he looks like a real threat at the wide receiver position. And of course we had some fans calling for Brandon Weeden’s head after his awful debut, but we’ve since seen him develop nicely.
I’m excited about the new ownership. Randy Lerner was loyal to Cleveland and he spent money, but the man was clueless. Let’s hope Haslam’s business experience leads to a better era for Browns football. It can’t be much worse.
Is Josh Gordon making progress?
Josh Gordon has a ton of upside, but he’s been very inconsistent so far in the preseason. Hopefully Brandon Weeden’s assessment of him is accurate:
“Look at Josh Gordon,” he said of the rookie receiver. “Look at him a month ago to where he is today. It doesn’t even look [like the same player]. He’s finishing plays, he’s running at full speed. He’s come a long way.
“We’ve got so many weapons at our disposal but it takes time and it takes reps and it takes confidence. They have to have confidence running the routes most importantly and I have to have confidence pulling the trigger.”
Everyone seems to think the kid is very coachable, but right now he needs plenty of it, along with a lot of reps. I’ll be surprised if he starts in Game 1, but he should get plenty of reps if he keeps improving.
Image source: Cleveland Browns Official Facebook page
Weeden and Browns make their debut in Detroit
After a long and eventful offseason, the Browns finally took the field last night in Detroit for their first exhibition game. Here are some first impressions.
- Brandon Weeden came out firing and hit a couple of beautiful throws. He clearly looks like an NFL quarterback. Then he went on to make some typical rookie mistakes and finished with a pedestrian stat line. He threw one ball that should have been intercepted and another that was intercepted. The key for Weeden will be how he learns from mistakes so we have a long way to go in figuring out how successful he will be in the NFL. I love the kid’s demeanor, however. He doesn’t hang his head and he seems to thrive on the challenges in front of him. He offers a refreshing contrast to Colt McCoy who often looks like he’s sulking on the sidelines.
- Travis Benjamin and Jordan Cameron stood out as potential weapons for Weeden. Benjamin flashed his speed and quickness and had no trouble catching the ball. Many have assumed that he’ll just be a slot receiver due to his size, but Benjamin showed he can play on the outside as well as he blew past a defender to catch a long pass from Weeden up the sideline. Cameron also showed his athleticism. He’s big and fast moved easily in space. Let’s hope his back injury isn’t serious. He was smiling as he left the field so it didn’t look too bad.
- I feel terrible for Mohamed Massaquoi. I saw him in camp last week and he looked great, and most camp observers thought he was back from his injuries and could help the receiving corps. But he got hit in the head on his first play of the game and suffered another concussion. Now his career may be in jeopardy.
- There will be a steep learning curve for some of the rookies. Mitchell Schwartz had a tough night at right tackle. He’s been having trouble in camp with Jabaal Sheard and then had trouble last night with the pass rush as well. He’ll have to develop quickly for the Browns as they don’t really have a viable option behind him. Oniel Cousins had looked good in camp but he looked terrible last night playing left tackle with the second team, so the Browns have to hope that Schwartz can win the right tackle job.
- Josh Gordon also had an inauspicious debut. Bernie Kosar pointed out that Gordon needs a lot of work in running routes, which isn’t unusual for rookie receivers. But we saw Travis Benjamin look like a veteran last night, so Gordon needs to step it up. He’s been out of football however and it shows.
- Montario Hardesty looked solid subbing for Trent Richardson as did the other running backs. The Browns should be able to establish a running game this season assuming Richardson’s injury heals as expected, and Hardesty gives them a solid one-two punch.
- I like what I saw of Brad Smelley. He’s not a devastating blocker, but he’s a real receiving threat out of the backfield. Owen Marecic has to show something in order to keep is job.
- The run defense looked terrible last night, but keep in mind that Ahtyba Rubin didn’t play. I watched the d-line closely and the tackles looked much better when Billy Winn and John Hughes were in there. There’s legitimate concern with the injury to Phil Taylor, but if these two rookies develop the line has a chance to be decent.
- They weren’t in there long, but Joe Haden and T.J. Ward looked fantastic last night, which makes the rumored suspension of Haden even that much more disappointing. But from a talent level the secondary has serious upside. Unfortunately, Dimitri Patterson left the game last night with an injury. Let’s hope it’s not serious.
- Colt McCoy had a nice night as he was able to move the ball with his feet and he made some nice throws. But we also saw some of the typical dumpoffs on third down. Overall I like him as one of the backups if the Browns decide to keep him, and frankly I’d be comfortable with Seneca Wallace and Thaddeus Gibson as well. Gibson looked good in garbage time as he drove the Browns to victory in the fourth quarter.
Overall, it was a sloppy game. There were plenty of hysterical reactions on Twitter, most notably from certain radio talk show hosts that were probably off their meds again. But I like the potential of this team and the young players, and I’m anxious to see what they look like when Trent Richardson rejoins the lineup.
Posted in: Cleveland Browns
Tags: Ahtyba Rubin, Bernie Kosar, Billy Winn, Brad Smelley, Brandon Weeden, Colt McCoy, Joe Haden, John Hughes, Jordan Cameron, Josh Gordon, Mitchell Schwartz, Mohamed Massaquoi, Oniel Cousins, Owen Marecic, Phil Taylor, Seneca Wallace, T.J. Ward, Thaddeus Gibson, Travis Benjamin