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.

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McCarron vs. Mettenberger – The Browns will be watching!

AJ McCarron - SH

The Alabama – LSU matchup tonight has huge implications for the BCS Championship game, and plenty of Ohio State fans will be watching as they root for LSU to pull the upset. But the interest in Northeast Ohio goes beyond the implications for the Buckeyes, as both AJ McCarron and Zach Mettenberger will likely be getting plenty of scrutiny from Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi.

Both McCarron and Mettenberger fit the mold of pro-style quarterbacks that tend to have the most long-term success in the NFL. Dual-threat quarterbacks are all the rage right now, but I’ll take someone who can win from the pocket any day over a quarterback who relies too much on using his legs. The pro game is just different, and when factoring long-term success the threat of injury is a huge issue facing dual-threat quarterbacks who don’t learn to go through their progressions in the pocket. Just look at RG3. Also, look at the history of quarterbacks who actually win Super Bowls. Guys like Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning win games with their arms. Sure, some of them will scramble on occasion to pick up yardage or buy time in the pocket, but you don’t see them putting their bodies and careers at risk with designed running plays or reckless scrambling.

Both McCarron and Mettenberger are intriguing for the Browns because both of them would probably sit for a year or two under Hoyer/Campbell if the Browns take them, giving them to to develop properly. Both of course also come with plenty of question marks, and this is where Lombardi has to earn his paycheck. For example, McCarron has led a charmed life playing behind monster Alabama lines that create a real running game and also rarely give up sacks. So how does McCarron handle pressure? The Browns will need to scour the film to find out. Unfortunately with McCarron we aren’t likely to see him win a game on his own where he’s getting beat up all night. That’s one of the characteristics Ernie saw in Eli Manning when he was picked #1 in the draft. Perhaps we’ll see the LSU defense bring pressure tonight so we can see how McCarron reacts.

Mettenberger is getting plenty of love from the scouts as he’s improved dramatically this year. Let’s see how he fares against Alabama’s defesne tonight.

So I’ll be watching with interest tonight as I hope LSU gives Ohio State a roadmap to the BCS championship game with an upset. And I’ll also be watching to see if either McCarron are Mettenberger deserve serious consideration from the Browns.

Browns 6.0

Peter King’s new football site, MMQB, takes a looks at the latest reboot of the Cleveland Browns under Joe Banner. It’s a good read, even if the story is pretty familiar by now in Cleveland.

One topic involves the decision-making structure under Joe Banner. Many media types and fans were very concerned at first when it was reported that Banner would be involved in football decisions, but it seems like fans have begun to rally around the decisions made under Banner’s “consensus” approach to decision making. The fact that he listened to his coaches and decided to give Brandon Weeden another real shot at the QB position was a testament to Banner’s management style.

Browns draft stumps impatient media and fans

When a team loses consistently for years, it’s hard for fans and members of the media to be rational about anything. Everyone wants instant gratification, and any attempt to take the long view about a team’s roster is met with emotional outbursts about how people are tired of waiting for a winner.

I was waiting for this draft before making any kind of judgement about the new Browns regime. Like most I’m tired of the revolving door in Berea, and I wasn’t thrilled with some early comments from Joe Banner and his team that suggested they might blow up the roster, particularly at quarterback.

With that said, I’m very happy now that the draft and the first phase of free agency are completed. The biggest plus has to do with what the Browns didn’t do. Banner always said he would listen to his coaches regarding personnel and needs, and it’s clear that both Chud and Norv Turner told Banner and Lombardi that they thought they could work with Brandon Weeden. So, the Browns resisted any impulse to reach for a quarterback, and all the rumors about Geno Smith going to Cleveland turned out to be BS. That alone makes this draft a success.

I love the Barkevious Mingo pick. The Browns are obsessed with developing a pass rush, and Mingo will be another impact tool for defensive coordinator Ray Horton.

Here’s Mel Kiper’s take on the Browns draft:

I don’t know if it’s a good thing, per se, but the guy who will impact the Browns most in 2013 might not be the player they took at No. 6 overall. At No. 68 overall, they took Leon McFadden, a much-needed CB who knows how to operate on an island. As I look at the depth chart, I don’t see a reason why McFadden can’t break camp as the starter across from Joe Haden. That’s not a small deal because it also maximizes Buster Skrine, who will be able to spend more time in the slot, where he’s much better. Now, that first pick was Barkevious Mingo, a player I’m at once infatuated with as a talent, but skeptical of because of what I considered production that didn’t match up with his talent. Now, Mingo adds depth at outside linebacker, but he’s going to need some developmental work because he played with his hand on the ground at LSU. After that, there isn’t a lot here that you’ll see in 2013. Jamoris Slaughter could provide depth at safety. The lack of a second-round pick really hurt the Browns, who could have used a higher-rated guard — though I do think Garrett Gilkey has the chance to start eventually — and I thought would have been wise to add another inside linebacker. But Josh Gordon is developing and Davone Bess should provide Brandon Weeden with another solid target in the passing game. The hope is Mingo becomes a star, and McFadden can perform early. The good news is, both could happen.

I’m encouraged that the reviews on McFadden seem to be good. If he turns into a starting corner, either on the edge or in the slot, then that’s a very good pick.

Then we have the trades that brought out all the emotions from fragile Browns fans and media members. Basically, the Browns traded a 4 and a 5 and got back and 3 and a 4 for next year . . . and people complained. That’s just beyond silly. A third rounder in particular is a huge asset, as you can grab an excellent player or use it to jump up in the first round.

Our fourth round pick was also used to grab Devone Bess, which was another excellent move for the Browns. Bess gives Weeden a reliable option on third down, which was sorely lacking last year.

All in all, this draft was solid. They didn’t make the kind of headlines that impress draft graders, but who cares? Banner and company made very solid moves, and they avoided making a boneheaded move when they resisted reaching for a quarterback. Right now it looks like we can have a very disruptive front seven, and we have a young offense that has the potential to thrive under Chud and Norv Turner.

Reality setting in for new Browns regime regarding Weeden?

The news out of Berea has been much more encouraging lately with some of the statements coming from Joe Banner and Rob Chudzinski. Both seemed to make it clear that they saw some real positives with Brandon Weeden, and it appears Weeden will get every opportunity to win the starting quarterback job in the fall. They’re seeing what we all saw last year – a QB with a great arm that can make every throw, but also a rookie who made predictable mistakes. Many “experts” thought the Browns would be a complete mess last year, but they were in every game and often covered with Weeden keeping them close, so the sports betting world learned not to underestimate him.

Of course, they also challenged Weeden to step up and really work for it, and I have no problem with that at all. I also have no problem with them bringing in competition for him. For his part, Weeden is confident he will start and welcomes the competition.

Most fans and local writers seem to get this, and now the new regime seems to understand as well, though we still haven’t heard from Mike Lombardi. Chud and Norv Turner obviously saw all of this on tape, and hopefully they weren’t shy about letting banner and Lombardi know they had a guy that could run their offense. Banner seemed to state that the Browns will not waste the #6 pick on a QB, and that’s a very positive development. Of course Banner still needs to build some credibility with the media. He says he’ll never “lie” to the media, but do any of us think that his statements that Tom Heckert would be evaluated at the end of the year were honest? In hindsight, they had made up their mind, and the early rumors of Mike Lombardi were all true. Let’s hope this time he’s telling the truth.

There’s also the bizarre infatuation with the read-option that seems to unite Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner. Let’s hope this “trend” runs its course before these two shake up the QB position by trying to find running QBs.