The Calm Before the Storm
In the time period following the College Scouting Combine and the beginning of the NFL calendar year (along with free agency); teams have to do a ton of homework to help with the upgrading of their rosters. Taking a look at the front office of the Cleveland Browns, and there a bunch of moving parts that will hopefully be in lockstep quickly.
Owner Jimmy Haslam
After stepping from his post as CEO in Pilot Flying J in September, it appeared as though new Browns’ owner Jimmy Haslam was fully invested in the franchise he just acquired. He knew work had to be done; that was followed up with hirings of new CEO Joe Banner (in October 2012), president Alec Scheiner (in December 2012), and VP of Player Personnel Michael Lombardi (in January 2013). With the front office in place, new coach Rob Chudzinski was also hired in the first month of 2013 – Chud quickly assembled the remainder of his coaching staff thereafter.
Perhaps it was the confidence the owner had in his hirings, or the yearning for his previous work (which was cited by Haslam) but the Browns owner’ resumed his role at Pilot Flying J in February. Several fans worry that the team will have a similar owner to Randy Lerner – a guy who rarely spent time in Cleveland, let alone was involved in day-to-day transactions. However, Haslam attempted to quell fears by stating he would accompany others in important decisions regarding personnel (draft, free agency, etc.) Seeing this opposite end of the spectrum, now fans (of the delusional-sort) see Haslam more as a “hands-on” owner who could over-step his bounds ala Jerry Jones. It seems the new owner cannot win over the fan base no matter what he does; the bottom line is the team must be successful in the fall and supporters will, in turn, back ownership.
President Alec Scheiner
The main tasks of new president will relate to off-the-field matters, such as improvements to the game day experience. In January, Cleveland Browns Stadium was renamed to FirstEnergy Stadium (Home of the Cleveland Browns) – marking the first time the franchise has relinquished naming rights for their home venue. Many will (likely) not hear about Scheiner over the next few months, as he will be a part of “under the radar” projects. This includes concessions, security, scoreboard, Wi-Fi, and other amenities in downtown Cleveland. There have been rumblings that season ticket holders will be paying more in 2013 than they have in 2012; expect the same of single game tickets as well. Hopefully Scheiner’s improvements, as well as the product on the field, can justify the additional expenses.
CEO Joe Banner
Primarily working as a salary cap analyst with the Philadelphia Eagles, it was no surprise (under Banner’s watch) to see the Browns release a player to save money in the offseason. During the 2012 campaign, it was Dimitri Patterson – in 2013 Frostee Rucker was the first casualty. Fortunately, it appears that these departures went along with the philosophies of the new coaching staff (i.e. one that undervalues multiple defensive ends on the roster). Whether Rucker’s release was financially driven or if Banner and Chudzinski (and to a lesser extent, defensive coordinator Ray Horton) had determined it was a preliminary step heading into the offseason, remains to be seen. Things will likely become more apparent in the coming weeks however; obviously not all needs will be met in the free agency period but it will be interesting to see which positions get addressed (and the types of contracts awarded) before the draft commences.
VP of Player Personnel Michael Lombardi
Reviewing and evaluating hundreds of players during his tenure at the NFL Network (along with being an NFL personnel guy prior to that), and Lombardi is familiar with scouting football talent. I envision Lombardi being the middleman between Banner and Chudzinski in many personnel debates and discussions. Chud may want a guy or two that could fit his offense, while Banner could point out that player’s cost and ramifications (including other available personnel). I am not certain where Haslam will fit in with the front office decision-making; perhaps he and Lombardi can confer regularly. Combining the VP’s experience in the league with personnel, along with Haslam’s first-hand knowledge of a successful franchise’s (the Steelers) way of doing things could be the key for the Browns.
Coach Rob Chudzinski
I fully anticipate coach Chud giving his input to his bosses – in terms of conveying what type of athletes would help the Browns the best. Does he need a strong-armed quarterback who is less mobile (like a Brandon Weeden)? Should the team go after a quicker runner (a.k.a. Alex Smith)? Additionally, working with both of his coordinators should help empower the new coach with Banner and Lombardi. Both Horton and Norv Turner have had success as coordinators and prefer a certain style to be successful. Along these lines, they may want younger guys in some spots and experienced veterans in others. Chud may not get all (or even some) of his wishes, as there will always be give and take in these decisions. I have faith that either side will manage when the team acquires an athlete that is not “their top choice”.