When Jimmy Haslam’s purchase of the Cleveland Browns was made final on Oct. 25, he was hailed by some as the savior who would shepherd the long-suffering franchise and its fans to a Super Bowl. But now that the honeymoon is over, the question lingers: Are the Browns headed in the right direction?
In Haslam and CEO Joe Banner’s quest for a big-name coach, the two heavily pursued Oregon head coach Chip Kelly. But they unexpectedly moved on, citing a lack of commitment from Kelly.
Less than a week later, Haslam and Banner made a “stunning” hire of Rob Chudzinski. The Browns traded a head coach who had his team on the right track, a.k.a. Pat Shurmur, for another rookie coach with no head coaching experience.
Following that move, the Browns hired former NFL Network analyst Michael Lombardi to be the team’s vice president of player personnel, in essence the general manager with less power. Hired after spending five years outside of the league, Lombardi has been associated with dreadful drafts and questionable decisions in unsuccessful stints with the Browns and the Raiders.
To me, the immediate future in Cleveland does not look promising. All rookie head coaches struggle with growing pains, and Chudzinski will be no different. Making the everyday personnel decisions will be Lombardi, who was a TV analyst for the past five years. He is a definite downgrade when compared to former GM Tom Heckert.
On the field, a number of big questions remain. A looming switch to a 3-4 defense from a 4-3 scheme promises to bring unneeded change to a much-improved unit. Banner and Haslam hired a defensive coordinator, Ray Horton, who ran it in Arizona. With the skill set present on defense, the Browns are not suited to run a 3-4. A switch will require the team to dump its wealth of talent at defensive line for depth at linebacker, ultimately adding at least another year or two onto the rebuilding process.
Any NFL executive will tell you that regardless of who is running an organization, without the right quarterback, the team will not succeed. Neither Brandon Weeden (too many deep flaws), nor Colt McCoy (lackluster arm strength), nor Thaddeus Lewis (lacks top-level talent) is the right QB. With the top quarterback of the draft being Geno Smith, and few exciting free agent signal callers available, the Browns are in trouble at the most important position in football.
The Browns have a lot of young talent. This is an exciting team that has the potential for greatness. But as of right now, I am not convinced that the Browns are any better off with this new regime in place.