NFL Nation: Mike Lombardi

When a head coach is hired before a general manager, the head coach usually wields the most influence with the team.

Think Lovie Smith in Tampa Bay. He was hired immediately after the Bucs fired Greg Schiano, and his imprint and approach will be all over the team. In the more extreme sense, think former coach Eric Mangini in Cleveland. He convinced former Browns owner Randy Lerner to hire George Kokinis as GM, then Mangini ran the team.

But with every rule there are exceptions, and thus it is with the Cleveland Browns of 2014, where neither the GM nor the coach will have the most influence with the team. That influence appears to be shared, with guidance coming from owner Jimmy Haslam.

[+] EnlargeRay Farmer
AP Photo/Tony Dejak"I will work in tandem with Coach Pettine to make sure we find the right players for him to succeed," GM Ray Farmer said.
GM Ray Farmer will be in charge of football operations, but he and coach Mike Pettine will share authority and work together in this latest incarnation of Browns' rebuilding. Farmer ultimately will be in charge of the 53-man roster and Pettine will be in charge of the roster on game days.

“(Picking players) will be a collaborative effort,” Haslam said. “I think that we’ve got a great group of scouts, and I think that Pett and his coaching staff -- we talked about this at dinner last night -- will participate, and I think that we’ll all work together to get the best players we can.”

It’s not an unusual setup. In fact, it’s very much like the setup in Pittsburgh, where GM Kevin Colbert handles personnel, Mike Tomlin handles coaching, and Art Rooney runs the team. Tomlin can go to Rooney at any point, and though Colbert has a lot of authority, it’s tough to call him Tomlin’s boss. The structure can work.

What is unusual is the timing. In most cases, the owner would want the new GM involved actively in choosing the new coach. That did not happen, through no fault of Haslam.

It seems the owner entered the coaching search without plans to make an overhaul. It actually seems that the coaching search contributed to the decision to make the overhaul.

Which means Farmer becomes GM at what could be an awkward time, but doesn’t have to be. And it doesn’t have to be if those involved don’t want it to be awkward, and don’t let it be awkward.

The job for Pettine and Farmer is to win. To set aside egos and win.

The way to win is for Pettine to let Farmer know what kind of players he wants, and for Farmer to find those players. That process has started.

“(Pettine) has already kind of set forward the players and how they kind of stack up for his scheme, the importance of one position versus another,” Farmer said. “As we work through those, I’ll get a better idea of what he needs to be successful.”

Pettine and Farmer have been impressive since being hired. Pettine is firm, straightforward and honest. Farmer has hit a lot of right notes in a couple of days since he was named GM. He’s personable, bright, answers a question, and does so without a lot of ego. He gets the idea of being on a team because he was a player, and seems to have a little something-something, a presence, that gives reason for hope. He’s also respected by many throughout the league.

None of that will draft a Pro Bowler or win a game, but it’s a good starting point.

In a recent radio interivew on 92.3 The Fan in Cleveland, Farmer was asked what kind of team he would build. He said tough, because that’s the kind of team Pettine wants to build.

Farmer said Tuesday that the Browns already have multiple draft boards, but they would change as he consults with coaches. He said the draft is about preparation, that by the time players are picked “the hay is in the barn.”

“It was explained to me that a general manager’s role is to ensure the success of his head coach,” Farmer said. “So I will work in tandem with Coach Pettine to make sure we find the right players for him to succeed.”

If that sounds like it had a good dose of humility, it’s because it did.
Jimmy Haslam’s remake (i.e. streamlining) of the Cleveland Browns front office was a major bombshell.

But according to league sources familiar with the way things went with the Browns in 2013, the decision was a culmination of Haslam, the Browns' owner, coming to grips with several factors, primarily that the structure CEO Joe Banner convinced him to build was not working.

Whether that was because of the personality of the people involved or because of the structure itself is a matter of opinion.

Haslam spoke highly of Banner even as he was announcing his departure.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Haslam
AP Photo/Tony DejakTrading star WR Josh Gordon would likely have been a PR disaster for the Browns and owner Jimmy Haslam.
“It’s been a pleasure to work with him,” Haslam said. He then called former general manager Mike Lombardi a great friend who has “great football acumen.” Haslam added that he and Banner had been discussing this streamlining for two weeks. It would be tough to find a higher road for the owner, which is admirable.

The sources said the change in the team’s structure with both coach Mike Pettine and new GM Ray Farmer reporting directly to Haslam is a fallout from the former system, which had everyone providing information to Banner.

The owner prefers more direct channels.

The sources also addressed several reports of what happened with the Browns last season:

• One source said Lombardi favored trading Josh Gordon. On the day Gordon was selected in the second round of the supplemental draft in 2012, Lombardi -- then an analyst with NFL.com -- criticized the selection. Former coach Rob Chudzinski, aware his receiving corps would have been left with Greg Little and Davone Bess and who knows, worked hard to keep Gordon. Eventually, Banner did not like the offers he received. Gordon went on to lead the league in receiving yards. He averaged 97 yards per game before the trade deadline in late October, 133 after.

Lombardi would not comment on his position on Gordon, and declined comment on other matters related to the team and season. Chudzinski now works for the Indianapolis Colts, who make their assistants available only at certain times of the year. Now is not one of those times.

• Banner did not ask Chudzinski to cut Little and guard Shawn Lauvao. However, Banner’s personnel moves did leave Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner frustrated. Bess was brought in by Lombardi to be the dependable third-down guy. He was anything but. At one point the Browns had Bess starting ahead of Little, an indicator of the coaches’ frustration and “what are we supposed to do” thinking. There was ongoing frustration about the running back position. Farmer was asked Tuesday if Banner was a good judge of football talent, and he thought a moment before answering: “I could tell you that Joe is a football guy. He would classify himself as a non-traditional football guy, and I would say that is a good representation.”

• The only time the team seriously discussed acquiring a back after the Trent Richardson trade was when the possibility of trading Gordon was discussed. When Richardson was traded, there was no other immediate plan to acquire a back.

• Banner tried to exert control over much -- from personnel to offensive system, which galled the former coaching staff given the experience of Turner.

• The coaching staff considered the draft a near waste. Barkevious Mingo at the sixth pick was a situational pass-rusher, and Leon McFadden was drafted two rounds earlier than the team’s scouts projected. The team also traded two picks in 2013 for picks in 2014. Those picks will benefit the new coaching staff at the expense of the old. “Ridiculous,” said one NFL coach.

• The mesh between the scouts held over from former GM Tom Heckert to Lombardi was difficult. No scouts were in the Browns' draft room during the ‘13 draft. Many transitions with a front office and scouts are tough; this one seemed tougher.

• The free agents and acquisitions were much touted, but league insiders point out that only Paul Kruger started with his former team. Quentin Groves, Desmond Bryant and Dion Lewis were backups. Quarterback Brian Hoyer played well and earned the respect of everyone, but there were very few coaches in the league who saw him as a starter when the Browns acquired him.

• In the news conference after Chudzinski was fired, Banner called Groves, Bryant and Lewis “excellent additions.” Haslam sat to Banner’s left as he spoke. All six of the team’s Pro Bowlers, though, were brought in by either Heckert, Eric Mangini or Phil Savage.

• Haslam gained much of his insight on the team from Banner, who was the voice between Lombardi, the coaches and Haslam.

• There is a belief that Haslam’s eyes were opened to how his team was viewed around the league as the 25-day coaching search took place. In talking with people from other teams, Haslam learned firsthand of the reluctance of some coaches to work in the Browns' old structure, and of the difficulty in dealing with the Browns in terms of trades. Peter King wrote on SI.com that the first question Ken Whisenhunt asked when the Browns interviewed him this year was why he was not hired a year ago. Banner told Whisenhunt he did not believe Whisenhunt was putting together a championship staff. “Who are you to tell me what makes up a championship staff?” Whisenhunt snapped.

• It may have meant something or nothing, but one of the last things Haslam said Tuesday was: “I think we got the best coach we could get.”

Piece everything together and it’s evident why Haslam preferred a more streamlined operation.

He wants people working together, reporting to him, with no filter between the voices.

The structure seems almost as clear as the reasons that prompted it.
Jimmy Haslam, Joe Banner and Mike LombardiAP Photo/Mark DuncanBrowns owner Jimmy Haslam, right, is parting ways with Mike Lombardi, center, and CEO Joe Banner.
BEREA, Ohio -- If what Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam did on Tuesday was streamlining, it would be downright frightening to see his overhaul.

The coffee cups might not even be safe.

Haslam blew up not only his front office structure on Tuesday, but also blew out the people he initially hired to run it. CEO Joe Banner will transition out of the front office over the next two months, and general manager Mike Lombardi is gone. Both were said to be shocked at the moves, though Haslam said he and Banner discussed streamlining the team’s structure two weeks ago. If those realities sound implausible, well ... hey ... it’s the Browns.

Ray Farmer is the new GM, promoted from assistant GM. Alec Scheiner becomes a true president, in charge of business operations with no CEO over him.

They, along with coach Mike Pettine, will report directly to Haslam.

Haslam chose not to dump dirt on the folks who are leaving, praising them effusively for the jobs they did and thanking them over and over. But it’s pretty clear the NFL-arranged marriage between Haslam and Banner didn’t work, and Haslam wanted to regain charge of his team.

He called it a streamlining that he and Banner discussed and agreed to, which would make it one of the few times in history that an NFL CEO streamlined himself out of a job.

Haslam explained it by saying Banner was adept at building a new organization, and he had done that. His work in Cleveland, evidently, was over.

“Jimmy just corrected a mistake,” one league coach said.

Haslam spoke in his news conference in a way that would have made the governor of Tennessee proud, a man who just happens to be Haslam’s brother.

But this streamlining sure seemed to carry a ton of accountability with it. Though Haslam again denied there is a negative public perception of the Browns, there is no denying the team has been buffeted about in heavy seas without a sail in recent months.

[+] EnlargeRay Farmer
AP Photo/Tony DejakRay Farmer was named Cleveland's GM on Tuesday.
There were puzzling personnel decisions during the season, the distasteful leaks as Rob Chudzinski tried to coach the season finale, Norv Turner’s emotional reaction to the coaching change (the thought alone of Turner being let go by the Browns is mind-boggling), the Davone Bess trade and contract extension, followed by his bizarre behavior after the season and his even more bizarre tweets and news that he had similar issues prior to his trade.

There was the extended coaching search, with coaches declining to take the job -- including Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen. Wisconsin admitted Tuesday that he had interviewed but decided to stay with the Badgers.

There was Josh McDaniels pulling out, after Chip Kelly chose Philadelphia over Cleveland a year ago, after Nick Saban chose not to interview. Their common denominator is they were all said to be in Lombardi’s circle.

There was more, and as time goes on more will come out. Banner always ran a team with a firm hand, leading, some said, by fear and intimidation. It can work, but it wasn’t popular. At last year’s draft, the team scouts rated cornerback Leon McFadden as a fifth- or sixth-round pick, and the Browns took him in the third round. Future draft picks were traded away. Tony Grossi reported on ESPN-850 radio in Cleveland that he spoke with two NFL insiders at the Super Bowl, two Lombardi guys, and they both said Banner was to blame for what was wrong in Cleveland, that Banner was calling the shots.

Banner was deep into analytics, numbers, while old-time football guys would favor old-time scouting. Lombardi perfected the “box test,” which supposedly tested player agility. Old-time football guys favor how a guy tackles and closes on receivers. Lombardi never met with the media, a decision made by Banner, who handled personnel questions and decisions.

Asked if Banner was a good judge of football talent, Farmer said this: “Joe is a football guy. He would classify himself as a non-traditional football guy, and I’d say that’s a good representation."

Banner did secure $30 million in funding from the city of Cleveland for stadium renovations, and he did bring Farmer to Cleveland from Kansas City and juggled titles so Farmer could join the team.

But the Browns did not resemble a team working together. In the past month they resembled a team eating its own, with folks struggling to protect their fiefdoms.

An owner who came from the Steelers' tradition had to look at his structure and wonder what was happening. Because hiring a coach into the same structure was not going to change the operation.

Haslam now has taken a drastic step ... err ... has streamlined to put a guy in charge who garners near universal respect around the league. Farmer hit all the right notes in his news conference, saying “It’s time to make people proud of the Browns again.” That won’t help him select a quarterback, but there almost seemed to be a breath of relief from the fandom following these changes.

A business guy is running business.

A football guy is running football.

A coach is coaching.

All report to the owner.

Imagine that. A respected longtime football guy running football. As anyone in Cleveland can attest, it doesn’t guarantee wins. But it’s something.

For team and a fan base that has had little reason for optimism the past many years, something is meaningful.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- You want quick reaction, immediate consequences, fast change.

It's the default setting for the vast majority of fans. Your team butchers a signing, a draft pick, a game, a season, and people need to be fired. Heads need to roll. Patience isn't a virtue, it's a weakness.

If you think that way even at times, I present to you the Cleveland Browns.

They fired Rob Chudzinski as their coach after one season. And Tuesday, not long after hiring Mike Pettine to replace him, they've fired general manager Mike Lombardi, also after one season, and said CEO Joe Banner will step away in the next two months. Ray Farmer is being promoted to GM.

The Browns undergo near-constant change, and it's incredibly unhealthy.

Maybe Jimmy Haslam decided he made bad hires in Chudzinski, Lombardi and Banner. If that's the case it's better to get rid of them than to make it work.

But you know what trumps all of that? Making the right hires in the first place.

The Titans have a third head coach in five years now in Ken Whisenhunt. But it's an organization that would rate as very patient. Ruston Webster, the GM who's got a lot of power now with Tommy Smith as CEO and team president, has time to work. The coach he told Smith to hire, Whisenhunt, got a five-year deal.

Hire good people, put them in place, give them time to work.

It's a formula that's worked for New England, Pittsburgh, the New York Giants and the Packers.

Notice how teams want to be like those four a lot more than they want to be anything like the Browns.

Beware of the desire for immediate and drastic consequences.

Five Thoughts: Kirk Cousins

February, 2, 2014
Feb 2
2:50
PM ET

  1. It’s not big news that Kirk Cousins would like to go somewhere he can at least compete for a starting job. But here’s the deal: You have to wonder why that story, by ESPN's Adam Schefter, came out now. There’s a reason: This is about Cousins being proactive in trying to push for a trade and reminding teams that, yes, he would welcome a move. It's not earth-shattering news, but that wasn't the intention, I'm guessing, of the story's genesis. He is not demanding a trade, nor is that his style. But he definitely understands that Jay Gruden was brought to the Redskins in part to help Robert Griffin III reach a certain level. Yes, I had heard that the idea was told to Cousins; I don’t think that’s news. By the way, any competitive person should want to be in a position to start. No one wants to stay too long in a place where, if things go right for the starter, you might never get that opportunity. That’s why, from what I understand, the notion of welcoming a trade was relayed to the Redskins before Gruden was hired.
  2. Based on previous conversations I’ve had with him, Cousins understands his situation rather well. That’s why he would not demand a trade. He has little leverage because he just hasn’t played enough, so demanding a trade would not be a good look for a guy who has four career starts and could lead to a burned bridge. Besides, if he demanded a trade, how would fans react? Even if they understood, it would not be wise. Here’s something Cousins once told me of being in Washington: “I love the fan base, and I love where I live. The problem is that I’m here to build a great career, and I can only do that so much in D.C.” Because Griffin starts, of course.
  3. Even in those prior conversations, Cousins was well aware that some teams would not be inclined to give up enough to pry him from the Redskins. I’m guessing his thoughts on the matter have not changed. One conversation we had centered on what his value was. Cousins understood that teams would compare their pre-draft thoughts on him to what they’ve seen of him in his first two years. Did their pre-draft grade match up with what he’s shown? If not, where has his performance been better -- or worse? It also will be compared against the current draft class. At one point it looked like this might be a deep group of quarterbacks. Not anymore.
  4. Some teams -- not all -- would definitely want to see more than four starts or eight games played before giving up, say, a second-round draft pick for Cousins. A first-rounder at this point would be highly unlikely. Although the Cleveland Browns are about to name Kyle Shanahan offensive coordinator and Shanahan liked Cousins, the Browns are said to be targeting a quarterback with their first pick. They also have Brian Hoyer (coming off an ACL injury, but if he recovers on time, he reportedly should be fine by the spring), whom the front office reportedly likes. Hoyer is not Aaron Rodgers, but he played well when given the chance this past season. If he’ll be ready and if the Browns are still set on selecting a quarterback, it’s tough to see Cleveland doing something. But this was an interesting column the Browns’ general manager, Mike Lombardi, wrote about Shanahan/Cousins. Going back to the picks, if another team does want Cousins, what would offset some of the lack of game action will be the opinion of Mike Shanahan, who saw the quarterback's progression in practice. How much that would help I don’t know, but it would be a factor, I’m sure.
  5. If I’m the Redskins, I don’t trade him -- and certainly not for anything less than a second-round pick. Although Cousins clearly wants to go somewhere to start, he’s also the sort of guy who would not be a problem if he does return. He’s a perfect backup for Griffin, and has been, for that reason. And if Griffin somehow is bothered by the competition, that’s a bigger issue. If Cousins returns, he will work hard, provide good insurance in case Griffin either struggles or doesn’t stay healthy. That’s who he is and who he has been. But he also will continue to show that he’ll advocate for himself, as the trade story suggests.
At the risk of developing a relationship with everyone in the Twitter-sphere -- admit it, it's a scary thought -- today marks the debut of the (drum roll, please) Browns Mailbag, named partly in honor of David Letterman.

Post your Browns questions on Twitter. Just send them to me @PatMcManamon with #BrownsMail on the post. I'll sort through and find the best and give as honest an answer as I can, time and space and legalities permitting. Your tweets will be embedded in the post, so please, keep them appropriate.

This wouldn't be me if I were entirely serious, so quirky questions are welcome, provided they pass the personal taste test, standards enacted by Sir Laurence Olivier and me.

On to the first edition of the (drum roll, please) Browns Mailbag.

The Cleveland Browns brass is headed to New England to interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels on Saturday.

McDaniels
McDaniels
McDaniels chose not to interview with the Browns a year ago but this time will speak with the team. He cannot be hired until the Patriots are out of the playoffs.

McDaniels' stock with Denver was high in 2009, as he started 6-0 with the Broncos. But his reign quickly fell apart as the Broncos lost 17 of the next 22 games and McDaniels was implicated in illegally filming a 49ers walk-through.

He went to St. Louis for one year before returning to his roots, working with Bill Belichick in New England.

Mike Lombardi -- then working for NFL.com and the NFL Network -- wrote a passionate defense of McDaniels in 2010, saying the Broncos did not give him a chance to completely install his system and instead reverted back to Denver's old ways.

" ... when coaches leave an established program like the one in New England, not every owner is willing to embrace the time it takes to lay the foundation," wrote Lombardi, now the Browns' general manager.

That statement seems oddly ironic now.

Alas, we digress.

Lombardi clearly believes in McDaniels. But in Denver, McDaniels wanted and received major say in personnel. One of his decisions was to trade Jay Cutler and bring in Kyle Orton. Brandon Marshall was eventually traded as well -- Marshall has had seven 1,000-yard seasons in a row and has averaged 1,258 since the trade.

With the Browns, CEO Joe Banner oversees football, which means he oversees personnel.

Whether Joe Banner can work out an arrangement with McDaniels, and whether McDaniels can agree to Banner's structure, might be a major point in the discussions.
Owner Jimmy Haslam talked about hiring a proven winner to replace Rob Chudzinski, so it was odd when the first names that surfaced in the Cleveland Browns' coaching search were coordinators.

Then on Sunday, CBSSports.com's Jason La Canfora reported that the Browns were interested in two college coaches: Auburn's Gus Malzahn and Vanderbilt's James Franklin. These names could fall under the category Haslam described.

[+] EnlargeGus Malzahn
AP Photo/Dave MartinThe Browns are reportedly interested in Gus Malzahn, who led Auburn to the BCS title game in his first season as head coach.
Malzahn's name is interesting. He's this year's Chip Kelly, the guy the Browns did not get a year ago. That failure stung, especially after Kelly initially indicated he'd return to Oregon but then joined the Eagles and led them to the playoffs. The timing isn't good for Malzahn, who is preparing his Auburn team to play Florida State in the national title game. But if Malzahn's goal is to be in the NFL, the timing won't matter.

Malzahn was Cam Newton's offensive coordinator when the Tigers won the national title. He spent a year as head coach at Arkansas State before returning to be the head coach at Auburn this season. Like Kelly, he has been tied to the read-option offense.

Franklin is a former Packers assistant who had success in one of the toughest places in the SEC to have success, Vanderbilt. He has also been rumored to be on the list of other NFL teams with openings, and his name has been floated in relation to Penn State, which needs a coach after Bill O'Brien left for the Houston Texans.

The college names are interesting, because it's tough for NFL coordinators to have proven records of winning. College head coaches can.

While most in the league shook their head at the firing of Chudzinski after one season, almost as many are interested to see who is hired. In the structure the Browns have, Banner is in charge of football and personnel. A coach would have to accept that structure.

Other names that have surfaced include:

New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. At first glance McDaniels would seem to be a front-runner. He's from Northeast Ohio and went to college at John Carroll in suburban Cleveland. But sources have said Banner must be convinced, and that could be a challenge. McDaniels would seem to want control over personnel the way Belichick has it in New England. Given the Browns structure, that demand might be tough to meet.

Arizona defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. Good guy, respected coach. He worked for the Browns from 2001 to 2004 as defensive backs coach before moving on to the Cowboys, Dolphins, Eagles and Cardinals, where he was Bruce Arians' choice to coach the defense. It's tough to find anyone who will say much negative about Bowles. He also would fill the league's Rooney Rule mandate.

Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. He will also interview with the Vikings. Under Quinn this season, Seattle led the NFL in points allowed, yards allowed, passing yards allowed and interceptions. He spent two years as the Florida Gators' coordinator, and has been an assistant with several NFL teams.

Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase. Every year there's a young coordinator who garners attention. It appears this year it's Gase, who had the benefit of working with Peyton Manning. That sure helps a coach look good, but it also helps a coach gain knowledge. Don't discount the recommendation Manning may have given on behalf of Gase; Manning and Haslam are friends. Gase, though, could hurt his chances by deciding not to interview until the Broncos' postseason run is over. It's an admirable stance, but the Browns may not wait.
The Cleveland Browns are officially on the clock. The Browns must deliver a franchise quarterback in the 2014 draft, or the next excruciatingly painful 14 weeks will be an utter waste.

The white flag was raised on the Browns' 2013 season Wednesday afternoon when they shocked the football world by trading running back Trent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts for a first-round draft pick. I initially thought someone had hacked Adam Schefter's Twitter account when I read the news. Trading your top player for a draft pick after two games? This is strange even by the Browns' standards. The Browns received a pick that will likely end up in the bottom half of the first round and are left with no offense for the rest of the season. This is a bad trade, and the only way the Browns can save face is by finding the new face of the franchise.

[+] EnlargeTeddy Bridgewater
AP Photo/James CrispThe Cleveland Browns will surely take a hard look at taking Teddy Bridgewater in the 2014 draft.
Browns CEO Joe Banner, general manager Mike Lombardi and coach Rob Chudzinski are pushing all of their chips into the 2014 draft, which is 232 days away for those wondering when the Browns can become relevant again. The Browns have multiple picks in the first, third and fourth rounds, giving them the means to draft the quarterback of the future that they want.

Will it be Teddy Bridgewater? Johnny Manziel? Or how about Tajh Boyd? I have no idea right now. All I know is the Browns had better be right after mortgaging this season so quickly.

“Right now, based on how we’re building this team for sustainable success, we’re going to be aggressive and do what it takes to assemble a team that consistently wins," Banner said in a statement.

Browns fans, who have enjoyed just two winning seasons since the team rejoined the league in 1999, don't want to hear about "building." They want some assurance that this team is headed in the right direction. Right now, hope and offensive talent are in short supply in Cleveland.

The day began with the Browns announcing Brian Hoyer will replace the injured Brandon Weeden at starting quarterback for Sunday's game at Minnesota. It ended with Cleveland announcing Willis McGahee is coming to town to replace Richardson, if McGahee passes his physical. McGahee for Richardson? Even the worst fantasy football owners are snickering about this.

Richardson hasn't lived up to the hype of being the No. 3 overall pick in 2012. His career average of 3.5 yards per carry is less than pedestrian. It's easy to say the Browns lost with Richardson and can lose without him. That's not seeing the big picture. If that's the case, the Browns should trade Pro Bowl offensive tackle Joe Thomas, too.

All you have to do is watch Richardson to see his potential. He played most of his rookie season with broken ribs. He was running behind an offensive line this year that doesn't get any push off the ball. Richardson is a powerful and versatile runner who has the talent to be a top-five back in this league. The Colts will give him the opportunity and carries to prove that.

This is the latest move showing the Browns' new regime wants its own players. Of the 27 players drafted by former general manager Tom Heckert from 2010 to 2012, only 15 are currently on the 53-man roster, with Richardson being the latest to go. Now, the decision-makers can set their sights on getting their own quarterback.

My question is who's going to take the handoffs from the new quarterback? Young quarterbacks in this league had reliable runners. Matt Ryan had Michael Turner, and Joe Flacco has Ray Rice. Richardson would have been an integral part of the supporting cast for a rookie first-round pick.

I understand the need to get the quarterback position fixed. That has to be a priority for a franchise that is on its 19th starting quarterback since 1999. Weeden knows he has no future after hearing of the Richardson trade. Hoyer is merely a stop-gap.

The pressure is on the new regime to get the right franchise quarterback in 2014. If not, it could be the one getting sacked in a few years.
Cleveland Browns coach Rob Chudzinski made it clear that he isn't ready to name a starting quarterback just yet, describing the competition between Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell as "close."

Do I understand why he said it? Yes. Do I believe him? Definitely not.

Weeden
Weeden has taken every single snap with the first-team offense in training camp. He showed progress in the Browns' new offensive system in the preseason opener, when he completed 10 of 13 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown.

It kind of reminds me of the duck test. If Weeden looks like a starting quarterback and plays like a starting quarterback, then he is probably the starting quarterback.

If I were in Chudzinski's situation, I wouldn't have named Weeden the undisputed starter just yet either. You don't want Weeden to rest on one good start, and you don't want Campbell to stop putting pressure on Weeden. There are still three and a half weeks until the Browns start the season, and Weeden hasn't earned anything so far.

What I don't agree with is Chudzinski calling the quarterback battle "close." I'm sure even Campbell doesn't believe it. This comes across as a silly mind game. Chudzinski should have just stuck with his opening answer: "There's a point where I will name a starting quarterback. I am not ready to do it yet."

When asked how he could describe the competition as close when Weeden has worked exclusively with the starters, Chudzinski said, "There's still three preseason games left so there's still a lot of work to be done, and we've still got plenty of practice time as well. Every day is an evaluation and they've each done well and shown good things along the way."

Continuing to challenge him in this manner is another example of the Browns' tough love with Weeden. This new regime didn't draft Weeden with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2012 draft, and this new regime probably wouldn't have used that pick on him if Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi were calling the shots a year ago.

But Weeden is seen as a good fit in Chudzinski and Norv Turner's offense because of his strong arm. Many feel Weeden has 16 games this season to convince the Browns' decision-makers that he can be the team's franchise quarterback. Based on Chudzinski's comments Tuesday, it will take a while for Weeden to find out where he stands.
By now, everyone knows the Cleveland Browns agreed on a two-year contract with quarterback Brian Hoyer. The question that remains is Hoyer's role.

Hoyer
My take on Hoyer is he's a notch below backup quarterback Jason Campbell but probably better than most teams' No. 3. Unless Brandon Weeden struggles mightily in training camp and the preseason, the only spot Hoyer is competing for is the backup one.

Do I know this for certain? No. There's reason to think Hoyer will be given an opportunity to have a significant role, based on an old quote from Browns general manager Mike Lombardi when he was an NFL Network analyst. It was dug up by The Plain Dealer.

"I think Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett are starters," Lombardi said in December 2011. "I've said this many times: If I would have taken the GM job of the 49ers, I would have gone after Brian Hoyer, because I think he has all the traits and characteristics. If I were the Cleveland Browns, I'd rather have Brian Hoyer behind center than Colt McCoy. I think he's got all the traits you need, in terms of leadership, toughness, the arm strength, the ability to move the team."

Before there is a buzz about Hoyer battling for the starting job, you should consider two points: Head coach Rob Chudzinski will decide the starting quarterback for the Browns and this quote is 17 months old. Since Lombardi said this, Hoyer has made one career start and bounced from New England to Pittsburgh to Arizona.

His career numbers are one start, a 59.4 completion rate, 616 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Not exactly starting-quarterback statistics there. Also, if the Browns wanted Hoyer to be the starter, they would've traded a late-round pick for him during the draft (which was the speculation) instead of hoping he would get released.

Right now, the Browns are proceeding with Weeden, who took snaps with the first team for the second minicamp in a row.

"This means a lot to me," Weeden told reporters Thursday. "This is my job. I take it seriously and I want to be the guy."

If Weeden fails to be "the guy," I believe the next quarterback up is Campbell and not Hoyer.
There's increasing buzz that West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith will land with the Cleveland Browns, a team that has feigned interest in drafting a quarterback with their top pick for months.

In their latest mock drafts Wednesday, NFL Network draft analyst Mike Mayock and Sports Illustrated's Peter King both have the Browns taking Smith, the consensus No. 1 quarterback in the draft. The Browns had been linked more to Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner because chief executive officer Joe Banner said a couple of times this offseason that quarterback wasn't the focus for the No. 6 overall pick.

The Browns, however, have done their homework on Smith and the rest of the quarterback class. Smith had a private workout with Cleveland, which was attended by coach Rob Chudzinski. Is this a matter of the Browns doing their due diligence, or are the Browns really interested?

"There are quarterbacks in this draft that are intriguing," Banner said at last week's pre-draft press conference. "We will have to make an evaluation between now and Thursday on just how intriguing. Other teams will be doing the same thing, so you will see what is available where. We are not going into it with a focus other than trying to build the team, especially at key positions that we think really, really good teams are strong at, and move forward that way."

It's known that general manager Mike Lombardi isn't a fan of Brandon Weeden based on his comments as a NFL Network analyst a year ago. What isn't known is the coaching staff's thoughts on Weeden, a first-round pick in 2012.

Asked about Weeden at the pre-draft press conference, Lombardi had neither good nor bad to say about the quarterback through three days of minicamp.

"I've been really busy," Lombardi said Thursday. "I've watched the tape (of Weeden). I am really studying on the draft at this point and watching the tape of the practice."

Could the Browns take a quarterback in the first round in consecutive drafts?

Mayock certainly believes so: "When I look at Geno, I see a kid who's got everything you want to see in a franchise quarterback, but there's just too much bad tape. I would not take him this early; I would go for an edge or a corner. However, I really think Joe Banner might pull the trigger on the quarterback from West Virginia."

King has the Browns selecting Smith after trading with the San Diego Chargers to No. 11. "Don't let the smokescreen acquisition of Jason Campbell, a backup, fool you: the Browns want a QB in this draft, and they get one," King wrote.

My prediction? I still consider it a long shot that the Browns will take Smith at No. 6, although there is a better chance of them taking that gamble if they trade back. We'll find out what the Browns are really thinking when they're on the clock Thursday night.
» NFC Eight in the Box: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Welcome to Eight in the Box, an NFL Nation feature that will appear each Friday during the offseason. This week’s topic: How each AFC North team needs to address the quarterback position.

Baltimore Ravens: The biggest issue with Baltimore is whether it will reach a long-term deal with Joe Flacco by Monday or use the franchise tag on him to keep him off the free-agent market. If the Ravens use the tag, it will likely be the exclusive one to stop Flacco from negotiating with other teams. It's safe to say the Super Bowl MVP will remain the Ravens' starter in 2013. There is more uncertainty with the backup spot. Tyrod Taylor has been Flacco's backup the past two seasons, but there was a sense that Baltimore tried to upgrade the spot when it signed Curtis Painter last offseason. It wouldn't be a surprise if the Ravens used a late-round pick on a quarterback or signed a veteran free agent to compete with Taylor again. The backup quarterback position hasn't been an important spot for the Ravens because Flacco hasn't missed a game in five NFL seasons. UPDATE: The Ravens and Flacco agreed to a long-term deal Friday night.

Cincinnati Bengals: The Bengals can't be happy that Andy Dalton had four interceptions returned for touchdowns last season and flopped in the playoffs for a second consecutive year. But Cincinnati still has confidence in Dalton and isn't expected to bring in anyone who will threaten his hold on the starting job. There is a decision to be made at the No. 2 spot because Bruce Gradkowski is a free agent. The Bengals will probably look to re-sign Gradkowski, who is familiar with Jay Gruden's offense. If the team decides to go in a different direction, the Bengals could add another veteran backup (which has been head coach Marvin Lewis' preference) or use a late-round pick on a quarterback.

Cleveland Browns: This is the one starting quarterback job that is up in the air in the division. The Browns' new regime will have a competition in training camp, but Brandon Weeden is still considered the favorite to remain the starter. There's a chance that the Browns will trade for Patriots backup Ryan Mallett, a rumored favorite of vice president of player personnel Mike Lombardi. Cleveland, though, would prefer not to give up a draft pick after using a second-round one on wide receiver Josh Gordon in last year's supplemental draft. And it doesn't sound as though the Browns intend to draft a quarterback like Geno Smith with the No. 6 overall pick. The Browns can provide some competition for Weeden by signing the Dolphins' Matt Moore or the Saints' Chase Daniel out of a weak free-agent class.

Pittsburgh Steelers: As long as Ben Roethlisberger stays healthy, there's no question that he's the starting quarterback. Roethlisberger, though, hasn't played a full season since 2008, which puts more emphasis on the backup position. This could be the year when the Steelers look for a younger quarterback in the mid-to-late rounds to develop. Zac Dysert, a Miami (Ohio) quarterback like Roethlisberger, is expected to go in the fourth or fifth round. The Steelers went with more experienced backups last season in Charlie Batch and Byron Leftwich, both of whom are free agents and whose returns are uncertain. Batch is 38 years old, and Leftwich is not durable. Even if there was a better free-agent backup available, Pittsburgh doesn't have the cap room to sign him.
Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam talked about completing "the team" with the hiring of Mike Lombardi as the vice president of player personnel. So, who will have final authority over football matters: Lombardi, chief executive officer Joe Banner or coach Rob Chudzinski?

"We're going to have a group that is now rounded out and that's going to collaborate on these decisions," Banner said Friday at Lombardi's introductory news conference. "We're going to try to drive toward a consensus. We probably won't do things about which we don't have a consensus. So we really won't ever get into who has final say."

It's been rumored for months that Lombardi would become the Browns' top personnel director and it's drawn a negative backlash from media and fans. Lombardi touched upon that when he said he saw the reactions of reporters when he walked into the media room.

"But I take them as a positive," Lombardi said. "I have never shied away from a challenge."

Banner, who has a long relationship with Lombardi, defended the Browns' decision to hire Lombardi.

"I've spoken with and spent a lot of time with some excellent talent evaluators in this league and there's no question, when it comes to that, he's near or at the top of the quality of talent evaluators that exist in this league," Banner said.

During his time as an analyst for the NFL Network, Lombardi has been critical of the Browns' draft picks, including wide receiver Josh Gordon and quarterback Brandon Weeden. Now, Lombardi is in charge of those players. When it was announced the Lombardi was joining the Browns, Gordon put out a tweet: "Uh oh.. Am I in trouble??"

Lombardi explained that it's "a different evaluation" of players when you're part of the media as opposed to and NFL executive.

"You need to get involved in terms of their personalities here," Lombardi said. "I don't know Josh Gordon or Brandon Weeden in terms of watching them play from the outside. So it's a different evaluation than what it is from a media perspective than inside the house. It's going to be different that way."

The Browns recently interviewed Chiefs director of pro personnel Ray Farmer for the personnel job. Minnesota's George Paton and Seattle's John Idzik were also reportedly in the mix as well.

Banner said the deciding factor was finding the person who had the vision to build a team.

"There are a lot of teams in the league that picks players and don't really have a clear understanding of the difference between doing that and assembling a team where people compliment each other and you create the right culture, attitude and work ethic," Banner said. "[It's about] picking players that fit your particular program as opposed to picking good players and making personnel people look good and not necessarily making the team any better."

Because Lombardi had been the long-rumored top candidate, it seems now that the other interviews were more of a charade. But Haslam said he only spoke to Lombardi about the job over the last week.

"I know we got the very best possible person to be a GM," Haslam said. "I think we've now completed the team at the top."
I didn't think the Browns made the right move when they fired general manager Tom Heckert 19 days ago. Now, that move is even more puzzling with the announcement that the Browns have hired Mike Lombardi as their vice president of player personnel.

Replacing Heckert with Lombardi makes no sense. Heckert had rebuilt the Browns' roster, laying a foundation with the likes of Joe Haden, Phil Taylor, Trent Richardson, T.J. Ward, Jabaal Sheard and Josh Gordon. Lombardi was an analyst for the NFL Network who hadn't worked full-time for an NFL team since 2007. If Lombardi was the top choice to be the de-facto general manager, the Browns should have kept Heckert.

The decision to go with Lombardi over Heckert once again makes you think that this is the old regime and not the new one. Mike Holmgren got blasted when he selected "his guy" Pat Shurmur as coach. Chief executive officer Joe Banner is doing the same thing with "his guy" Lombardi. You'll hear stories about how Patriots coach Bill Belichick respects Lombardi so much that they still talk about teams leading up to games. But my question is why Belichick wasn't the one hiring Lombardi.

The reason why Lombardi is with the Browns is because of his relationship with Banner. He worked with Banner in Philadelphia where he helped run the draft in 1997 and served as director of pro personnel in 1998. Banner regards Lombardi as one of the smartest personnel executives he's ever worked with.

One reason I'm skeptical of this move is Lombardi's assessment of the Browns. As an analyst, Lombardi was critical of Heckert's Trent Richardson-Brandon Weeden draft, calling it a "panic disaster." He also blasted the supplemental draft pick of Gordon as a "wasted draft pick," which could prove out to be Heckert's best pick in terms of value. Now, the pressure will be on Lombardi to do a better job than Heckert.

As much as the Browns' hiring of Rob Chudzinski was surprising, the addition of Lombardi was far from it. It was first speculated in August, and Banner refused to comment on it. It's now a reality and I'm still trying to understand why.

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