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Why would Alex Mack view Jacksonville as desirable?

Apr 10, 2014 -- 7:32am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/ESPN

Alex Mack’s likely signing of an offer sheet from the Jacksonville Jaguars forces the Browns to either match the contract or lose the two-time Pro Bowl center without compensation.

It also forces Browns fans to ponder why Mack, who has been a fixture in the lineup without complaint, would opt for a future in Jacksonville over Cleveland.

Mack’s true feelings won’t be known unless and until he expounds on his logic, but here are a few possible reasons he may judge the Jaguars a gamble as good or better than a continued future with the Browns:

Stable ownership – Jimmy Haslam’s uncertain status as federal officials investigate Pilot-Flying J gives the nod here to Jacksonville’s owner, Shahid Khan.  Khan ranks No. 122 on the Forbes list of the 400 richest people in America with a net worth of $3.8 billion. Haslam comes in at No. 369 at $1.5 billion.

Program development – Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley has the full buy-in of his team after rallying them from an 0-8 start to a 4-12 finish. That’s four wins in their last eight games, including a 32-28 win in Cleveland. The Jags lost their last three, so their momentum isn’t cresting, but Bradley has a stable one-year foundation under him in Jacksonville.  While Mike Pettine’s message to the Browns has been solid, he’s selling concepts at this point.

Quarterback – It’s impossible to know what Jacksonville team officials told Mack about their plans at No. 3 in the draft, one spot ahead of the Browns. Perhaps the Jags have two quarterbacks in the draft that they love, likely assuring them of getting one. Or, perhaps Jacksonville is comfortable with veteran Chad Henne at quarterback. That’s easy for Browns fans to laugh at, but Henne has started 51 of 60 career games, so statistically, at least, his numbers are superior to the four starts of Cleveland’s Brian Hoyer.

Playoff proximity – Mack may be tired of the Browns’ perpetual back-seat status in the AFC North, where Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Cincinnati are perennial playoff teams. Jacksonville toils in the AFC South, which looks more inviting with only Indianapolis established as post-season-worthy in a division that also includes Houston (2-14) and Tennessee (7-9).

Fresh start – While the Browns’ future appears bright to Browns’ fans because of the free-agency signings, abundance of draft picks and the net gain of jettisoning Mike Lombardi and Joe Banner, Mack may simply be worn down by the constant change here. In five seasons, he’s never played for the same regime from year-to-year. The coach, the GM, the president, the owner or some combination has been new every fall. Jacksonville, even with its recent struggles, may seem inviting by comparison.

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "Hooley & Jerod" from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

The safest pick at No. 4 overall might make Browns fans groan

Mar 20, 2014 -- 11:10am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/USAToday

Everything about the Browns’ six free agent signings screams that owner Jimmy Haslam plans on drafting in the Top Ten for the last time this year.

The contracts of Donte Whitner, Karlos Dansby and Andrew Hawkins are heavily weighted toward 2014 and 2015, while running back Ben Tate’s deal expires after that term.

So what might the Browns’ targeting of the playoffs the next two seasons say about the team’s plans with the first of two choices it has in the NFL draft or those seven selections over the draft’s first four rounds?

Would it make sense for Haslam to issue a, “Win now,” order to general manager Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine, then devote the top of the draft to planning for the future.

Maybe yes, maybe no.

The most successful franchises in the NFL (sorry, Pittsburgh and Baltimore are great examples) use rounds three and down to select players who contribute immediately on special teams or as backups and then quickly advance to dependable starters.

The Browns have had enough trouble picking starters at the top of the draft. There are few success stories in lower rounds like Pittsburgh had with Larry Foote (4), William Gay (5) or Willie Colon (4), or like Baltimore had with Dennis Pitta (4), Le’Ron McClain (4) or Dawan Landry (5).

Farmer hopes to change that narrative, but the most important picks he must get right are Nos. 4 and 26 overall.

The Browns, in case you haven’t heard, need a quarterback of the future. But investing the fourth overall choice in a QB who isn’t Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III – a walk-in starter from Day One—conflicts with the urgency the franchise demonstrated in free agency.

The more draft vultures pick over the flaws of Johnny Manziel, Blake Bortels and Teddy Bridgewater, the more going in a direction away from quarterback appears to make sense for the Browns.

Sammy Watkins’ obliteration of the Ohio State secondary in the Orange Bowl, and intoxicating temptation of paring the Clemson wide receiver with Josh Gordon in a Flash and Sizzle wide receiver set, has most Browns fans on board with that scenario.

But does Watkins make the most sense for the Browns, given Gordon’s presence already, and a draft deep in wide receivers who would come to Cleveland clearly playing second fiddle to him?

The Browns could likely get a quality wideout with one of their two third-round choices, or perhaps with one of two selections in the fourth.

So if not a quarterback and not Watkins, then what?

How about tackle Greg Robinson of Auburn?

Scouts say Robinson is the surest thing in this draft, even more so than Jadaveon Clowney, whose worth ethic gives teams some concern.

At 6-5, 327 pounds, with a sub-5.0 40-yard dash and 32 repetitions of 225 pounds in the bench press, Robinson stole the show at the NFL Scouting Combine.

His film shows a versatile blocker in zone or man schemes, and demonstrates a nasty streak that would give Tate a people mover to run behind.

Robinson could play on the right side now, giving the Browns a bookend with Joe Thomas and perhaps a pair of Pro Bowl tackles. In a few years, Robinson could slide over when Thomas retires and protect the blind side of the QB of the future the Browns draft this year at No. 26 or in Round 2.

There’s a lot that’s logical and likeable about Robinson with the No. 4 overall choice.

If only he weren’t a tackle, right?

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "Hooley & Jerod" from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Signings show Haslam isn't kidding about winning now

Mar 12, 2014 -- 7:39am

By Bruce Hooley | ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/Getty

The first-day signings of free agents Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby lend legitimacy to Browns owner Jimmy Haslam’s oft-stated self-description as among the most impatient men in the world.

Whitner, a Glenville Tarblooder by way of Ohio State, the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers, comes home to take the place of strong safety T.J. Ward, who soon afterward signed with the Denver Broncos.

Dansby arrives from the Arizona Cardinals to claim an inside linebacker spot that D’Qwell Jackson had owned, aside from 1 ½ seasons lost to injury, since 2006.

It’s impossible to know how former CEO Joe Banner or ex-general manager Michael Lombardi would have attacked free agency had they not been fired by Haslam.

But it’s clear that when the Browns’ owner told fans during the coaching search for Mike Pettine, “We are prepared to wait as long as necessary,” that represented the limits of Haslam’s patience.

Signing older, more-experienced veterans Whitner and Dansby shows new general manager Ray Farmer a quick study in adopting Haslam’s win-now philosophy.

It’s doubtful the analytics-loving, young-beats-old approach Banner and Lombardi favored would have brought Whitner and/or Dansby to town.

While Banner and Lombardi were willing free-agent spenders of Haslam’s money, they preferred to visit most of it upon Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant, a pair of then-27-year-old defensive players, both of whom had only four seasons of NFL experience.

Whitner, 28, has played twice that long already, is 14 months older than Ward and has four more years of NFL wear on his body.

Whitner, though, has proven more durable than Ward, missing just 12 games in eight seasons compared to Ward’s 10 missed games in four years.

Likewise, that’s where the 32-year-old Dansby’s resume trumps that of Jackson who at age 30 was presumably too old for the Browns to justify the $4 million roster bonus he was set to make this week.

Dansby’s decade in the league gives him 3 ½ more years of service than Jackson, who missed 10 games in 2009 and all of 2010 to injury. Jackson has since played every game over the last three seasons, but so has Dansby, and he’s never played fewer than 14 games in any season.

Comparing age and durability in the Whitner-for-Ward and Dansby-for-Jackson exchanges likely obscures the main motivation behind the Browns’ decision to go forward without two defensive staples.

Pettine clearly believes he’s upgraded at strong safety with Whitner, who the Browns paid more (4 years, $28 million) than they offered Ward, who settled for less in Denver (4 years, $23 million).

Were Whitner a different style safety than Ward, perhaps the case could be made that Pettine preferred a coverage safety to the more physical style Ward employs.

But Whitner is among the hardest-hitting safeties in the league, as evidenced by his five unsportsmanlike conduct penalties last year. And though he improved measurably in coverage, yielding only two touchdown passes in 2013 after surrendering 12 in 2012, Whitner is far from a coverage specialist.

The Browns clearly don’t believe Whitner is a different type of safety than Ward, they just believe Whitner is a better safety than Ward.

The same is true of the 6-4, 250-pound Dansby compared to Jackson, who is four inches shorter and 10 pounds lighter.

The Browns needed a better coverage linebacker who can cause havoc in the backfield. Dansby’s 6.5 sacks, 19 pass break-ups and two interceptions fit the bill.

With Day One of free agency behind, it’s hard to know if the Browns will continue to be as pro-active or as veteran-smitten.

But what’s clear so far is that if guiding the franchise to the “sustained success” Haslam often trumpets remains “a process,” it better be a fast one.

 

Bruce Hooley hosts "Hooley & Jerod" from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on ESPN 850 WKNR. He is the author of, “That’s Why I’m Here: The Chris and Stefanie Spielman Story.”

Email Bruce hoolz@espncleveland.com

Follow Bruce on Twitter @bhoolz

 

 

 

Browns announce key offseason dates

Mar 05, 2014 -- 1:18pm

ESPN Cleveland Staff | ESPNCleveland.com

 

The Cleveland Browns announced on Wednesday a series of key offseason dates leading up to the official start of training camp, which are listed below:
 

DATEEVENT
March 11 (4p ET)New League year begins
April 7Offseason workouts begin
April 29 - May 1Voluntary veteran mini-camp
May 8-10NFL Draft
May 16-18Rookie mini-camp
May 20-21 & May 23Organized Team Activity #1, 2, & 3
May 27-28 & May 30Organized Team Activity #4, 5, & 6
June 2-3 & June 5-6Organized Team Activity #7, 8, 9, & 10
June 10-12Mandatory veteran mini-camp
TBDTraining Camp

 

 

 

Browns GM Ray Farmer discusses offseason strategy at NFL Combine

Feb 20, 2014 -- 5:19pm

ESPN Cleveland Staff | ESPNCleveland.com

 

On Thursday, Ray Farmer met with the media in Indianapolis and discussed his first NFL Combine as Browns General Manager. Below is a transcript of Farmer's conversation:

On Bill Kuharich's formal role and relationship with the Cleveland Browns:
“Bill does have a relationship with the Cleveland Browns. The relationship was somewhat forged while Mike (Lombardi) and Joe (Banner) were both here. Bill is a consultant. He’ll be working with me directly on all aspects of what I’m going to be tasked to do. So, he’s a consultant and that’s Bill’s role.”
 
On whether Kuharich will be in the office:
“A combination of both. Bill is still founded in Kansas City so he still lives in the Kansas City area. His family is there so he’ll be back and forth.”
 
On prioritizing the needs of the organization in the upcoming weeks:
“I think that the needs will be prioritized in a way that between Coach (Mike) Pettine and I we’ve already discussed the needs for his offense and his defense as it equates to (offensive coordinator) Kyle Shanahan and (defensive coordinator) Jim O’Neil, and we’ve kind of come up with a hierarchy already of the positions that we really need to address, which order we’ll address them and how we will address them.”
 
On what he is looking for in the 2014 scouting combine:
“This combine – I think that they are all the same to me. You really want a chance to truly interact with the player. The No. 1 thing at any of these events is to get a takeaway of the person. Everybody’s talent is kind of spoken for itself when you watch the film. There’s no more football being played so these guys will be judged on how they play football. The athletic gifts and the tools that they’ll display on the field are really just a confirmation of what your eyes saw. The real piece that you really want to look for in these events is to truly get to the core character of the kid.”
 
On needing to get a franchise quarterback at the top of the draft:
“I can’t say that’s true. You could talk to Joe Montana, you could talk to Tom Brady, you could talk to a number of guys that were not high picks. They were later-round finds. Inevitably you’ve got to find the guy that displays the characteristics that you’re looking for and then give him an opportunity to go into that role. (Green Bay Packers QB) Aaron Rodgers wasn’t a top-five pick. There was speculation as to whether he would be or not, but nevertheless you just want to find the right guy for your system.”
 
On how essential is it to find an upgrade at the quarterback position:
“I think that the reality is that we want to upgrade our football team. I think that winning games and finding a way to put the best product on the field is what the fans deserve. It’s what the City of Cleveland deserves. That’s what we’re focused on, is building a better product all around.”
 
On meeting several of the top collegiate QBs that weren’t at this year’s Senior Bowl:
“I think that we’re going to get a chance and an opportunity to spend time with, I can’t say everybody that’s here, but we’ll have time to engage with a lot of different guys at the combine. There’ll be 335 guys that’ll come in and out of the meeting rooms and the grand hall where they have the open floor, or in formals. But we’ll definitely be focused on getting character information and spending as much time with these guys as we can.”
 
On whether the Browns will formally interview Johnny Manziel, and other projected top picks:
“That makes it too easy for you guys, if I’m going to spend time with those guys directly. So I would say that regardless, if we meet them here or we meet them somewhere else, there’ll be an opportunity for us to spend time with everybody that we really want to get to and understand who they are.”
 
On the characteristics he would look for in a quarterback:
“On the characteristics we would look for in a quarterback for our team? First and foremost I’m looking for a winner, a guy that can win football games, if he can help translate what we’re trying to do offensively to the field. I think that smarts in an interesting part of it. I think that we all talk about guys being smart but I think that it’s the ability and the quickness at which your guys can process that information. All of us have an understanding of math and how to do certain things but the question is how quickly can you process that information and then regurgitate it as being productive on the field? There’s a lot of intangibles, a little bit of nuances that we look for in a guy’s performance. And people will talk about arm strength. They’ll talk about different athletic aspects. Can he move in the pocket, etc.? But I truly believe that a guy being able to accurately throw the football, make quick decisions and process and throw from what I’m going to call ‘a crowded pocket.’ Guys that can play in those instances are critical factors in my mind of what the quarterback needs to demonstrate and can do.”
 
On looking for players to fit the team’s defensive alignment:
“Mike has demonstrated that he’s a versatile defensive coach. I think that Jim O’Neil is definitely in that same batch as well. We’re going to look for the best football players and we’re going to find guys that can demonstrate the ability to be productive and to make us a better football team. So again, we want the best football players for our team. The coaches have also demonstrated that they’re going to find the best positions for those guys and we’re going to get them involved as soon as possible.”
 
On prioritizing the needs using free agency versus the draft:
“We’ve already had those conversations; we’ve had some of them. I think things never work exactly how you have them planned out so I think that there’s already a map designed of how we want to attack free agency, how we want to attack the draft. But nevertheless, I do think that we need to hone and fine-tune and adjust from what we’ve already kind of decided is the path that we should take.”
 
On WR Davone Bess:
“I’m not going to address the Davone Bess situation. Again, I think that every player on our team, we’re not going to address those circumstances in the media. We’re going to talk with agents, we’re going to talk with players, talk internally about how we should handle any current player and future player, contract and/or otherwise.”
 
On his perspective of this year’s draft class:
“It’s interesting. I do believe that a good indicator of how deep a draft potentially is the number of juniors that actually declare. So, we’re record-setting. With that being said, I think that does demonstrate that there are better players, a deeper pool of players. But we’re going to do the best way possible for us. One of the things that people always talk about are trades. Do you want to move up or do you want to go down? Who do you like? I think that we want to find the best football players for our football team. We want to put ourselves in a position to find the guys that we’d truly like to have on our team. I think that’s one of the strategies that we’re going to stick to. Identifying the guys that fit who we want to be and finding a way to get those guys on our football team.”
 
On potentially needing an ‘all-weather’ quarterback:
“The all-weather part is interesting. Now, is it still snowing in Cleveland? I don’t know. But it’s actually a good thing that you want to be able to play regardless of what the weather is. I think that everybody needs to be able to perform in those instances. The running back needs to be able to run the ball when his footing is not perfect, the receivers need to be able to do the same. So regardless of what position it is we want are players to be able to perform not matter what the conditions are.”
 
On being able to weigh character flaws with certain draft prospects:
“I think that with any player – I said this before as I was eluding to it and I should probably clarify it - all of these players are really talented and if you get invited to the national combine, if you make it to the National Football League in any regards, if you’re a college free agent or you’re the first pick of the draft, you’re talented. This is the best kid from everybody’s high school. This is the best kid on his college team. There may be a better best kid but he’s a very good player. His talent will take him to a certain level, his character will allow him to sustain that level or take it up another notch. We’re definitely interested in how guys personally are. Who is the person? We spend a lot of time and a lot of resources trying to figure out the person as we make those definitive answers as to, do we like this guy? Do we want this guy in our building? Is he good for who we want to be? Is he good for our community? Then we’ll definitely take those. I’ll tell you this, it’s hard to think that you’re going to win football games with somebody that’s not going to have a little dirt under their fingernails. They are all not going to be exact, they are all not going to be the best people from a lot of perspectives, but we’re looking for the combination of people and talent.”
 
On if any decision has been made on using the franchise tag:
“We’ve talked about all of those things. Again, I’m not going to comment on whether we’re using franchise tags or transitions or what the contract status is or the negotiations that have actually taken place. I will definitely handle those things between the player, agent and the organization.”
 
On finding a running back in the later rounds of the draft:
“I think it’s organizing the board in a way that you can recognize what a guy’s talent and skill level is. I think that when you put your draft together, put your board together, the focus on the notion of ordering the guys in the right order. There are guys that have success. There are guys that go late in the draft and they turn out to be really good football players. A part of that is their skillset getting married to the right scheme. The one thing that we can really hang our hat on is stay true to the fact that Kyle (Shanahan) demonstrated at a lot of places that he’s been that he’s taken a variety of different people and found success. So for us it’s a matter of us finding a young man who has talent, has the work ethic and the drive and the things that we’re looking for to have that success and find a way to get him. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to say these guys fall, these guys don’t. I will say that the thing that’s probably most overlooked, specific to the running back position and maybe every other position is that when guys don’t run well they tend to fall.”
 
On drafting the best player available or fulfilling a team need:
“I would say that you definitely want to make sure that you’re finding the best players. It’s hard to go wrong when you add good players to your football team. People are always going to ask the question as to, why did you take so-and-so when you already had this other guy on your roster? I get that, but I think that inevitably when you add good football players you find a way to have success. I think a good example is there are teams that they’ve taken the liberty of not necessarily having the best three-down options but they found guys to play roles that they can utilize, and when you do that I think that you have success. So we’re going to find guys that can play in a way and do the things that we need them to do order to have success on the field.”
 
On what he would first ask Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel:
“What’s the first thing that I’ll ask him? … I think that the reality is that I really want to find out from any player who he is. How he defines himself, what would he say is his core-character makeup, what does he think about the opportunity to play in the National Football League? Is it a privilege, is it not or is it a right, and how does he see himself impacting not only in his individual performance in a game but how does he impact his teammates? What does he bring to the table that’s going to demonstrate he can get the other guys around him to have success? Football’s probably the greatest team sport in my mind. So from that perspective I need guys that understand the team concept and understand how to affect their teammates in a positive way.”
 
On questions about players’ off-the-field activities, including Johnny Manziel:
“I think that they all need to be as good of people as they can. I was told this from an older scout: If you don’t have some dirt in your fingernails, then you are not living life. We all have to experience some negatives, to turn them into positives. We have to identify the most talented kid who may have made some mistakes in the past, but he’s learned from them and turned them into positives. We are not supposed to comment on other teams’ players, so we will keep him anonymous. There’s a kid last year who had some issues. Nevertheless, I felt he was one of the better players. He really is a good football player. He made mistakes, but he was able to identify those mistakes, turn them around and then apply that moving forward. When you think the guy has gone through life with no issues, that’s a little farfetched for me. The guy that has made mistakes and learned how to grow from those is really a guy we need to focus on, as well.”
 
On whether he will be aggressive, or not, regarding trades:
“I would say I am probably more aggressive. That isn’t how I would classify myself. I would go with more resourceful. I am going to keep our resources as a premium whether it is trading up or down, whether it is a cry for more picks. The No. 1 thing we want to do is improve our batting average and give ourselves more opportunities to go to bat. There are more players that you want on your football team. When you look at the board and you see three or four guys that you really want to have but you are 12 picks away, you might need to make that adjustment to move up to get those three or four guys you like.  Conversely, if there aren’t players there, we need to have enough relationships around the league to slide back. We are in a good position with the number of picks we have. There will be people in the room to help in that instance. I will definitely be open to receive information from sources.”
 
On Johnny Manziel’s throwing and arm strength:
“There are no exacts. Everybody does it a little differently.  Regardless of the traditional aspect, does he stand in the pocket and do things this way? The guy’s has had a lot of success. We can talk about whether it was the best throw or most accurate throw. When a guy generates results we have to take that into consideration. Obviously, his results are spoken highly for what he has been able to do at Texas A&M. I think he is well in the means of being able to perform in this league and he will get his opportunity to prove that here coming up.”
 
On importance of natural talent or who fits in the system:
“I am a big component of a guy who fits in the scheme. The one thing I will say that Coach Pettine and other coaches have emphasized with me is that they will make an adjustment. We need to find the best players. We need to find guys that will impact the game. When you can impact the game whether you are a wide receiver, tight end, running back or an offensive lineman, when you can bring things to the table that allows the team to have success, that’s what we need to focus on, guys that can truly impact the game.”
 
On not overthinking the draft:
“Doing just that: Staying simple. Don’t get out of your lane, stay with what you know and live in the moment. Create the board and live by the board. The board is what will guide us. It’s like baseball. The guy who gets up to bat and gets a good at-bat, the hits will come. You can’t wing it and say I’m going to hit this fastball. You need to take your time, know what the pitcher is capable of doing and have a good at-bat.”
 
On how unrealistic it is to compare 2014 to the 1996 Baltimore Ravens draft (also had Nos. 4 and 26 in first round, Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis):
“Placing expectations on any one individual player and on having the stance that we happen to have the same picks as someone else had. We just want to find good football players. Those are home runs; those are grand slams. The reality is that we want to get the right guys for our football team and move forward.  Specifically at the top of the draft, we want impact players that can contribute right away, have long-standing careers, stay healthy, be products that the community can be proud of and the team can be proud of. If both of those guys are available, I’ll take them.”
 
On judging Brian Hoyer being a championship-quality quarterback in just three games:
“I’ll stand on what I said earlier, I definitely believe in the traits Brian Hoyer has demonstrated. Nevertheless, competition drives this league. When you have guys that push the guy in front of them, that’s when the football team gets better. Every position on this team is definitely up for competition. Everybody would like to see a roster where we can say we have a really good player, and want to add another good player so that player feels that they can compete for their job. I think Brian Hoyer understands and respects that.”
 
On whether it’s safe to say the Browns draft a quarterback:
“I would say that it could be safe, but we might not go that direction. It might not be what everyone thinks it will be. There is going to be an opportunity for some curveballs.”
 
On practice-squad players from last year being a member of the team:
“We re-signed several players that were on the practice squad. That’s an interesting point. To me, the practice squad are guys that you can truly believe will help you win games moving forward.  I think we had some good guys on our practice squad and added those guys back. They have an opportunity to compete in the offseason and demonstrate whether they will be on our team moving forward.”
 
On being at the Alabama/Texas A&M game, and whether it carried more weight than others:
“I don’t know if it carries more weight than others. There were a lot of good prospects on the field. It’s always good when you can go to a game and see a number of players contribute. That’s one of the big things we talk about with all-star games. Few times you can see top-flight players go against other top-flight players. That definitely was a good game to get a lot talent on the field. There were a lot of prospects in that game, specifically now that some of those younger guys declared.”
 
On not watching juniors while scouting:
“Not supposed to watch juniors, but anytime you watch football games there are freshmen that make plays and you think, ‘Wow, who is that kid?’ I think that guys that make plays, you take note. I watch high-school games and think, ‘Wow, that kid is good.’ You see his name pop up on a list and see that he is the best running back in the country.  You definitely just watch and take note. We need to be able to focus on players in the draft.”
 
On how the release of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi changes the draft:
“My philosophy has been, I want to find good football players. I want scouts that have an eye for talent. One of the things I am keying on is not stifling innovation. We have a lot of young guys. Generally, when you have young guys in an organization, if I can speak to quickly, then they tend to buy in. Having those young guys to be able to speak gives us a chance to have real information of balance. Those younger guys get their opportunity on who the better player is. We will make decisions as a group and move ahead.”
 
On Brandon Weeden’s future:
“We are only going to talk to Brandon and his agent directly. If they decide to tell everyone else where they are at then that is in their court. I will not tell the media what I will do. Those will come out in time. We will deal with Brandon and his agent and he will release that information when he feels that is appropriate.”
 
On if Brandon Weeden will be a good quarterback in the NFL:
“When we grade players, we grade players on what they’ve done in the NFL. The college draft is a projection. Once you are in the NFL, you get graded upon your performance. We have a grade on Brandon and in time his agent and he will both know where we stand.”
 
On the decision regarding soon-to-be free agents Alex Mack and T.J. Ward:
“We went through every player on this roster and discussed every player that will help us win. That’s what it comes down to. Coach Pettine has proven that he can generate defense in a lot of different ways. Coach O’Neil is now in that role as defensive coordinator. Kyle Shanahan has done the same. We want to find the guys that can truly affect the game and build a championship roster. I can definitely say this isn’t an overnight process. A big part of building any team is chemistry. We want to identify the right guys, level the playing field and give those guys a chance to compete and demonstrate those talents.”
 
On whether those two players have helped the Browns win:
“They have. That’s past tense.”

 

 

 

Browns owner Jimmy Haslam addresses front office moves

Feb 11, 2014 -- 5:31pm

| ESPNCleveland.com

 

Photo/AP

Opening statement:

“Several weeks ago, Joe Banner and I began having discussions about the structure and organization of the Cleveland Browns, and over the last several days, have come to the conclusion that Joe has done a superb job putting the right people in place for the Browns. Joe was obviously solely instrumental in bringing Alec Scheiner, our president, who will continue to run our business operations in place, and played a key role in hiring (Browns Head) Coach (Mike) Pettine and in bringing in (Browns general manager) Ray Farmer to our organization and ensuring that Ray Farmer did stay with our organization. Joe and I, after a lot of conversation, mutually agreed that it was best for the organization if we streamlined things, where accountability and reporting lines were much clearer. Accordingly, effective today, we’ve announced that Alec Scheiner, as I mentioned earlier, will run our business side and remain as president, Mike Pettine will obviously be the head coach and Ray Farmer will be our GM. We will not have a CEO, and those three people will report directly to me.

“I cannot thank Joe, who will serve in a transition role for several months, probably until May or June, enough for what he has done for me personally and our family in terms of teaching us the NFL business, if you will. I don’t know that I’ve ever met anyone smarter, who worked harder or a better negotiator than Joe. It’s been a pleasure to work with him during this time period, and as I said, he’ll help us as we transition over the next few months.

“I would also be remiss if I did not thank (Michael) Lombardi. Mike and his wife, Millie, are great friends of ours. Mike has great football acumen, and I think that Mike understands how to put together a football team. Mike and Joe have left us in good position in terms of both free agency and cap space, as well as this year’s draft, where we have 10 overall picks and three of the first 35.

“At the same time, I can’t tell you how excited I am about the opportunity to work directly with Pett, Alec and Ray. I believe that we have positioned this organization to become a winning football team, something that has not happened on a consistent basis around here in a long time. I will accept comments and criticism about change. I will accept responsibility for some of the changes that have been made. There is no primer for being an NFL owner. It is a learn-on-the-go, if you will, but I think what’s really important is for everybody in this room but really much more so for our fans to understand that this ownership group, our family and this owner is committed to bringing a winner to the Browns. As I said when we introduced Pett a few weeks ago, ‘Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words.’ When we finish this press conference, and I know that Ray is going to address you all for a little bit, I know that he welcomes that opportunity as do you, but we’re going to go to work and we’re fully committed to making this franchise a winner.”

On deciding to change the front-office structure in the past two weeks:
“Like I said, Joe and I began having conversations several weeks ago about potentially restructuring the organization. As Pett came on board and we evaluated where we are, we felt that it made the most sense. It was a much simpler organizational structure than we had before, much clearer lines of responsibility and authority and something that we all felt more comfortable with and something that we’re very excited with. I look forward to letting you all have the opportunity to work with Ray.”

On reports that coaches were not interested in interviewing with the Browns:
“Let me say two things: I think that the reports of the people not wanting to talk to us are inaccurate, but most importantly, I think that we got a great head coach. I said that when we were up here three or four weeks ago, and I feel even stronger watching Mike work, watching his leadership and watching the staff that’s he’s put together.”

On concerns with national perceptions on the Browns’ head-coach search:
“No, like I said, we went through a very thorough search. Comments were made about how long it took. I would not do one thing different in this search, and I think that we got the best person available.”

On why Lombardi was relieved:
“I will say again what I said: Mike, I think, knows and understands football as well as anybody. We feel that Ray is the best person to handle the personnel side of our organization for the Cleveland Browns. We look forward to working with Ray.”

On praising Banner and his efforts, although the resulting structure did not include him:
“I think that Joe would tell you that putting together an organization is what he likes and enjoys doing, and I think that he felt comfortable that he had set us up for success, and it’s now time for us to move forward.”

On his comfort with Banner’s say in personnel decisions:
“I felt like the previous setup was a little bit cumbersome. I think that the way that we’re organized now is much more streamlined. It will be much more efficient and much clearer in terms of who’s in charge of what.”

On having all three individuals as direct reports:
“That’s a setup that I’m used to, and I think that it will work well. I view my job as this: One, to provide the proper resources; two, to put the right people in the right place, three, to hold them accountable; and then four, do everything I can to help them be successful.”

On if Banner commented that he would leave if Lombardi was relieved:
“No, we just took a step back. I think it was a normal time to do it with Pett coming in and saying ‘OK, are we setting ourselves up for success? What’s the best way, in my terminology if we’re going to whiteboard this, what’s the best way to organize things?’ We felt this was the best way to set things up.”

On reports that the Browns are dysfunctional:
“Let me say that I would disagree with that, OK. I think that’s a perception that you all have set out there. I will tell you as I talk to people around the league or at the Super Bowl last year, people view this as a great franchise. It’s a great football area. We’re in great shape with the cap. We’re in great shape with the draft. I think that if you talk to people around the league, they’ll say that this is a wonderful opportunity. Now, we’ve got to produce. I had dinner with Pett last night. We were looking at some records. There has not been a coach here since before 1991that had a winning record, and the team has only won 35 percent of its games. We’ve got work to do, but I continue to believe that this is an outstanding opportunity.”

On reaction from season-ticket holders:
“Actually, our season-ticket holders are very excited. We sold more tickets last year than I think the Browns had in I know a lot of years – I don’t want to say exactly how many – but our season-ticket holder base remains very strong, and at least the preliminary comments that we’ve gotten in this morning are very positive. We are excited about our fan base. As you all know, this a tremendous fan base around here. We’re committed, and I can’t say it enough. We’ve got to do it. We’re committed to bringing a winner to this area.”

On former Pilot Flying J employees recently pleading guilty:
“I don’t think that this is the place to address the Pilot Flying J situation. I think that this about the Cleveland Browns organization, and I think that it’s about Ray Farmer and his promotion to GM. I don’t think now is the time to comment on that.”

On the stability of Pilot Flying J:
“It’s very strong.”

On if former Browns Head Coach Rob Chudzinski may have been retained, considering today’s front-office changes:
“Those are hard decisions. I think we made the right decisions. We’re really excited about Coach Pettine.”

On making changes one week before the 2014 NFL Combine:
“I think that you have to realize that Ray has been here for a year, and our scouts are in place. It’s not like we’re bringing in somebody totally new. Ray is here. It’s probably not a lot of change in the organization as it might appear to be.”

More on reports that the Browns are dysfunctional:
“I will just tell you that the people that I talk to around the country think that this is an outstanding opportunity here in Cleveland, whether it’s to coach, play or work. I continued to hear that when I was at the owners’ meeting last week. I think that the steps that we have taken clarify how our organization is going to be set up and run, and, as I’ve said several times today, set us up for success. We’re excited about that opportunity.”

On his contacts not wanting to openly share negative perceptions:
“Let me say this, I tremendously appreciate the passion that our fans have and that they care so much. I really do. I talk to some owners who laugh at our situation in terms of, ‘You should appreciate how much your fans care, how important they take football and how serious football is here in Northeastern Ohio.’ We take that really seriously.”

On spending more time in Berea with three direct reports:
“I think that you’ll see us more in Berea, and we look forward working with what we believe are three extremely talented individuals.”

On the timing of the front-office and head-coach changes:
“I said this earlier, and I will tell you that I underestimated this: It’s a learning curve to be an NFL owner. If you want to look at me as a work-in-progress, that’s fair to say or to do. I will tell you this: These are the last of the major changes that we’re going to make in the organization, but we’ll continue to, if I can use the word, ‘tinker’ with the organization to continue to find was to improve it and make it better.”

On needing to reassure Pettine of the organization’s stability:
“No, I think if you talk to Mike, he’ll tell you he’s very excited about the opportunity, very excited about our players, and I think that he’s put together a great staff.”

On updates regarding Pilot Flying J:
“I think that there’s a time to talk about Pilot Flying J. I think today is the time to talk about the Cleveland Browns.”

On individual’s roles in personnel decisions, specifically him approving Farmer’s players:
“No, it will be a collaborative effort. 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. This question hasn’t come up, but (Coach) Mike (Pettine) will have the final say on the 45-man roster and who plays on Sundays; and Ray will have the final say on the 53-player roster, and he’ll talk about that more when he addresses you all.”

On concerns with acquiring the correct quarterback in the draft:
“I’m concerned that we do a great job in this draft because I understand how important it is.”

On if Farmer was promised the position when withdrawing from Miami’s GM search:
“No, not at all. We thought very highly of Ray when we first interviewed him over a year ago, and when we interviewed him, we knew that he would be a GM someday. We’re delighted that he’s going to be the GM of the Browns.”

On Farmer:
“He’s smart. He’s been around football his whole life. He’s organized. He’s an easy guy to deal with in terms of give-and-take, and he’s a tireless worker.”

On weighing last year’s personnel moves when deciding to relieve Lombardi:
“As I said, we looked at putting the best people in place, took a step back and said, ‘OK, for us to be successful, what’s the org chart needs to look like? What are the key boxes and who goes in those boxes?’ That’s the decision that we made. Those are not easy decisions. We feel that Ray gives us a great chance to be successful in free agency and the draft.”

On being on the same page with Banner on Pettine’s hiring and potentially hosting a second interview with Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn:
“I was really committed to Coach Pettine.”

On Farmer participating in head-coaching interviews:
“Ray, as well as several other people in our organization, played a key role in the search. The four of us [Haslam, Banner, Lombardi and Scheiner] were out talking to people, but I think I’ve said this before, there’s a tremendous amount of background check and information gathering, and Ray played a very key role in that. I am highly confident that the two of them will work very closely together.”

On if Farmer needs to hire additional staff to assist him this offseason:
“Ray and I have had a lot of talks over the last few days, and I think that Ray will bring in the necessary talent he thinks necessary to have a successful draft. I’ll let Ray comment on that when he talk to you all in the next few minutes.”

On if any head-coach candidates said they would consider the position if Banner or Lombardi were not on staff:
“I think that we got the best head coach that we could get, and I’m very excited about coach Pettine.”

 

 

 

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