Countdown to The Draft
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By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Farmer in the dell: Ray Farmer ascended to the office of Browns general manager with clean hands. His fingerprints were not on the knife twisted in the back of Rob Chudzinski.
He wasn’t party to the departed duo who campaigned in the owner’s box to fire Chudzinski after 11 months on the job and made promises for a replacement that weren’t kept.
Farmer was an innocent bystander during the bizarre coaching search that resulted in the hiring of Mike Pettine as coach. He was dispatched during that “methodical search” to Mobile, AL, to represent the Browns at the Senior Bowl and keep the club’s staggered draft process from crumbling.
When the Miami Dolphins called to pursue Farmer for their own general manager opening, it opened the eyes of Jimmy Haslam.
The owner had seen and heard his top two football men, Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi, be derided by potential coaching candidates, departed coaches and perhaps other owners at league meetings.
Morale in the building was sinking. Trust in Banner had eroded fast. Haslam had to do something.
Farmer was at least one person in Haslam’s football operations that had universal respect in the league. He was not going to lose him.
“We simply wanted to give Ray this opportunity that he’s earned. We wanted to move forward under his leadership and capabilities,” Haslam said.
Haslam couldn’t just replace Lombardi with Farmer. For Farmer and Pettine to have a chance to bond together as an effective GM-and-coach tandem, Banner had to go, too.
“The purpose of these moves is to unify our team with one, unequivocal goal: Provide our fans with the winning organization they have long deserved,” Haslam said.
Unity was missing: Chudzinski wasn’t the Browns’ first choice as coach a year ago. As the season wore on and losses mounted, Banner and Lombardi distanced themselves from Chud and his staff.
Pettine surely wasn’t the first choice this year. But Haslam wasn’t going to sit back and let history repeat.
“It was explained to me that a general manager’s role is to ensure the success of his head coach,” Farmer said on Tuesday. “So I will work in tandem with Coach Pettine to make sure we find the right players for him to succeed.”
In firing Banner as CEO, Haslam eliminated a management level that obscured accountability. By restructuring the organization to have Farmer and Pettine report directly to him, Haslam defined their roles and eliminated the ambiguity over control of the roster.
Farmer has final say over the roster and draft. Pettine coaches the team.
The coach and GM are dependent on each other. Neither has the upper hand as they embark on their new relationship together.
“I think that we’ve got to find players that fit the scheme that we’re going to implement,” Farmer said. “We’ve got to find guys who can do the things that Coach Pettine is going to want to do on defense and that (Browns defensive coordinator) Jim O’Neil is going to want to do on defense and that (Browns offensive coordinator) Kyle Shanahan is going to want to do on offense.
“We are going to find the guys who fit who we need to be moving forward, and we are going to establish guys who can fit into those roles. The critical component in finding and building a football team is meshing the two. It’s one thing for a coach to have a philosophy; it’s another thing for him to have the players to implement that philosophy. That’s where me and Coach Pettine will make headway, that we’ll make sure that we get that right.”
Decisions, decisions: With Banner and Lombardi out and Farmer in, the crucial decisions confronting the franchise could move in new directions.
* Alex Mack and T.J. Ward: Banner did not value the positions of center and safety and was unwilling to commit millions of dollars to players at those positions who arrived before him. Farmer doesn’t have the ego to replace every player he inherited. While Mack still may be determined to seek top dollar in free agency, Farmer and Pettine may determine that Ward is worth securing with the franchise tag, which is projected to be $8 million at his position.
* D’Qwell Jackson: At the end of the season, Jackson sounded willing to work with the club to lower his exorbitant salary cap number of $9.433 million. He is owed a $4 million roster bonus next month. Jackson clearly is a more effective player in a 4-3 scheme. Pettine could easily tailor his multi-front defense to maximize Jackson and thus make it easier to arrive at an agreeable contract restructuring.
* Brian Hoyer: Lombardi clearly was the champion of the home-grown quarterback. Hoyer’s brief success before his injury made Lombardi look like a genius and gave Hoyer top dibs on the starting job entering the new season. While Pettine has expressed praise for Hoyer, Shanahan was less effusive. Farmer doesn’t have a history with Hoyer, as Lombardi did. As a result, the quarterback situation is as unclear as ever.
* Johnny Manziel: The trade of Trent Richardson was made to give Banner the assets to acquire the quarterback of his desire. Everybody has pegged Manziel as the quarterback Banner and Lombardi favored in the draft. While Manziel would appear to mesh with Shanahan’s preference for a mobile quarterback, Farmer may have reservations about Manziel’s physical limitations. At the least, the ouster of Banner and Lombardi surely will have draftniks rethinking the Browns’ pick at No. 4.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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