By Tony Grossi
The arrival of Joe Banner as new Browns CEO raised a lot of questions in this week’s column. Fans are worried that Banner will stick his nose where it doesn’t belong – in football operations. There was strong support for GM Tom Heckert this week, love for Josh Gordon and Phil Dawson, and an interesting question about the futures of Dawson and Josh Cribbs.
Hey Tony: I don't see why everybody is so high on Jimmy Haslam. He hasn't proved anything yet. He could blow it all up, again. Are we looking at another 5 year plan? If so, here we go again, again, again …
-- Ken, Bristol, VA
Hey Ken: Prior to 2012, the expansion Browns had 11 losing seasons in 13 years. They’ve changed everything during that time except one thing – ownership. I think everyone is high on Haslam because he is passionate, has a tremendous track record in a company that services customers, and is dedicated to making the Browns winners again. And he has a huge incentive – a $1 billion investment in the franchise.
Hey Tony: Tell us what you think. Being this far away it's hard to know what is going on sometimes. You've covered the Browns in good times and bad. What are your thoughts on Joe Banner, you were in the room.
-- Tom, Kirksville, MO
Hey Tom: Banner is supremely qualified to put together a good organization. I think the pairing of Haslam and Banner is a good team.
Hey Tony: What do I have to do to get a mention in this column? Love the "Jimmy Thing". The two constants since coming back have been ownership and losing. I have been following this team 40 years now, so obviously I'm all in. Tony, please let Jimmy know that us hard-cores don't want the uniforms messed with at all. Quite frankly, they are a source of pride of a fan base that has little to be proud of. Put it to him this way, would he like me coming in and changing the Tennessee uniform? I doubt it. Thanks for your good work, Tony. I enjoy your stuff more than ever.
-- Craig, Atlanta, GA
Hey Craig: I used to feel like you about the uniforms. I now have the opinion that a tweak – even a dramatic new look, but not radical – would be a refreshing symbol of a new era the Browns are entering. The players are definitely energized by the change in ownership and in favor of a new uniform look. I think Haslam respects the sensitivity about the Browns’ uniform and will not change the logo-less orange helmet or the basic colors. But I think he and CEO Joe Banner will strive to modernize the uniforms and then bring back the all-whites or brown-on-whites for selective “throwback” games. None of this can happen until 2013.
Hey Tony: Other than the Browns, were there any other teams at the recent NFL meeting represented by someone other than their actual owner? Or, were all the owners required to attend?
-- Doug, Canton, OH
Hey Doug: If an owner is absent from a league meeting, the owner appoints someone to represent the franchise. It could be a family member, team president or other executive. Given the age of some owners, it’s not unusual to have one or two missing. I believe Buffalo’s Ralph Wilson and Tennessee’s Bud Adams were absent at the Haslam meeting in Chicago. Also, Dallas’ Jerry Jones was represented by son Stephen, the team’s president.
Hey Tony: You’ve written before about Phil Savage working for the Eagles in a scouting capacity the last two years. So, that means he and Joe Banner know each other at least somewhat well. Any chance Phil is Banner’s choice to replace Heckert, if a change is made?
-- Bob, Avon Lake, OH
Hey Bob: Savage was used as a consultant by the Eagles for a few years to essentially serve as a “super scout” of the SEC. Savage, of course, moonlights as radio color commentator for the University of Alabama. Savage received the assignment from Howie Roseman, the Eagles GM. That association ended when Savage agreed to take the full-time role as executive director of the Senior Bowl, which is played annually in his hometown of Mobile, AL. While Savage longs to return someday as an NFL GM, I don’t see it in the cards for him to return here.
Hey Tony: With Joe Banner's aversion to re-signing older veterans, is this the last year we see Phil Dawson and Josh Cribbs playing for Cleveland?
-- Derek, Columbus, OH
Hey Derek: Excellent question. The future of both players will be huge issues after the season – perhaps the first major player issues confronted by Banner. The Browns have the opportunity to re-sign Cribbs prior to the start of free agency – but not Dawson, because he was franchised and the team ignored the deadline to arrive at a long-term deal. GM Tom Heckert previously expressed the desire to re-sign Dawson, but it didn’t get done. These two issues will serve as a first read on whether Banner softened his hard-line negotiating stance from his Philadelphia days.
Hey Tony: Are Brandon Weeden and Josh Gordon the real deals? Both seem to being coming along as rookies. Do you think that Weeden will become the franchise quarterback for the team or will the Browns look to next year's draft?
-- John, Louisville, KY
Hey John: Weeden and Gordon make a great long-ball team. I would continue to develop them. Gordon has three TDs in six games. Josh Cribbs led Browns receivers last year with four all year. The last Browns wide receiver to have more than three in a season was Braylon Edwards with 16 in 2007.
Hey Tony: You have previously outlined in your article "The incredible tangled web of the Browns and Eagles will have a surreal ending" how intertwined the Cleveland and Philadelphia organizations are. In that article, you briefly mentioned Tom Heckert as the Director of Player Personnel who later rose to the role of General Manager. Now that the Browns' sale has gone through and Banner's addition officially announced, it is speculated that Heckert will not be around next year. Is this because the new mayor in town simply wants his own guys in place? Could there some bad blood between Heckert and Banner from years past? Did Heckert and Banner work closely with each other or were they simply colleagues? Personally, I thought Heckert has done very well in the draft since he came on board almost 3 years ago, and would be disappointed to see him go. It would be a shame to get rid of a quality GM simply because the new guy in town didn't originally choose him.
-- Mike, Charlotte, NC
Hey Mike: Heckert was with the Eagles from 2001 to 2009. He held the title of general manager the last four years, but never had the total football authority over draft, final roster and trades that he holds here. Banner has said their relationship was good. Heckert was encouraged to seek other opportunities to expand his career because the Eagles never were going to change their structure with Andy Reid at the top. I think Heckert’s future here is tied to the performance of the team, particularly the young players for which he is responsible, over the remaining 10 games. Heckert already has done the dirty work of gutting the Browns’ roster and loading it up with young, inexperienced players. The only way I see Heckert not returning is if Haslam and Banner decide to change coaches and replace Pat Shurmur with a big-name coach who wants control over all personnel moves.
Hey Tony: Phil Dawson has never gotten the national recognition that he deserves due to playing on lousy teams. As I was sitting in the stadium last Sunday prior kickoff, I was looking at the names on the ring of honor. I wanted to get your thought as to whether you believe Dawson deserves to have his name added once his Cleveland career is finished assuming that Haslam continues adding names of worthy players. At the very least, I would hope that Haslam and Banner see the value of Dawson and at least sign him to an extension. Thanks for taking the time to read my question.
-- Nick, Euclid, OH
Hey Nick: Dawson is the greatest kicker in Browns history – expansion era and beyond. That alone merits his place in the Ring of Honor some day. As for his future with the Browns, the club has tried in vain to sign him to a multi-year deal. Maybe Banner can succeed, but he was not known for going the distance for popular, veteran, expensive players in Philadelphia.
Hey Tony: Do you think Sheldon Brown will be warning the young players of what's to come in negotiating their next contract now that Joe Banner is in town? If so how does that affect the locker room now? Do you think Joe Banner is the right guy? I have my doubts.
-- Dale, Barberton, OH
Hey Dale: Brown played eight seasons in Philadelphia with Banner as the chief contract negotiator and never had a contract problem. His contract is up after this season and it’s highly doubtful he will return. He’ll be 34 in March.
Hey Tony: If you take away the Week 1 debacle Brandon Weeden seems to be making strides every week. I’ve always thought of Quarterbacks as falling into 4 buckets, the Franchise guys similar to Manning, Brady, or Rodgers, the guys on the cusp of being that guy but just haven’t won a Championship yet like Flacco or Ryan, the guys that probably won’t ever get there and the guys with potential to get there. I think Weeden has shown he’s in that 4th bucket. We don’t know his ceiling, he continually improves, and he walks the walk of a Franchise Quarterback. So far he just might be “the guy”, too soon to tell but it looks promising. Do you see the same?
-- Doug, Orange, CA
Hey Doug: I think you’ve broken it done nicely. I would agree Weeden belongs in the bucket of guys with potential to get there. However, his age (29) requires him to advance more rapidly than the typical rookie QB. I think he’s developing nicely.
Hey Tony: I am 65 yrs old and a lifelong Browns fan. It occurred to me that I have only known 2 Owners in all that time. 1st was Art (Modell) and then the Lerners.
I was much too young to know or appreciate Mr (Arthur) Mcbride but much of our positive history and legacy seems to have happened under him. I think many other Browns fans are in the same boat. Enter Mr Haslam and all of a sudden there’s a new energy and renewed hope. If nothing else happens it is a breath of fresh air and renews hope for a franchise sorely in need of both. My question to you is a bit open ended but: What do YOU believe Mr Haslam will bring to the table, not necessaily in terms of wins/losses,but more from a stability standpoint and energy to both team and fan.
-- Jim, Coral Springs, FL
Hey Jim: Times are certainly different from when McBride founded the Browns in 1946, when Modell purchased them for $3.975 million in 1961 and when Al Lerner purchased the expansion reincarnation for $530 million in 1998. Haslam paid $1.05 billion for these Browns. That investment alone will motivate him to sink every ounce of his being into the franchise and drive him to increase revenue every way possible. Ostensibly, it will drive him to make the team a winner because winning would take the franchise to heights it hasn’t seen in this new era of revenue potential.
Hey Tony: I am very curious about this. Who would you rather have on your team? Trent Richardson or A.J. Green? I honestly wouldn't know who to pick.
-- Mike, Fairview, OH
Hey Mike: Thanks for the brevity of your question. I love Richardson, but Green is a proven elite receiver who is only in his second year and is continually getting better. In fact, he likely could be the very best at his position in his third season, and then hold down that distinction for years to come. The way the NFL game relies so heavily on passing, I’d take Green. He is fantastic.
Hey Tony: Does the acquisition of Joe Banner ensure that we will be sticking to the west coast offense? I think having some continuity in that regard would be beneficial. And there is no denying that our offense is 1000 times better than in recent years. Thanks for the response!
-- Paul, Raleigh, NC
Hey Paul: I wouldn’t say Banner’s arrival ensures the style of football the Browns play, either way. The coach of the Browns in 2013 will decide. If it’s Shurmur, the West Coast offense stays. If another coach comes in, he decides on the offensive style – not Banner or Haslam.
Hey Tony:Wasn't Joe Banner instrumental in the grooming of Howie Roseman as Eagles GM? Currently the Philly fan base is barbecuing the front office over the drafts from 2010-2011 which has left their defense in tatters. Please don't tell me we will be a haven again for franchise refugees ala the Jets and Eric Mangini. Still waiting for Heckert to draft a linebacker in a round earlier than fourth.
-- Mark, Martinez, CA
Hey Mark: Yes, Banner is the one who anointed Roseman as the next Eagles GM. But he didn’t groom him, per se. He had him work up through the personnel ranks. But your point is well made. The Eagles have had some bad drafts since Heckert left Philadelphia. Ultimately, the draft-day calls were made by Andy Reid, but Roseman and his scouting staff are not taking any bows, that’s for sure. Perhaps the poor results of Philadelphia’s drafts after Heckert departed will have a strong impact on Banner when he decides Heckert’s future.
Hey Tony: Will Joe Banner be the second coming of Carmen Policy -- a business guy with too much power over football operations? Please tell us there are more reasons to think it won’t happen than to think it will.
-- Don, Summit, NJ
Hey Don: Policy’s worst mistake was making friend Dwight Clark the GM. Because Clark was learning on the job, Policy sometimes stuck his nose into major football decisions, such as the selection of quarterback Tim Couch in 1999. But otherwise, Policy didn’t interfere. Football operations will report to Banner in much the same way it did with Policy. Banner will contribute with Haslam to the hiring of the top football men, but I don’t see them picking players, schemes, etc.
Hey Tony: I had started to question the ability of Josh Gordon but the last two games have made me a believer. Do you think he will continue to get better as the team progresses and where does that leave Little in the mix? Greg Little has been quiet this season for the most part.
-- Raymond, Mansfield, OH
Hey Raymond: I said and wrote in July that Gordon was one of the three most important players on the team (Weeden and Richardson being the others) because he possesses the physical skills and potential that none of the other wideouts had. He was extremely raw when he arrived but has developed to the point where he already is the team’s best wideout, in my opinion. The sky is the limit for Gordon. He has elite potential.
Hey Tony: I can't help but notice that I never see interviews or quotes from Phil Dawson. I know the kicker isn't the most attractive guy with the media but I was wondering if Dawson refuses interviews, etc., because of a possible bitterness he has with the organization in regards to being hit with the franchise tag 2 years in a row? What's the real story if there is one?
-- Brian, San Antonio, TX
Hey Brian: That’s not the case at all. Dawson is one of the most accommodating players to the media in the locker room. I think I quote him a lot. In fact, I’ve been criticizing for my vigorous defense of Dawson against critics. He wasn’t happy about being tagged the franchise player the past two years, but the perk of those moves made him the highest-paid kicker in the NFL.
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