CANTON, Ohio – He’s just the latest Browns general manager to talk about things like process, patience and doing it the right way, and that’s not Mike Lombardi’s fault.
The crowd who heard Lombardi discuss all of the above at the Hall of Fame Luncheon Club on Monday hopes he’s the one to see it through. Not all speaking engagements, here or otherwise, include screams of “Go Browns” or random barking at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance, but this one did.
Shortly thereafter, Lombardi started selling the barkers and otherwise quiet observers on things like a “blueprint” for “sustained success.”
Lombardi said this group will be different than the ones that have come before it because “we are going to follow the plan…think a year or two ahead.”
What he said that followed sounded familiar. He said these Browns are a unified organization, one searching for players who are physical and tough and have a passion for the game. He vowed that the Browns are “building for tomorrow, building for something bigger than one game.” He said that there’s a difference between picking players and building a team, and the Browns are trying to build one “that can win against the great quarterbacks in this league.”
Later, he answered a question about the state of the Browns young secondary by saying “the key is to get to the passer.” As a whole, this new group of Browns decision makers has been hesitant to share much of anything going back several months, but that statement, the selection of Barkevious Mingo in the first round of last month’s NFL Draft and the signing of free agent Paul Kruger in March indicate that the Browns value the pass rush.
The word “value” kept coming up Monday, both in Lombardi’s address and in a short Q&A with reporters afterwards. He said the Browns twice trading out of rounds on the final day of the draft for 2014 picks was about value, and “everything you do is about value.” Asked if the Browns came close to drafting a quarterback, Lombardi said “I don’t think that was an area where the value would have met the pick.”
You could count that as a denial that the Browns traded with the Steelers in the fourth round because the Giants traded up to get Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib one pick ahead of them; or you could not count that. Lombardi, falling in line with what his boss, Joe Banner, has been doing for months, didn’t answer a lot of things directly.
He did catch himself when he started talking about “building the right way” and chasing “sustained success,” though, as he was careful to say the Browns aren’t writing off 2013 despite starting over again. He admitted that “the future in the NFL is next week,” and that it would be naive to think that the Browns have five years to turn things around just because he’s on a five-year contract.
“We have some pieces to compete,” he said. “The Browns were in a lot of close games last year. We can build on that.
“We’re not throwing away this season. I’m too competitive for that.”
Lombardi listed the Browns strengths as players on both lines. He said that both groups need to get better, and that will be the theme throughout the building as the team begins organized team activity (OTA) practices on Tuesday and throughout the summer. Lombardi said the Browns aren’t focused on contract extensions or veterans who are still free agents because they’re busy evaluating the players on hand and want to be careful “never to begin with the end in mind.”
He told the audience Monday that’s the No. 1 rule of scouting, and he repeated it multiple times. That’s the approach he said the Browns are taking with Brandon Weeden and just about everyone else.
“We’re all being evaluated,” Lombardi said. “You have to evaluate your own players correctly. You’d better know your team really well.”
As Browns fans know, it’s all part of the process.
QUICK HITS — Lombardi didn’t give a direct answer to two Joshua Cribbs-related questions, but it’s clear the Browns aren’t interested in re-signing Cribbs. He did say that Tim Tebow doesn’t fit the Browns plans right now.
He said second-year man Tashaun Gipson will get the first reps at free safety and that the team has expectations for sixth-rounder Jamoris Slaughter “once he’s healthy” but said it’s too early to know how that will play out.
He said Banner has been in charge of “successful organizations for a long time, and it isn’t just by luck.”
Lombardi spoke glowingly of the Browns tradition, the game’s importance in Northeast Ohio and his previous stint with the organization in the 1990s. He had plenty of Al Davis and Bill Walsh stories to entertain the crowd and said he gave up a “great gig” to take this job because he believes in Jimmy Haslam and Banner and he loves being in the business, not just being a part of it. “When I was a fat kid growing up in New Jersey, this is all I ever wanted to do,” he said.
On the concern that Mingo is too skinny to succeed in the NFL, Lombardi said “it really comes down to his function and how he plays. He played a very high level of competition (in college) at certain weight and that didn’t hinder him.”
Asked about the ESPN Grantland article last week that granted the author partial access to the Browns pre-draft activities, Lombardi said “I did not read it. You’d be surprised…I don’t read. I haven’t read any articles since I’ve been back.”