First and 10: Bonus Haslam/Banner edition
This being the week that was, it seems appropriate for a bonus Thursday edition of First and 10, dealing with the team's new management team.
1) It’s always amazing to me how fast allegiances in the NFL change. One day a coach is fully a Chief or a Raider or a Bronco, a week later when he goes to the Bills he’s all-Buffalo. Joe Banner spent 19 years (give or take a few weeks) with the Philadelphia Eagles after growing up in Philadelphia and working with Jeff Lurie, his neighbor in Philadelphia. Wednesday he was referring to the Browns as “we” and the fans as “our fans” and in his sportcoat he was wearing a Browns helmet pin. It’s just amazing how these transitions take place.
2) I found it interesting that Banner said he and Haslam were talking “before there was a franchise necessarily identified as to where we would be.” Which means before Haslam met Randy Lerner. Banner said in an interview on the team web site that he and Haslam started talking in June. Tuesday in Chicago, Haslam said he first met Randy Lerner on July 2. Which indicates that pretty much all along Banner was going to be the guy for the Browns once Haslam and Lerner agreed that the team would be sold. So while Haslam enjoyed meeting and talking with Mike Holmgren, it doesn’t sound as if there was ever going to be a role for Holmgren under Haslam. Now, Holmgren (who has yet to address questions) might have played a big role in this by telling Haslam he deserved his own guy and he would step aside. Holmgren always said he wanted to finish his contract, but he was hired, as Haslam properly said, to be a “de facto owner” by Lerner, who did not want to be an active participant on the league level. With a facto owner, the de facto owner probably realized retiring with his wife to Seattle closer to his children and grandchildren was a pretty appealing prospect. And it’s tough to blame him. As for Haslam and Banner getting together, Roger Goodell said the league was not involved, but it sure sounds and looks like an arrangement the league would help happen. The old saying about the duck comes to mind.
3) Haslam’s biggest challenge is getting folks to believe there really could be stability after this season. Already the rumors and names have started flying. Nick Saban. Chip Kelly. Bill Cowher. Jon Gruden. Never mind the accuracy, they’re out there. Bernie Kosar for the front office. A web site begs Haslam not to fire GM Tom Heckert. Already the rumors and guesswork is flying. And as the season progresses, it will get worse, no matter what happens. If Shurmur somehow finds a win streak, the talk will be about continuity and keeping him. If the Browns lose, more names will be rumored in November and December. Try working in that environment. Haslam does not seem like the kind of guy whose word should be doubted, so when he says he looked Shurmur and Heckert in the eye and told them nothing will be decided until after the season he no doubt means it. It’s just a huge challenge to actually get people not to worry about it.
4) Heard from someone who would know that Banner’s departure from Philadelphia did not leave real good feelings between he and Andy Reid. That the negotiations with DeSean Jackson that led Jackson to sulk and not play well prompted Reid to say enough because he was tired of players unhappy with their contract talks. Owner Jeff Lurie gave those duties to GM Howie Roseman, and Banner decided to “resign.” Which of course sounds like one of those “he was resigned” things. This has all the appearances of the old classic NFL power play in which one guy more or less said him or me, and it was me who won. Once Roseman got the responsibility, Jackson, LeSean McCoy, Trent Cole and Todd Herremans all agreed to contract extensions. Banner’s departure consolidated Reid’s power base, with most in the league believing he has full say over football. As a result, anyone who is friends or associated with Reid might suffer because of it. Of course, the Browns have a coach and GM in that category, but Haslam has promised the evaluation comes after the season.
5) Banner developed a style in Philadelphia to take young players and extend their contracts in their first and second years. The player might have been a bit of a surprise in terms of performance, so Banner would give them new contracts that seemed lucrative at the time. But over time the guys kept playing well and the contract become under value. Think Josh Cribbs, who somehow signed a six-year extension after his first year. That was part of the bitterness in the Eagles locker room. In the summer, Eagles veteran Todd Herremans told the Philadelphia Daily News: “In the past, it's no secret, guys in the locker room, the media, even fans always knew the Eagles were a cheaper organization, for lack of a better term. They got young guys [including Herremans] to do those [below-market] extensions early in their careers. The players were the ones who agreed to those extensions, so you can't really fault the front office. They were being smart in that respect. But it's definitely a little different feeling in the locker room now (without Banner and with Roseman/Reid). Guys realize that if they play out their contract, they're not going to just get sent away. They now seem to have a take-care-of-their-own mentality.''
6) Of his negotiating style, Banner said this: “I learned through the years in Philadelphia, and I justifiably developed a reputation early in the years I was in Philadelphia of being a particularly tough negotiator. I think if you talk to people who negotiated with me later, I learned that there was some value sometimes in finding common ground as opposed to trying to win the negotiations.”
7) Another quote from Banner stood out. That’s when he said: "I know these (Browns) fans have been through a lot of hopeful starts and I don’t want to sit up here and be the next promiser in their lives. We’re just going to have to deliver." Thank goodness ... no false bluster.
8) Banner said he’d be in a straightjacket if turning the Browns into winners takes five years. Said Haslam: “If five years from now, this franchise is not more successful than it is now, a lot more, and you judge that in wins and losses then the two of us will accept all the blame because there are no excuses for this not being one of the top franchises in the NFL.” Again … no false bluster.
9) A lot of what was said did sound vaguely familiar. Because there have been soooo many of these news conferences over the years. Carmen Policy promised to hire the best people and to win championships. Butch Davis’ teams fought their guts out. Romeo Crennel and Phil Savage were going to be the tandem. Eric Mangini had the experience. Mike Holmgren brought credibility and experience. They all tried, but it didn’t work. Banner said he wanted to hire the best people to make the Browns the best organization. Holmgren hired Heckert and Bryan Weidmeier and called them “good men who do a good job.” So when Banner talks about great people and winning a championship and doing the right things and having people with character, it all sounded familiar. The one difference? The owner sitting next to him. All the other people said what they said in the Lerner ownership. Now there’s a new sheriff in town. Which is the one and only reason to think this time it might actually be … well … different. Because Haslam has the opportunity to create a new culture, approach and vibe with the team -- a culture and vibe that has been missing despite the best efforts of many good people trying to develop and foster it.
10) I do think this new regime will have a leg up on others that took over, because I believe that the new regime has a quarterback in Brandon Weeden and a running back in Trent Richardson. The quarterback, to me, is the most vital part. There’s an old saying that the most important positions on the field should be filled this way: Start with the quarterback, then get the guy who protects the quarterback, then get the guy who pressures the quarterback, and then get the guy who covers the guys the quarterback throws to. Which would be quarterback-left tackle-defensive end-cornerback. Assuming Weeden grows and Joe Thomas doesn’t lose it, the Browns have the quarterback and left tackle. They might have the cornerback, though they could use another. But they lack a pass rusher on defense -- either at linebacker or end. I’m not sure past takeover regimes could say they had that much of the foundation. Mangini was given Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace and Colt McCoy in his second year, for crying out loud. But … if Weeden does indeed make it, perhaps some credit should go Holmgren’s way for recognizing that it wasn’t going to work by staying status quo at the most important position.
For the rest of the story, there are some bonus items in the blog, Beside the Point! As always, please stow your bags under the seat in front of you.