Joe Banner is not the prototypical "coach-speak" front office executive. He is known for his direct and often blunt style, and has little reason in his current incarnation as CEO to censor his comments. All Browns staff reports directly to him, including football operations and strategic personnel.
There is also PLENTY Joe Banner could have said in the interview, but didn't. We'll answer the following questions for him, without a trace of football politics.
Banner's Perception of Cleveland from His Philadelphia Days:
Banner was asked how he viewed the Browns when he was part of the Eagles' organization:
"We viewed Cleveland as a totally untapped, phenomenal football market. The opportunity to do something special is here, but it seems no one has been able to seize it."
"We loved coming to Cleveland, every year. It was a game that we circled on the calendar as a sure win, and loved coming into town to get the best food in the midwest for pennies on the dollar. Never had to worry about a conflict of interest in the top rounds of the draft, because we weren't drafting in those spots anyway, and the players they took were real head scratchers. Having Pat Shurmur in town was an added bonus, because he wasn't going to call anything that our defense hasn't seen a thousand times in practice. We could have called their plays out by memory just from formation! Going to miss having him around.....*tear* I wonder where he ended up?
About the coaching changes in the offseason
"Some people are intimidated about setting the bar really high. We want to build a Super Bowl team. For some people, that's too much pressure."
What he meant was:
"The previous group would have been lucky to eke into the playoffs in 2013 and 2014, and the draft picks they made early last year, like Richardson and Weeden, were reaches. We plan on having a real plan that is sustainable down the road AND can win it all, like what I had in Philly. We had to replace (wholesale) the "its a process" mentality that EVERYONE in this organization eschewed. If I heard "five year plan" one more time, I was going to throat chop someone. Playoff tickets, MIke? /fart noises"
About changing the defense:
"every offensive coach we talked to in the off-season said the attacking 3-4 defense was the hardest to face."
"Our defense was garbage. We ranked near the bottom of the league every year, and this bend but don't break
kept our offense from getting back on the field and establishing any kind of a rhythm. We haven't been able to stop the run since Lombardi's name didn't elicit a groan and an eye roll, and we make AFCN quarterbacks look like Drew Brees every year. It had to stop, and we had a chance to bring a guy in that is the discussion for BEST DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR IN THE GAME to run our defense, and you know what? He runs a 3-4. That's an idiot question.
On the quality of the players on the roster currently:
"When [coach] Andy Reid was hired in Philadelphia, we asked how many of our 22 starters would be good enough to play for us when we compete for a championship? The answer was 11. I think that's comparable here, but I'm not going to name them."
This is actually a delightfully honest answer. In essence, Banner just let the locker room know that he thinks 11 people are actual NFL players. He signed 3 guys for a decent amount of money, so......8 guys.
On Mike Lombardi:
"I knew [Lombardi] would not be a popular choice, and it would make me less popular. ... To a fault, I'm guilty of doing what I think is best to win ... and staying strong about it as to opposed to worrying about what is popular. You have to be prepared to make tough decisions, having the guts to stand up and make the decision."
What he was thinking:
"You guys understand why I was run out of Philly, right? Despite making a whole slew of shrewd business decisions and keeping a team in contention for a decade, I was routinely lambasted for letting popular players go. A big part of the reason why this happened is because Andy Reid was given cart blanche credit for all of our success. [redacted] Andy Reid. That's not going to happen here, because Mike Lombardi is my [redacted]. He got another chance at a pro player personnel job that NO ONE would offer him, and I have his utmost loyalty, in return. Since the important thing here is to avoid a power struggle, this was a no brainer.
Draft Day Trades:
"We had a chance to turn fourth- and fifth-round picks in a weak draft into third- and fourth-round picks next season in a strong draft. ... That's a no-brainer
Yeah, but he left out:
"We have entirely too many players that we still have to evaluate, and bringing in another boatload of unproven guys was our last concern. We got the two things we needed to address most desperately (pass rusher and cornerback) and we will get BETTER value for this picks next year. Do I care if it's Pittsburgh? Absolutely not. I'd rather fleece them than anyone else"
On final authority:
"Is there any doubt who has this, after I ran Heckert out of town? It's unequivocally going to be me, and every single person we brought in this offseason knows it. Zero chances i'm engaging in another power struggle here, and trust me....you'd rather I do this than hand the keys to Mike"
On spending in free agency:
"We spent close to 90m....."
Well, this can get real in a hurry.
"Well, we switched defenses from a 4-3 to a 3-4, so unless we wanted to be awful, we had to bring in the players to round that out. We overpaid for Paul Kruger, but it's one less piece that needs to be addressed immediately, and he should be average. We want to build through the draft, so rather than paying a bunch of free agents and destroying our cap like Miami did, we brought in the guys we absolutely needed, and maintained the cap flexibility so I can afford to extend the 8 guys that I think aren't total crap"
On Brandon Weeden
"Everyone has been encouraged by how hard he has worked. He has made progress. We believe this system -- throwing from the shotgun and throwing more downfield -- is more likely to fit him."
"The first thing you ask is how he throws the ball? He throws it very well. We have to see how he does with the intangible aspects. If they all come together, there are a lot of possibilities. But we have to wait and see."
"On offense, we want to see what develops before making big changes, other than the scheme. And the change on offense is just as big as from the 4-3 to the 3-4 on defense."
Best coachspeak yet, which translates to:
"We already wasted a 1st round pick on him, and the system he was in told us relatively little about his ceiling aside from the fact that he wasn't comfortable with 3/5 step drops, and that his decision making/accuracy on short routes was suspect. There wasn't a good option in free agency, and the weak draft class of 2013 quarterbacks means that our best option is to wait and see if he can function in a normal offense. If he can't play under Chud and Turner, then we'll have a definitive answer on him.
On Josh Gordon's suspension:
"[it's a] concern and a disappointment,"
"We're furious that he chose to spend his offseason learning the in's and out's of Miami clubs instead of his playbook, and have to move forward under the assumption that he can't totally be trusted. He's going to have to grow up in a big way, and we're unsure if he's capable of making the leap, after the career he's had in college and professionally. Fingers crossed."
And that concludes our "honest interview" of Joe Banner, and next time we're hoping to interview someone who is a little less honest already.