A Look Inside: Why the Browns Restructured the Organization

Daryl Ruiter (92.3 The Fan)

Chris Pokorny puts his spin on the bold decision by Jimmy Haslam to make an abrupt change.

As eventful of an offseason as this has already been so far for the Cleveland Browns, make no mistake that one thing was made clear by Jimmy Haslam's actions on Tuesday: things did not go as planned, and he could not stand by and risk blowing one of the greatest offseason situations, with regard to adding new players, an NFL team could possible ask for. Here's a quick reminder of what we're talking about:

  • $45.46 million in cap space, 3rd most in the NFL.
  • Only seven free agents, meaning we get to retain most, if not all, of our young talent.
  • 10 draft picks, including two first-rounders, a second-rounder, two third-rounders, and two fourth-rounders.

With that type of position in the draft and in free agency, the Browns were set up to have one of the greatest offseasons in recent NFL history, except for one thing: players did not want to come here because of the toxicity of Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi. Haslam can put on a cover story all he wants about the "dysfunction label" being media-fabricated, but the fact that both Banner and Lombardi are being ousted from the organization speaks for itself.

Personally, I thought Banner helped put some great things into motion regarding the business side of things. The problem came to Banner meddling himself into the football side of things, to which new general manager Ray Farmer even said, "[Banner] would classify himself as a non-traditional football guy, and I would say that is a good representation." I can't really comment on Lombardi, because no one knows what the hell he ever actually did as a member of the organization because we never got to hear from him.

Reading Peter King's column dedicated to the Browns this morning, though, you can see why Haslam started to wince at the thought of these two guys ruining the aforementioned "dream offseason" in terms of cap space and draft picks: they are letting their own agendas get in the way of a harmonious organization, and one that commands respect around the NFL. Take a look at what King's sources told him about the Ken Whisenhunt interview the Browns held a couple of weeks ago:

When Whisenhunt entered the room this year for the interview, he was one of the hottest commodities on the head-coaching market, and the Browns were very interested in him.

Whisenhunt said, "Why didn’t you guys hire me last year?’’

The Browns’ CEO who was in both interviews, Joe Banner, told Whisenhunt he didn’t think the staff he was putting together at the time was "a championship coaching staff."

Whisenhunt, one NFL source said, was peeved that a man who had never coached and who’d been involved in football mainly on the business side would sit in judgment of his potential coaches.

"Who are you to tell me what makes up a championship coaching staff?" Whisenhunt said, with an edge in his voice.

Side note: I encourage everyone to read the entirety of King's article on MMQB.

King added that "Banner’s brusque and sometimes confrontational style rubbed many around the NFL the wrong way," but that it painted a good picture of why "Haslam stunned the NFL with the late-morning announcement." Imagine Haslam in that interview, seeing a respected coach in Whisenhunt telling off his front office. Add in the report from King that Greg Schiano was an intriguing candidate to Haslam after some very strong recommendations by Bill Belichick, but that Banner was "so turned off to Schiano that he was cold during the interview and barely participated in it."

Word travels around the NFL fast. If Whisenhunt was irked by how the Browns' front office ran things, chances are that players associated with him in San Diego, Arizona, Pittsburgh, and anywhere else he's been are going to take his side and stay away from Cleveland. From there, the effect multiplies (as if it wasn't already present) -- all of those players tell their friends, players hear it in the media, etc. Sure, you'll get a guy like Paul Kruger to come here because you're throwing a ton of money at him, but you're not having players line up at your door with confidence in the state of the organization.

Fortunately for Haslam, he had an easy out staring him right in the face: team president Alec Scheiner and assistant general manager Ray Farmer. For all of the negativity that Banner and Lombardi had associated with them league-wide, Scheiner and Farmer had nothing but positive aura surrounding them. I don't know how many owners would actually have the fortitude to pull the trigger and make the change after just one year. To a degree, it was a panic-driven move by Haslam, but that doesn't mean it wasn't the right move, and here's why:

Think about how many free agents or front office people around the league wanted to work for an organization run by Banner and Lombardi. In my head, I picture a lot of players, perhaps even a guy like C Alex Mack, laughing to themselves and thinking, "no thanks."

Now, think about how many free agents or front office people around the league want to work for an organization with clear divisions of Scheiner staying on the business side of things and Farmer as the general manager. I'm not saying players are going to be lining up outside of Berea for a chance to play here, but they are certainly going to entertain the thought of coming here a lot more than they would have before. Any trepidations they would have had about Banner and Lombardi simply vanished into thin air -- and just like that, the Browns are back in business, ready to take full advantage of the luxuries this organization has in cap space and draft picks.

If you don't believe that, here is the most damning evidence of all:

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