Since Wednesday's evisceration of how dysfunctional the Cleveland Browns organization is, my emotion can best be described as seething. Browns fans have been tortured unlike any other fan base in the NFL -- it's become almost second nature for somebody to rattle our cage with a few more controversies as we all roll our eyes and say, "here we go again."
I've heard team owner Jimmy Haslam, general manager Ray Farmer, team president Alec Scheiner, and the current culture in Berea torn to shreds over the past couple of days. I'm not seething at the current state of the Browns, though. Instead, I'm seething about the likes of Jason La Canfora and Kyle Shanahan, as well as the litany of fans and members of the media who have so easily bought in to the negative and twisted spin placed on our beloved franchise.
Believe what you choose to believe. If more evidence leaks out about the Browns, or if I see a reporter like Jay Glazer dish out the details, I'll admit I was wrong. Until then, I'm coming to the defense of the Cleveland Browns. Let's consider some elements about this whole situation, shall we?
Painting the Picture of Jason La Canfora's Sources
At the beginning of his editorial, La Canfora apologized to Cleveland fans for once praising Haslam, saying that, "things are actually worse than ever in Cleveland, where even a surprising seven-win season has been marred by the unraveling of the staff, the roster, and any faint hopes that for once, finally, this franchise might be on the upswing." He then goes on to say, "The culture in the Browns building is toxic, I'm told. Morale is beyond low. If you can flee, you are fleeing."
Besides being a part of The Three Stooges, prior to being fired last February, the adjective often used to describe the tandem of Joe Banner and Michael Lombardi was "toxic." Fair or not, that reputation simmered for awhile to the point where the attitude toward the Browns at last year's Senior Bowl was "disparaging to downright nasty." It's been no secret that La Canfora has always thought highly of Banner and Lombardi. Banner and La Canfora still shoot the breeze on Twitter, and when he's not enjoying a good old piece of propaganda about Banner, I'm sure the two connect over the phone every so often.
At the end of December, Banner got back into the NFL when he was hired by Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank as a consultant for the franchise. One of the things attributed to Banner was him bringing Shanahan to Atlanta after he negotiated his way out of his contract with the Browns. Considering the duo briefly spent some time together in Cleveland too, I'm sure they had a lot of stories to exchange.
Also, let's not forget about former quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains (now with the Chicago Bears), who was the only offensive coach outright fired this offseason. He was on the way out well before last season even began after he blabbed/insinuated on a small radio station that Haslam was the guy who gave the final order to draft quarterback Johnny Manziel. Heck, I probably could've thrown a couple bribes at Loggains and gotten him to rat on his former team.
A Little Bit About Kyle Shanahan
When the Browns first hired Shanahan, I was intrigued, but I also questioned the negative reputation he had in the past. In fact, it was La Canfora who pointed out how petulant Shanahan reportedly was with the Washington Redskins and how distant his relationship was with quarterback Robert Griffin III. Is he a bright, young, offensive mind? Potentially. I praised his playbook and zone-blocking scheme the first half of the season, but the most impressive quality of a coach for me is how one can adapt when key personnel changes.
When Alec Mack left the lineup, we failed. The Browns went from averaging 4.44 YPC with him in the lineup to 3.19 YPC without him in the lineup. The team's points per game total dropped from 26.8 points to 15 points. Was Shanahan's whole offense that predicated on one player that he couldn't find a way to improve over a span of 11 games?
When Josh Gordon returned to the lineup, Shanahan didn't know how to utilize him.
When Johnny Manziel made his debut, we couldn't score a single point and for some reason, the entire playbook that had previously worked for the Browns, but just needed a greater degree of mobility from the quarterback position, was scrapped.
If the Redskins' gig was any indication, then I doubt that Shanahan's departure sent shockwaves in Berea, as La Canfora put it. The writing was on the wall all season long: Shanahan didn't want to work with Manziel. The second Manziel was named the starter, Shanahan quit on the team and on the season. Don't believe me? I have never subscribed to The OBR, but I've heard about how reliable their sources have been for a long time, and Lane Adkins has been putting inside scoops on Twitter over the past two months before the rest of the media gets to it. I trust his information before anyone else, so this holds weight with me:
How long before Shanahan moves on from the Falcons? Because if things aren't perfect, he's shown that he crumbles under the pressure or flat out walks out.
It's All About the Tone
Perhaps the most ridiculous parts of La Canfora's report are the ones involving Scheiner. La Canfora first vilifies the team president by saying that "Haslam and Scheiner were aloof, standing in the corner, and not involved in the celebration" after quarterback Brian Hoyer led a comeback victory over the Falcons. The source of their disappointment was the fact that they knew Manziel would not be starting the following week because of the victory. Even if Scheiner wasn't jumping up-and-down, have you guys ever seen Scheiner? The guy is always in a suit, talking about business with a dry sense of humor. People have different personalities -- if he's not chest-bumping players after the win, since when is that something that warrants criticism?
And then, there is this:
At 6 a.m. every Monday, Pettine is joined by Farmer and Scheiner to watch film, with the division between ownership and day-to-day coaching decisions becoming increasingly blurred.
It's all about the way the story is portrayed. Because the whole tone of La Canfora's piece is negative, people are questioning why Scheiner would dare be involved in anything related to film. From Adkins' Twitter account, it sounds like Scheiner would more so ask questions to gain a better understanding of film and personnel. I'm sure people will have different opinions on this (such as kanicki's take that Scheiner needs to stay in his lane), but I see nothing wrong with someone learning a few things about elements outside of their normal scope. If everybody was supposed to stay in their lane, then I suppose that Pettine shouldn't have had anything to do with reviewing the upcoming uniform changes, right?
If I had known that Scheiner was watching film and wrote a story on it, but represented it as a sign of a strong bond between the people in charge, would it even have been a story? I'll tell you this -- it wouldn't have pierced a single radio air-wave.
Things Aren't as Bad as They Seem
Do the Browns have organizational problems? Of course, but who doesn't? More times than not, you iron things out and that's the end of it. Not everyone has a former offensive coordinator quitting and then feeding a diatribe to the media in order to patch up his own reputation.
Does Haslam meddle in affairs more than he should? Probably, but we already knew this.
Was Ray Farmer wrong for texting down to the sideline or the coaching booth on gameday? Yes, because it's against NFL policy. As far as the context of the messages, we really know nothing about what was conveyed. What if it was about Manziel's health during the Carolina game? What if it was about Gordon not being involved on third down plays? What if it was a question about the running back utilization? This is the one issue that could raise problems for the Browns -- there is a time and place for conversing with the staff, and it's not during a game. It could also cost the Browns a draft pick. Beyond that, does it really make the environment in Berea "toxic" moving forward? We've always heard about how respected Farmer is inside and outside the organization, and I don't see how the switch has suddenly flipped beyond the point of no return.
Should Scheiner stay out of the film room? If Mike Pettine has an issue with it, I'm sure he can hash it out with Scheiner. It's certainly not going to cripple the organization.
Let's not forget what really matters: the 53 players who will be on the roster come gameday in 2015. Gordon is gone, but the team managed all of its offensive success without him last year. Mack will be back on a line that, when everyone is playing, is one of the best in the NFL. The defense looked ready for prime time last year. Between all of the cap room the team has in free agency and the picks they have stockpiled in the draft, the roster can be improved on a team that was once 7-4 in 2014. Figuring out what to do at the quarterback position is an integral part of trying to improve the roster, but that is something we've already known for awhile now.
Browns players believe in Mike Pettine. That outweighs anything and everything.
— Kevin Jones (@Mr_KevinJones) February 4, 2015
After all of that, I loop back to La Canfora's piece: organizations across the NFL have issues, so why obsessively pick on the Browns in the manner in which he did? To satisfy others' revenge kicks? The Browns being a "dysfunctional franchise" is nothing but an overblown story about...nothing really. Heck, if we're a "dysfunctional franchise" now, then what the hell were we from 1999-2013?
Rest easy, and Go Browns.