The Jimmy Haslam era is going to bring many changes to the Cleveland Browns organization, and preferably, they will turn out to be good changes for once. There is no telling what those changes may be, but speculation is being published all over the place. To date, the only change fans do know for sure is that Joe Banner is on as the team’s CEO. Banner brings with him years of experience as a successful executive with the Philadelphia Eagles, where he developed relationships with many members of the current Browns coaching staff and front office.
Yesterday in the Plain Dealer, Mary Kay Cabot shared an in-depth interview where Banner discusses what decisions to expect from the team as it transitions into new leadership. Banner did not have too many surprising answers, but he did make a number of statements that gained my attention.
For one, Banner stated that the team still needs to determine whether or not Brandon Weeden is the quarterback of the future. Let’s all join together for a collective deep sigh and “Here we go again.”
I do believe that Banner has serious doubts about Brandon Weeden. Banner is surely wondering if Mike Holmgren, who likely knew he was a lame duck when Randy Lerner was tossing around the possibility of selling the team, simply wanted to make sure he drafted a quarterback who could stand as the pick that represents Holmgren’s legacy in Cleveland. Holmgren is known as a quarterback guy, so he wanted to draft one that wasn’t named Colt McCoy to be the representation of his entire tenure. If Weeden is good, the Holmgren era has to be looked at as a success. If he’s bad, Holmgren’s time in Cleveland will be scrutinized forever. Banner is now in the position of deciding that fate very early in Weeden’s career.
I believe Weeden has done enough – coupled with Geno Smith looking more like Akili Smith as of late and Matt Barkley’s somewhat pedestrian season – to deserve another season that involves surrounding him with more talent. I expect Weeden to start Week One of 2013 with no true competition behind him and a big name receiver lining up opposite Josh Gordon (Dwayne Bowe is my prediction because he is not quite the best free agent option this offseason and because he is an absolutely perfect complement to Gordon).
Naturally, Banner also talks quite a bit about head coach Pat Shurmur. He says that he has had a nice relationship with Shurmur in the past, and he is not worried about minor mistakes he may have made but rather whether or not Shurmur “has the qualities we’re looking for” in a head coach. Who knows what that really means, but if I were Pat Shurmur, I would not be getting too comfortable regardless of my relationship with Banner. I, and almost every Browns fan, thinks he lacks those aforementioned coaching qualities, no matter what they are.
Although this team is simply not that good and not every misfortune can be blamed on Shurmur, he frankly makes far too many mistakes on the sideline. And the mistakes demonstrate a lack of competence. From shoddy use of timeouts or head-scratching play calling, his mistakes – which seem as “rookie” as the many rookie mistakes this team makes week-to-week – cost the team wins. The Browns lose many games the exact same way. They play tough, but in the end, when they need a good drive or a defensive stop, they just cannot get over the hump. I believe that is a mentality created by the coaching staff.
Banner said in the interview, “You can’t win without a great coach. If you have a great enough coach and quarterback, you can afford to make a few more personnel mistakes.” I don’t think Shurmur has done nearly enough to fit that sentiment, and Banner’s long explanation about what the process would look like if a change were to happen suggests that a change is likely to happen.
Couple that with Banner’s very apparent pride in hiring Andy Reid in Philadelphia, and one can bet he will want to help make a coaching decision yet again. I predict Shurmur will be fired immediately following the season, if not sooner. Candidates to take over next season will include (from least likely to most likely) Bill Cowher, Nick Saban, Andy Reid, Jon Gruden, and some random guy few have ever heard of before.
Banner was equally as unsure about general manager Tom Heckert’s future with the Browns. I truly believe Heckert is a good general manager. He has added many pieces to a roster that, when he started the job, was literally almost pieceless. He has built a solid defensive line, added more talent to the offensive line, and drafted a few skill position players who show promise.
However, there was one quote that summed it all up for me.
“Tom left the Eagles because he wanted more input. It wasn’t a negative thing,” Banner said as part of his response to whether Heckert has a legitimate chance to stick around or not.
Whether his leaving the Eagles was negative or not, Heckert now finds himself in a very similar situation to the one he left in Philadelphia. Many of his ideas would be trumped by Banner and Jimmy Haslam, and that might frustrate him. Banner may very well like Heckert, but I think the two will mutually agree to part ways. Although I would prefer to see him stick around, I believe Tom Heckert is in his final months in Cleveland.
And for my final, most important takeaway from Banner’s interview: this guy is extremely smart. The organization is in good hands, in terms of both ownership and the top of the front office. Browns fans haven’t been able to say that since returning to the league.
Rest easy, Browns fans. Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner are major upgrades to the team’s hierarchy. This tandem definitely has what it takes to lead this franchise back towards prestige and away from punchlines.
Now they just need to do it.