Mike Lombardi is out as general manager after only one year with the Cleveland Browns. He came in with a terrible track record (something he owned in his press conference) and wanted to prove he could do the job. Lombardi was largely invisible and kept out of the media’s spotlight, which caused many to obsess about how hidden he was from the media. A year later, the Browns are in better shape and poised to be able to move forward as a franchise.
I was terrified of the Browns hiring Lombardi. I never agreed with him when I have listened to him in the past as an evaluator, constantly finding myself on the other side of just about everything I heard him discuss. Nevertheless, when Lombardi was in Cleveland, I agreed with just about every decision made by this front office in terms of personnel moves.
Free agent pickups - Desmond Bryant, Paul Kruger, Quentin Groves, Brian Hoyer, and a series of disposable players.
Bryant was arguably the best player on the entire defense, outstanding in both run and pass defense. He locked down the right end spot in Ray Horton’s defense. When he went out with the heart issue (now believed to be fixed through surgery), the pass rush had a noticeable drop off in his absence. Perhaps just as important, Bryant should have no problem fitting in to what Mike Pettine wants to do defensively and with a presumably healthy heart, should only get better.
Kruger was a substantially better run defender with the Browns than he was with the Ravens and was actually just as productive as a pass rusher in terms of pressures, getting just as many in fewer attempts. Critics point to the box score and say he was bad, but he was good and again, should only be better this year.
Groves was the captain on special teams and was effective as a pass rusher, but a high ankle sprain ultimately ended his season prematurely. As a third or fourth option, he was a terrific value at about $1.5 million for the season. It remains to be seen if he will be retained and if not, he will likely follow Horton to Tennessee.
Hoyer was a pleasant surprise and someone Lombardi had an almost weird infatuation with at times. While it is not clear if Hoyer is necessarily a long term answer at quarterback, but he is certainly at least a viable backup and could be a nice starter. Lombardi was right and if not for the ACL injury, Lombardi, Joe Banner and Rob Chudzinski might still be employed.
NFL Draft - Barkevious Mingo, Leon McFadden, Jamoris Slaughter, Garrett Gilkey, Armonty Bryant
There are a ton of people who are critical of the pick of Mingo. I loved Mingo in the process and he was the guy I wanted the team to get. His speed and explosiveness are uncanny and that showed up right off the bat as his first play as a pro was a sack. He was drafted as a high upside project taken in a year that was taken for 2014 more than 2013. Most of the people who do not like Mingo cannot come up with an alternative that was better or even as good as Mingo has been. With Kruger and Jabaal Sheard, maybe still Groves, the Browns have a ton of talented pass rushers and Mingo’s ceiling is unbelievably high.
Leon McFadden was not the guy I would have picked, but I certainly understand it. Injuries derailed McFadden’s rookie season right off of the bat and Chud kept playing Chris Owens instead of the rookie, which was apparently an issue between the coach and front office. After the bye week, McFadden got more playing time and was a nice role player. It is unclear where he will go from here.
Slaughter was drafted as a player who was coming off an injury and had talent. He never got healthy this past year, so he was unable to contribute but was retained on the practice squad and should be back to compete for a spot this year. There is no indication where he goes from here.
Gilkey was brought in as an incredible athlete as a guard with athleticism and strength for the position, but needing to get more polished and refined in his technique, especially as a pass blocker. He is basically the ideal developmental player as a guard and he has a high ceiling and if he can learn, he could be a long time contributor. Whether in a gap blocking scheme or zone blocking scheme, Gilkey should be able to contribute in any scheme, but this year will be critical for him to prove he can stay on the roster.
Bryant came out with a troubled background and immediately reminded everyone why with the DUI arrest shortly after the draft. They used a low risk pick on a terrific athlete. Bryant was able to come in and contribute as a rookie, getting some pressure and able to get sacks in his rookie season. He gives the Browns, whether with Horton or Pettine as a sleeker, more athletic down lineman.
Trades – Trent Richardson, draft picks
The deal that sent Richardson to the Indianapolis Colts was outright theft and whatever happens with the pick, that deal was a steal. Amazingly, there are still people trying to argue against that deal, but Richardson did nothing for the Colts and the Browns got just as little out of the people who replaced him. That deal is a substantial opportunity to make this team better.
There were certainly players I would have liked to make with the fourth and fifth round picks they traded, but the Browns now have an extra third and fourth round pick this year, which is certainly nice to have now. It gives them ammo and flexibility if they want to move those picks or other picks and have picks to fall back on if they do make a move.
So, while I have never agreed with Lombardi in the past, but I agreed with basically everything he did in the past year. If he ends up being wrong, I will have been wrong right along with him. The jury is out on where these picks and moves will go, but I still like what the Browns were able to get done. There are plenty who are saying the Browns got nothing out of this draft, which is silly.
They put a significant amount of pressure on the 2014 NFL Draft and getting a quarterback that simply was not there in 2013. As a result, investing substantially in the defense now gives the Browns a ton of flexibility, allowing them to evaluate the offense and make it clear where they needed help. Now, while there are areas on defense that can use help, the Browns have 10 picks to address and build an offense. The emergence of Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron and the move of Richardson help make it clearer on what they need and where they need it. Additionally, Kyle Shanahan’s hire makes it more clear on how they may want to attack those holes.
I hated the hire of Mike Lombardi when it happened, but ultimately, he won me over with his moves. That does not mean I was not nervous with him making the picks in 2014 as I would be with anyone because no one warrants trust. Nevertheless, however Lombardi ends up in regards to these moves, I will be there right along with him. It is easy to poke fun and criticize him for any number of reasons, but I was surprisingly happy with the moves he made in his year in Cleveland.