In his one year of service, Joe Banner was the target of the most criticism and given the least benefit of the doubt of perhaps anyone charged with running the organization since the Cleveland Browns came back in 1999. Banner warranted a substantial amount of that criticism, especially when more and more is revealed about the inner workings of the operation. Nevertheless, Banner’s short tenure is a little more complicated than is being painted right now by most in hindsight and has even included a mythology that is simply not true. The Browns and fans may be better off with Banner no longer part of the organization, but the results he helped produce with the roster, draft, and personnel were far better than people want to give credit at the moment. Considering the bizarre circumstances in Berea, it may prove to be a situation where the Browns ultimately got away from Banner while they were ahead.
Since Banner was let go, the national media has largely painted the Browns as a dysfunctional organization that continues to struggle. Right now, it is difficult argue with that considering the amount of turnover and results on the field.
While the perspective of the national media has been critical of the process, although included some mixed messages, they have also been far more positive in terms of the overall health of the roster than people have been locally. For the most part, most national pundits look at the Browns and say that if the team can find a quarterback, they can be a good team quickly because of the talent on this roster.
Much of the local media and every fan that has made their voice heard has applauded the move for a number of reasons. Good, quality candidates for the general manager and head coaching jobs did not want to work with Banner, no one wanted to deal with Banner, and he was not a football guy, which produced terrible results.
The newly promoted general manager, Ray Farmer, has been universally lauded in Cleveland, but he worked with Banner last year and was fully expecting to do so this year. Newly hired head coach Mike Pettine was Haslam’s guy, though he was steered toward him, but he fully expected to be working with Banner this year. The news was as surprising to Pettine and Farmer as it was to anyone else. So, if the logic is that no one who was a good candidate wanted to work with Banner, then both Farmer and Pettine are going to fail.
It remains to be seen if it was a positive or negative result, but the fans who did not want Josh McDaniels or Greg Schiano to be the head coach of this team have Banner to thank. Haslam pushed hard for both and it was Banner that threw his tiny, impish body in the way as he was conscious of the backlash from the fans (which is generally a poor way to go). Schiano, especially, was met with a unanimous groan from the public, save Dustin Fox from 92.3 the Fan who admitted a bias for Schiano and thought he would have been a good coach here.
There is also a thought process that Banner is the reason that Chip Kelly is not here. Based on the early returns, that is a really sore spot for Browns fans. This is another area that only serves to make Banner look worse in Cleveland. This line of thinking certainly supports the thought process that there were people who wanted no part of Banner.
The Browns will now be able to get free agents and teams will be willing to deal with them now that Banner is gone. Evidently, anyone saying that is conveniently forgetting that Banner made deals with Paul Kruger, Desmond Bryant, Brian Hoyer, the Indianapolis Colts twice, the Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks.
People argue that Kruger was overpaid, which is the nature of free agency. That is why relying on free agency is an incredibly risky proposition as the money goes fast and teams have to pay more to get premium players. Kruger probably is overpaid, but he was an excellent player for the Browns.
Kruger’s critics look at the box scores and look at the sacks slot and assume he was terrible. He actually produced just as many hurries as he did last year with the Ravens but did it in fewer opportunities to rush the passer. Kruger also went from being a sieve against the run to being a fantastic run player last year. Obviously, sacks would be like a warm hug for fans, but Kruger was great.
Bryant was arguably the best player on the entire defense. He locked down the right end spot in Ray Horton’s defense last year. Bryant was a great run defender, but he really proved to be the engine for the team’s entire pass rush. That became painfully clear when he went on injured reserve to have the heart operation that should help him be better from here on out, according to Quentin Groves, who had the same procedure done early in his career. Bryant was the one player on the Browns defensive line that could be an impact player on any down and in any situation last year. He will be a huge part of what Pettine does with his defense.
Hoyer was Mike Lombardi’s prize and he deserves credit for it. It was largely a laugh line early in the process when Hoyer was on the Arizona Cardinals roster and it was a joke that of course the Browns would bring him in when he was a free agent. They did and then when Hoyer got into the game, people stopped laughing. Now, there are people arguing that Hoyer should be the starting quarterback for the Browns next year. Had he not been injured, the complexion of the front office today could be completely different.
The Browns traded Trent Richardson for a first round pick to the Colts. Colts general manager Ryan Grigson has been regarded as having done a good job in Indianapolis, but that trade was unbelievably one sided in favor of Banner and Lombardi and gives the Browns an opportunity to really make a big improvement this coming year. They also made a deal during last year’s draft to give the Colts their fifth round pick for their fourth round pick for this coming year. The two moves combined have given Farmer an extra first and fourth round pick for this year.
Banner traded inside linebacker and former Tom Heckert 6th round pick Emmanuel Acho to the Eagles for running back Dion Lewis. Before going down in preseason with a broken leg, Lewis was highly regarded and many expected him to be a huge cog in the Browns offense. After it was revealed he had a broken leg, there were a number of incredibly disappointed fans and media for a rotational running back. Lewis is contracted to be in Cleveland next year and assuming he recovers well, he actually enters camp as the top back.
The Browns made a deal in last year’s draft to send their fourth round pick to the Steelers for their third round pick this year. At the time, people freaked out because the Steelers picked Shamarko Thomas from Syracuse, who was going to be the best player in the entire draft by virtue of the trade. So far, Thomas is still waiting to be unleashed on the NFL and the Browns now have an extra third round pick for Farmer to use this year.
In that same draft, the Browns traded down about 50 spots in the draft from the fourth round to the fifth round to get wide receiver Davone Bess from the Miami Dolphins. The move was universally applauded at the time, but Bess struggled and melted down personally this past season.
The Browns traded defensive end Brian Sanford to the Seahawks for John Moffit, an interior linemen that was going to help their injury riddled situation during the year. The deal was ultimately nixed because Moffitt failed his physical. Moffitt ended up going to Denver, where he retired and Sanford was cut. Sanford is back on the Browns for next year to compete for a spot.
Banner and Lombardi, upon being hired, almost immediately dealt Colt McCoy to the 49ers along with a sixth round pick to pick up a fifth and seventh round pick. McCoy had no fit with the Browns at that point and was given a fresh start with the 49ers. The Browns moved up a round with one pick and got another seventh round pick, which was used on Garrett Gilkey.
The talk of a dysfunctional front office, issues that apparently came up between Rob Chudzinski and the front office , issues between Banner and Lombardi as well as issues between Banner and Haslam certainly paint a picture where the Browns needed to figure out how they wanted to be run. There is a healthy amount of conflict that can push people to be better, but the picture being painted suggests these issues went far beyond that, so Banner and Lombardi ultimately being gone certainly does look good. A regime led by Farmer, Pettine, and President Alec Scheiner certainly looks good on paper as all three are extremely highly regarded around the league. It remains to be seen how they will perform when the rubber meets the road, but they are set up with a great opportunity. If they are successful, Banner has his finger prints on both Farmer and Pettine.
Lastly, the idea that Banner was not a football guy is extremely hollow, just as Farmer being a ‘true football guy’ is meaningless. Ultimately, both are clichés that do not mean anything. In listening to the positives for Farmer since the hire was mentioned, no one is mentioning his track record, which is good. That is the reason to like the hire. The fact Farmer played football in the NFL, is nice, but does not mean anything. Go through all of the positives that were laid out yesterday with Farmer. He was high energy, direct, knows the game because he played it and he could walk into a locker room and command respect from the players. Now put the name Matt Millen in front of that sentence and it still rings true. No one is clamoring for Millen to run the team or the draft.
Farmer is going to succeed or fail because he is good or bad at the job. His track record in talent evaluation is impressive. That is what should be exciting about the move. And if he succeeds, he is just 39 years old and could be around for a long, long time. That is something that means something. Enough with the clichés, because if he does fail, people are going to come back and trash him for the very reasons they like him now.
In the same breath, Banner is looked down upon because he did not play football and is a small guy. He did not win the genetics lottery when it comes to playing football. Trying to discredit him because of that or suggesting that over a decade of experience in Philadelphia does not make him understand the game of football is stupid. That same logic could be used to discredit any critic or fan who has not worked in the game of football, suggesting their opinion is somehow not valid because they are not a ‘true football fan’. It is a ridiculous rabbit hole that ultimately makes it so no one can have an opinion or do anything.
Banner, for all of his faults, leaves the Browns with a better roster, great salary cap situation, the ability to negotiate contracts to keep the players they want, and 10 picks in the 2014 NFL Draft. The prevailing thought seems to be the Browns should consider themselves fortunate they came out as far ahead as they did with all of these issues going on, but on balance, the Browns seem to come out ahead for having had Banner in Cleveland for a year and if they are successful from here, he was integral to that process. So while it is easy to dislike Banner (and it is), nothing about the situation is black and white and there is nothing but grays involved. And in the end, it could prove to be a huge positive for the brown and orange.