Jan 11, 2013; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns chief executive officer Joe Banner during a press conference at the team

Browns Joe Banner: Separating fact from fiction and clichés

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.

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  • Letterman007

    Nice read, it makes you think and then wonder?!

    • Pete Smith

      Thank you.

      • Phillip

        Great article, very fair, which is rare when talking about Banner. The cliche that drives me nuts is that Banner is a “salary cap guy.” To be a master of the cap, wouldn’t someone need to know a thing or two about football? I would think for one to be an expert of proper market value for a player, one would need knowledge of that player and be able to evaluate him first. Like him or not, Banner is a football guy, he just doesn’t look the part.

  • Sam Gold

    “Enough with the clichés…”

    …because that hardly ever happens in sports, or life in general.

    Like it or not this organization was being seen more and more as a growing laughing stock (is that even possible?!?) and Banner was the primary point person to receive that criticism. Whether or not the criticism was accurate he did little to quell the uproar and this is as much a PR business as anything else.

    • Pete Smith

      Because Bill Belichick is a PR mastermind? It’s a winning business. You win games and no one cares.

      • Sam Gold

        Yes, of course winning solves everything and BB has the luxury of winning as a cushion to his uberdouchebaggery. The Browns don’t. 4-12 is not winning and nothing about last year made it look as though an appreciable step forward had been taken from 2012. Maybe not the best time to throw gasoline on a raging dumpster fire.

        • John Duquette

          Uberdouchebaggery!!!! you, Sir, are a cunning linguist

    • http://dawgpounddaily.com/author/markjosephpi/ Mark J

      I don’t even understand that comment in regard to this article. Whether or not that criticism was accurate? Isn’t that what Pete is doing here is just parsing through the bullshit that’s out there?

      IMO, I was never a fan of the Banner/Lombardi hire, but painting the job they did on the money, assets, and personnel side of things is far from the disaster that “media” and dumb fans make it out to be.

      Bad at PR? Yes. The coaching situation is and was messed up. Everything else? Eh, not too bad.

      • Sam Gold

        OK, let me explain myself more clearly. My comment was specifically directed at the growing perception of this team throughout the NFL as an ever expanding joke with Banner and Lombardi at the helm. That perception was making the teams’ ability to interact with the rest of the NFL and become more competitive via those interactions more and more difficult.

        As to the laudable work done by this FO, did Banner and Lombardi accomplish some positives? Of course. That can be said of every front office, good or bad, at some point during their tenure. As to the specific examples raised in this article:

        The assumption that Farmer and Pettine were surprised by and unaware prior to the firing is just that, an assumption. We have no idea what was said by Haslam to either of these men behind closed doors. This is one of only 32 NFL opportunities in the world. Of course there will always be someone willing to accede to less than favorable conditions for the opportunity it represents even if the odds seem hopelessly stacked against them. Just because the author has shown that someone was willing to take the job doesn’t mean the most qualified, most desirable candidates were.

        McDaniels and Schiano: We don’t know the whole story behind McDaniels as there are a number of conflicting reports circulating. To conclude definitively that Banner kept him away, or even that keeping him away was desirable, is speculative at best. It is certainly debatable how much credit Banner receives for this outcome from either perspective. Schiano, based on most reports, was someone Haslam wanted to talk to based on a rec from Belichick. That does not automatically lead to the conclusion that he wanted to hire him. Where is the harm in speaking to any candidate? Banner was unable to comport himself as a professional during this process and no doubt raised a major red flag for the owner who undoubtedly questioned just how capable this impudent little man was of leading this team where Haslam wants it to go.

        Free Agents: Yes, we were able to bring several very good players here last year. Overpaying is a part of FA so it’s neither here nor there. However, with 12 more months of organizational clusterfuckery under their belt what impact might the FO have had on those we could attract going forward? Obviously any conclusion is only speculation but most could agree that it was becoming a less attractive destination rather than more. Wouldn’t a responsible owner take note of such a declining situation and possibly act to correct that perception? And wouldn’t that in turn point to a FO that is hindering rather than helping this team?

        TRich: Were they the masterminds behind the Richardson trade or merely the recipients of incredibly good fortune in that they were there to pick up the phone when the genius from Indy called and inexplicably offered a first round pick for a RB averaging less than 3 yards per carry?

        Dion Lewis: Preseason glory is an ancient tradition here in Cleveland. Not really something to hang one’s hat on.

        Bess: Yes this was universally lauded at the time. Nonetheless, it is the GM’s responsibility to do the research that a cursory 1 hour Google search would have revealed Bess’ problems. This is squarely on their shoulders.

        Moffit: He had a very different story to tell about his dealings with Banner & Lombardi & deceit.

        McCoy: Good trade. Not sure it was anything any other GM couldn’t have accomplished.

        The article says that if Pettine succeeds it has Banner’s fingerprints all over it. It appears from multiple reports that it was Haslam that pushed to hire Pettine and Banner wanted to wait on Quinn risking losing Pettine. Not sure whose fingerprints are more prominent on this hire.

        Everything written about Farmer here is spot-on. Everything written about Banner isn’t. Banner may get ridiculed personally because he didn’t win the genetics lottery but that isn’t why he was deemed incompetent to evaluate talent: He has no history, no track record that would have specifically prepared him for that particular task. To equate that to discrediting a fan (and their opinion) who has no direct impact on the construction of an NFL roster is disingenuous; having an opinion as a fan versus an evaluative conclusion as a GM is apples and oranges.

        As to the better situation Banner left behind: Really? Did Banner really do that much to improve the cap or just not mess up what Heckert left him? We have 10 draft picks. Wasn’t the point of all that to target 2014 which meant 2013 was a gimme? Wasn’t that message communicated to Chud and his staff and weren’t they completely blindsided at the end of the year that all the steps that were taken to set up for 2014 which they were playing an active role in preparing for resulted in a reboot to begin again? Is that being better off than we were?

        Like Mr. Smith states, I’m happy that Farmer and Scheiner are in place and the new structure is set but the examples used to show how Banner is responsible for this positive set of circumstances is misleading. I would argue it was more in spite of rather than because of Banner that we are where we are.

        • posaunepar

          The evidence that the perception of the front office was hindering its ability to interact positively with the rest of the league is just conflicting as the rumors/reports from various unnamed “sources” about what happened with McDaniels/Schiano. The extent to which one believes in the ‘toxicity’ theory is directly proportional to the extent they loathed Banner or Lombardi.

          The truth is that one of the most highly respected up and coming front office executives had no problem coming here to work with them, and then after a year working elbow to elbow with them, agreed to continue working UNDER them, and with great optimism for the future.

          It appears that it was Banner who recognized an opportunity to peddle Richardson to a team in need of a running back and initiated the dialogue. Even if it was the other way around, it took the kind of leadership and discipline an organization needs to pull off the trade. They took a short-term hit to make a significant move in furtherance of their long range strategic plan.

          Google Bess from Jan 1 2013 until the day of the trade. You won’t find a hint of anything suggesting that he had been institutionalized a month or so earlier.

          The author does not credit Banner with hiring Pettine. Rather, the author correctly points out that, just as a qualified FO executive like Ray Farmer was willing to work with the two toxins, so was Pettine because he had no idea what lay ahead in the front office when he agreed to come here. If you think Pettine was a qualified candidate (or Quinn for that matter), then you have to question just how much harm the so called negative perception actually did.

          • Sam Gold

            You are correct, I mis-wrote re: Google. I should have written a Public Records search.

            I supported Banner/Lombardi so there is no direct proportion to my toxicity theory.

            The rest stands as written; as to the rest of your response I can only refer you back to a closer rereading of what I wrote.

            Or read this:

          • posaunepar

            Medical Records are privileged and not accessible to the public. I see not a single word of support for Banner/Lombardi in your quote.

            What part of the theme set forth in the first paragraph did I not understand?

            That perception was making the teams’ ability to interact with the rest
            of the NFL and become more competitive via those interactions more and
            more difficult.

            If your words: the article says that if Pettine succeeds it has Banner’s fingerprints all over it don’t represent an assertion that the author credited Banner with hiring Pettine, what do they mean? And if they don’t, then why did you then go on to explain why Pettine was Haslam’s, not Banner’s choice? .

            You say, correctly so, that just because one or two good coaching candidates were interested doesn’t mean the best were. You can flip that around and ask how many were not interested? Why did the those who backed out back out? One can’t assume the reason was Banner or Lombardi’s presence. An equally plausible explanation is that they wanted more control over their roster, like Kelly last year. The perception that Banner’s personality was responsible for that is a bias-fueled delusional myth. Banner was given that authority by Haslam. That was the structure Haslam put in place.

            Furthermore, is there a more highly qualified GM candidate than Ray Farmer? He was keenly interested – even after working with the two men for an entire year.

            As far as the Krupka article goes – a Twitter debate has as much substance as an air sandwich.

          • Sam Gold

            Medical records are not public record. The initial police involvement that lead to the creation of those records is.

            The rest of your response is argument for argument’s sake; comprehension is either unavailable or ignored. Further discourse is pointless.

          • posaunepar

            Further discussion is, indeed pointless with someone who misrepresents his own writing and blames others for misinterpreting it.

            The initial police involvement last year is not necessarily a matter of public record. it could have been sealed.

  • Nick

    A solid well written article. Many fans won’t like it because it doesn’t fit with their dislike of Banner. But, facts are facts.

  • zarathustra

    Incredibly well done.
    Also, I would have to check but I suspect there is a pretty decent correlation between mingo playing well and Bryant being on the field.

    • Pete Smith

      Certainly would make sense. I am a huge Mingo fan as well… looking forward to seeing what he is able to do with additional strength and development this year.

  • posaunepar

    Outstanding job Pete. Of course, I’m guilty of the same thing as the “it’s all Banner’s fault” crowd: I’m impressed by your work because I agree with you. You just channeled not only my point of view about the recent shakeup, but my approach to analyzing it and the media/public reaction to all things Seal Brown and Orange the past year.

    Two examples in reverse order: First, Mary Kay Cabot’s article recounting the discord during the head coach search is written from the media’s perspective, whose stock in trade is a story. What’s a better story: discord and in-fighting among controversial personalities inside the organization, or, as you put it: “a healthy amount of conflict that can push people to be better.” Who cares that much about organizational structure? So they marginalize the very real and important (especially to someone like Jimmy) role that played in the decision, and ignore not only his words, but Farmer’s and Pettine’s as well.

    The basic truth is that the search was performed by a committee. Disagreements were bound to and should have come up, otherwise what’s the point of having a committee make the decision? Absent actual proof of real discord or an inability to constructively reconcile the differences of opinion, neither the atmosphere or the participants can be fairly labeled as “toxic”. But even a smoothly running committee cannot operate as efficiently as the structure now in place and Jimmy opted for the model he is more accustomed working with. As you suggest, the truth is most likely somewhere in between, but jumping to conclusions just because they fit your own bias will get you farther from the truth than closer to it.

    Second: The Haslam/Parcells interview. The headlines and article read that Jimmy contacted Parcells to talk about running a team AND TO OFFER HIM THE JOB AS HEAD COACH. The offer part is a sexy news flash. But there isn’t any evidence to support it. Instead, there is hard evidence in the form of an e-mail from Parcells to the writer who broke the story. The e-mail only says is that they discussed how to run a successful football operation, which, I see, is all that you reported of that conversation. Good for you!

    Consider too the inconsistencies. First: Whether or not he works out, by every measure, Ray Farmer was a hot commodity among up and coming NFL Executives. Banner hired him to work directly under Lombardi. If those two were so “toxic” to top talent, how were they able to get Farmer to come here in the first place, and then, after a year of being exposed to their toxicity, decide to stay and pronounce how excited he was about the future in Cleveland with Lombardi and Banner?

    Second: If you didn’t like Banner and Lombardi’s personnel moves, then you should be tearing your hair out right now because Ray Farmer was right there in the middle of all of them, working hand in hand with Lombardi on a daily basis.

    Ultimately, it all boils down to judgment. Did Jimmy exercise good judgment on Tuesday? That will depend on the judgment exercised by Ray Farmer. It’s the hardest quality to assess in advance.

  • Mongoose

    Excellent article Pete! I agree with you that Banner made a lot of good moves in just one year. And I trusted him as a tough negotiator and manager of the cap. I worry that we will miss his strong-arm tactics if/when the Browns cap becomes an issue; because while it didn’t always seem fair, he watched over the dollars and cents as if they were his own.

  • Mad_Elf

    Horseshit. Many of us told you what he was and what he was about. You dolts chose to, yet again, give the benefit of doubt. You, and everyone else who has spewn this nonsense, do not get to rewrite history.