Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports came out with a damning article about the Cleveland Browns and specifically the role of their owner, Jimmy Haslam (found here). Yes, the same Jimmy Haslam that the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell handpicked to be the owner of the Browns; the least mentioned of his massive failures (Thank you Commissioner). The news of Haslam’s meddling and incompetence since he has taken ownership of the team should not be news to fans of the Browns, but La Canfora’s article has managed to spark an outrage that has been overdue for quite a while, even if the article comes off as a bit extreme.
Many of the issues that La Canfora brings up, he has actually been occasionally trotting out for a while now; specifically the idea that then President Joe Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi had a deal in place to send Josh Gordon to the San Francisco 49ers a trade, which Haslam stopped and then the selection of quarterback Johnny Manziel. It almost does not matter if the various anecdotes of Haslam’s meddling and incompetence are 100% true, because they are completely and totally believable. There is literally nothing along these lines that I would not believe Haslam could do.
Since Haslam took over the team, he immediately embarrassed himself, the region of Northeast Ohio and the NFL with the federal investigation surrounding Pilot Flying J, which he basically weaseled out of at the expense of weak deals and sacrificing of various employees. I would be hard pressed to believe to believe Haslam would not be found guilty by the jury of public opinion, who managed to get out of it because of his wealth and connections.
I absolutely believe Haslam demanded the front office take Johnny Manziel. Ray Farmer did an admirable job trying to jump on that grenade but I don’t buy it. While there are plenty in the draft media, who are either excusing their belief in Manziel or are currently Chad Ford-ing their rankings to move Manziel down, I do not believe the NFL saw Manziel as a 1st round pick. His only chance was that an owner bought into the hype and picked him anyway. Jerry Jones flirted with the idea but the Billy Carter to his Jimmy Carter style owner Jimmy Haslam bought it hook, line and sinker. Derek Carr and Teddy Bridgewater were better quarterbacks, period.
Plenty in the draft media totally fell for Manziel, but the local media and fans were just as guilty (for the sake of fairness, here is my evaluation of Manziel). Multiple media members in Northeast Ohio openly hoped for Manziel to end up in Cleveland, most hoping with the fourth pick of the draft, and some of them even openly hoped Haslam would step in and make an executive decision, which is exactly what he did. Those same people will now demonize Haslam, but he did exactly what they wanted and it was a terrible idea.
Manziel’s questions about potential substance abuse issues were there at Texas A&M and his parents expressed their concern. Now that it has actually happened, so many that were willing to ignore these issues at the time are now saying the team should have known. Well, that is true, but they ignored it as much as the team did. Manziel was still a ‘midget’ as described by Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis and he was still not faster than anyone in the NFL. He also was a redshirt sophomore that had no chance of being ready to play as a rookie. So many of the people that demanded Manziel play in place of the woefully bad Brian Hoyer were somehow surprised the rookie was ill prepared for the NFL. Some managed to brain wash themselves into believing he would come out and play at a high level.
I am fully expecting Haslam will continue to meddle with the show moves; namely first round picks and the selection of quarterbacks. Nothing about Haslam suggests he’s the type that will learn his lesson and suddenly get out of his own way. In fact, if La Canfora’s article is to bebelieved, Haslam is trying to do exactly what I would expect him to do; double down on his incompetence. The decision to pick Manziel set the franchise back two years, so it would be totally Haslam to give up the farm to pick another quarterback that is not prepared to play as a rookie in Marcus Mariota.
Haslam’s meddling is a huge problem and will continue to plague the Browns until he stops, but I expect his interest wanes as the draft progresses. I think from the second round to the end of the draft, Farmer and his scouting department get their opportunity to shine. This past year, they cashed in with Joel Bitonio who was an absolute stud as a rookie followed by Chris Kirksey, Terrance West and Pierre Desir. All of these players have either shown promise or are believed to have a good amount of promise going forward. I cannot imagine Haslam had much of anything to do with these players. Add in the undrafted free agents that were able to help the Browns and despite the absolute nothing the Browns got from the first round, the draft still looks relatively successful as unbelievable as that seems.
Farmer’s apparent texting to the coaching staff down on the field suggests a man that is being pushed around by the owner and either at the owner’s behest or his own desperate attempt to show some strength, tried to either impact play calling or which players were on the field. It is unbelievably irresponsible on Farmer’s part and he needs to own up to it, which I fully expect he will. Rather than trying to push on the coaching staff, he needs to use that and push back against the incompetent owner to stop making decisions that are crippling the football team. I can understand that Farmer wants to stay employed but if the success or failure of the team is going to hang over him, regardless of the owner’s involvement, he might as well do it his way now.
The idea that President Alec Scheiner is in there watching tape in the early AM is difficult to believe. Has it happened? Probably. Is it a regular occurrence? This seems dubious at best, considering the wide range of responsibilities that Scheiner has including, most notably, overseeing the construction of improvements of the stadium. Scheiner is a business and analytics man that was celebrated as a hire for his efforts on the business side of the Dallas Cowboys under Haslam’s hero, Jerry Jones. Like with Haslam, I could see Scheiner taking an interesting in the show picks, but I have an impossible time believing he was really a force pushing personnel decisions.
Kyle Shanahan is an excellent offensive coordinator. He did a great job in his one season guiding the Cleveland Browns offense, when it came to play calling. Flip DeFillipo has a difficult act to follow in that respect. Shanahan also appears to be an incredibly ambitious man, who is not afraid to step on people as he climbs up the ladder in the NFL world. The way he left Cleveland was unprofessional and frankly despicable. As good as he may have been as a play caller, there has to be a bit of skepticism when it comes to what he says because he always has an axe to grind.
I am not inclined to believe that things are as bad on the business side of the Cleveland Browns as La Canfora has laid them out, but they are plenty bad enough. And the perception that they are worse is probably good as it has been successful in getting a reaction from the local media and fans.
All of this negative press for the Browns comes on the heels of an announcement to increase ticket prices 30% for the Browns’ season ticket holders next season with one of the hollowest justifications one can find. Scheiner came out and delivered the half-truth that the Browns were raising ticket prices because the secondary market was making a killing when it came to profits. This is true. What makes it a complete crock is the fact that the Browns could easily take control of the secondary market if they really wanted. The Cleveland Cavaliers, for example, have already done it.
The Browns are going to hide behind this because they can demonize the secondary market and continue to use it as an excuse to raise prices. Much like NFL teams using Los Angeles as a boogeyman to get public funding and a sweetheart deal on a state of the art stadium, the Browns are scapegoating the secondary market to jack up prices without actually doing anything to warrant the move. It’s nothing short of a scam.
The idea that fans should stop rooting for the Browns is silly and frankly stupid. If people want to go that route, more power to them; that is their right. However, that does not mean that fans who stick around should keep forking over money to an organization that is not doing anything to earn it. The Browns have long used fan loyalty to squeeze money out of people that deserve better. Haslam is a buffoon that has every right to ruin his billion dollar toy, but fans have every right to stop giving him money to do it.
The hope is that La Canfora’s article can spark something that creates a lasting change for the positive, which is the real value in what he presented.