Red Right 88

In Cleveland, hope dies last

On the Browns and final roster control

browns roster controlThe Cleveland Browns finally ended their latest coaching search, one that was both lengthy and, at times, laborious, with the hiring Mike Pettine on Thursday.

Throughout the entire process there was much discussion, debate and hand-wringing over the current state of the team and the direction the franchise is heading. One topic that we heard repeatedly was the notion that no coach would want to work for the Browns because they would have to “give up” control of the roster to CEO Joe Banner and General Manager Mike Lombardi.

Pettine was asked about having final say over the roster during his introductory news conference and his non-answer that the details are “still being worked out” only helped to stoke the fire over who’s in control in Berea.

When Banner was first hired by the Browns, this is what he told The Plain Dealer when asked about who will have final say on the team’s 53-man roster:

“We’ll determine that officially when we see who’s in those roles. My bias is for the coach to make those decisions. Now, we may end up with somebody in personnel who’s so good that I tweak that, but going in, my bias is that the coach will have the most say on the 53-man roster and the 45 who dress for games.”

That sounds to us like Banner would like to have the coach be the main voice when it comes to the final roster, but he’s not comfortable allowing that to happen until the head coach earns his trust. (Of course, firing your coach every year contributes heavily to any trust issues, so …)

So that got us to thinking about whether this whole issue about final say over the roster is a big deal or, as it happens too often in Cleveland, much ado about nothing? How do other teams in the NFL do this, especially the successful ones?

We did a Google search using various combinations of team names and the keywords final roster control, but couldn’t come up with anything definitive, which left us thinking two things: the first is that Google isn’t as omnipotent as it wants us to believe, and that maybe we couldn’t find anything because this isn’t an issue for other teams the way it apparently is here in Cleveland.

We did come across this article at from when the Eagles hired Chip Kelly as coach. Kelly has final say over the roster, which makes him just one of five NFL coaches to hold that power.

Well that is certainly interesting. Somehow all but five of the NFL’s current 32 franchises manage to hire coaches without giving them complete control. How can that be?

We kept digging because we are really interested in how Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati run their shops, seeing as how the Browns have to compete with them in the AFC’s North Division.

That’s then we came across the Holy Grail: an article from last summer at that spells out in detail who has the final say for every NFL team. Safe to say, it pretty much confirms that this may be another example of people creating a boogeyman in Orange and Brown that doesn’t exist.

In Baltimore, General Manager Ozzie Newsome has final say over every personnel matter – including the 53-man roster. But while Newsome’s voice may be the final one, it is not the only one in the process.

Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta runs the draft, assigning the top 50 prospects on offense and defense to the respective coordinators and having position coaches conduct workouts with the players. Coach John Harbaugh has input on the bigger picture and the team’s scouts also have a voice in the process.

Now while that example pertains specifically to the draft, the fact that everyone is working together as a unit – more voices sharing more opinions – certainly makes it easier when it comes time to cut the roster down before the start of each season.

While Newsome may have “final say,” he’s clearly making his decisions from a position of strength, one where he has as much information as possible, and the on-field results show that the formula is working.

Key takeaway: Everyone there is so clearly on the same page, and that’s key. They work well together, they’re consistent in what they’re looking for and they haven’t changed much.

As for the Bengals, Mike Brown, who not only owns the team but serves as general manager, has control of the personnel side of the Bengals and final say on the 53-man roster.

But Brown reportedly also listens to his scouts and the coaches, most notably when he let offensive coaches Jay Gruden and Hue Jackson sell him on the merits of running back Giovani Bernard. After being head coach for more than a decade with the Bengals, Marvin Lewis also has influence in the makeup of the team.

As much fun as it is to point out that the Browns have more playoff wins than the Bengals since 1991, the fact is that Cincinnati has made the playoffs four times in the past five years, so they must be doing something right down there.

Key takeaway: As far as their scouts, they don’t have a lot of guys on the road, but the guys that are out there for them, I can tell you, they’re working hard at it.

Moving to Pittsburgh, it turns out that Mike Tomlin is the only coach in the division with final say over his final roster – but even that comes with a caveat.

Kevin Colbert, who has run the Steelers’ personnel department since 2000, and Omar Khan, the club’s director of football & business administration, also have a say in how the roster shakes out. And the Rooney family is still very involved in everything that happens in Pittsburgh, as Art Rooney II attends all the football meetings and has final say in them.

The biggest advantage the Steelers have, of course, is that they have a single system and stick to it. They had just three head coaches since 1969 (the Browns are on their third just since Jimmy Haslam bought the team) and Colbert has run the personnel department since 2000.

Key takeaway: They conduct themselves a certain way. And it’s easy when you’re following the lead of an owner who does it that way.

So what did we learn from this little exercise? For starters, it shows that teams can be successful even if the head coach doesn’t wield unlimited, final power. And that the Browns are not operating in some strange, dysfunctional fashion – at least in this particular instance.

So that means the Browns are going to soon be achieving the sustained success that Haslam and Banner promised us when they took? Well, not so fast.

A system, even if it is a proven success, is still just that – a system. It only works if the people working within the system actually know what they are doing.

In an ideal world, everyone on the football side of the Browns has a voice in the process of acquiring players from the very beginning. Then when it comes time to actually make a decision, everyone is essentially on the same page.

Banner has set himself up from day one as the final voice in the event that the coach wants a player who is clearly an NFL talent, but the incompetent GM wants to select a different player to show off just what a genius he is, we mean “make the team better.”

As long as those instances are rare, and as long as Banner makes the right call when they do arise, then things should be OK (or at least as OK as they get in these parts).

If Banner makes the wrong choice, or if there are constant disagreements, then it becomes a real problem – especially this off-season with the team holding so many draft picks and so much cap space.

Choose wisely and it really doesn’t matter who has final say.

Choose poorly and, well, we all know what that means.

Same old Browns.

(Photo courtesy of

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One thought on “On the Browns and final roster control

  1. supermadelf on said:

    Kind of fell apart at the end of this article, Red. Plus, the whole Banner/Haslam dynamic is very far from clear.

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