5 takeaways from Jimmy Haslam’s talk with the media
Whether it was intentional or just coincidental, it wasn’t loss of many Browns fans that Haslam spoke on the one-year anniversary of his fumigation of most of the dysfunction surrounding the franchise as Feb. 11 marked a year since he fired Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi, setting the Browns on what is hopefully the right path.
In speaking with the media, Haslam showed off a trait that seems important to many Cleveland fans – Haslam, it seems, “gets us.”
“I accept that until we win and win consistently which we have not done — they didn’t do before we got here — and we haven’t done it, we don’t have any credibility (with our fans),” Haslam said. “We don’t have any equity with y’all. We accept that. We have to prove we can win and win consistently and we accept that.”
While we’re still confident that having general manager Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine calling the shots, especially now that Pettine has a coaching staff committed to winning, rather than looking for the first bus out of town, there is obviously still work that needs to be done.
The quarterback situation is still unsettled (to put it mildly), the Browns still have holes to fill on the roster, and they still play in the AFC North, which only sent three of its four teams to the playoffs this past season.
We’re pretty sure the Browns know all this, so here are five additional takeaways from Haslam’s talk on Wednesday.
Takeaway No. 1: 7-9 is OK, but the Browns are working to be better
The Browns posted their most wins since 2007, but the season lost some of its shine following a season-ending five-game losing streak. While the team should certainly feel good about showing improvement this year, seven wins isn’t going to cut it for long.
“I don’t at all want people to think we think everything is great. OK? We don’t,” Haslam said. “We understand that in the last five years that our division rivals have been sixth, seventh, eighth in wins and we’ve been in the high 20s. OK? So we’re not at all satisfied and it’s not hunky-dory. OK? All I want to convey is we do get along, we do work well together and we’ve got a common goal.”
Takeaway No. 2: Haslam won’t fire someone just for making a dumb mistake
While Haslam has shown that he has no problem firing someone for being a career incompetent (Lombardi) or for going behind his boss’ back to look for a new job (Kyle Shanahan), he’s not going to fire someone because they do something stupid.
We still have no idea why Farmer would text someone on the coaching staff during a game, but sometimes people do stupid things (just look at the “vibrant” Atlanta Falcons franchise that illegally pumped in fake crowd noise for two seasons) and firing Haslam over something so insignificant just doesn’t make any sense.
“Ray has the organization’s and my full support, and despite the fact that he made a mistake here, it does not affect his standing with the Browns,” Haslam said. “He is totally focused on doing whatever we’re going to do in free agency and more importantly getting our organization ready for the draft.”
Takeaway No. 3: The Browns don’t turn their backs on their players
Since the end of the season, the Browns have seen quarterback Johnny Manziel check himself into rehab, wide receiver Josh Gordon suspended for an entire year, and faced more questions about cornerback Justin Gilbert.
There’s nothing the Browns can do about Gordon – the sad truth is that he may be beyond help — but they are not going to turn their backs on Manziel and Gilbert just because they had forgettable rookie seasons.
The Browns will obviously benefit on the field if Manziel (doubtful) and Gilbert (more likely) can get their careers going and soon, but they also have a responsibility to their employees to try and help them maximize their abilities.
“I think it’s way too early to give up on Johnny,” Haslam said. “We certainly haven’t given up on him, and if it’s two years from now and Johnny hasn’t played any or doesn’t have his personal life together, that’s different. But it’s way too early. I think everybody’s way too harsh. He’s an easy guy to pile on and for everybody to give up on.
“Justin clearly needs to mature. I’m not telling you anything I hadn’t told him in the past and hopefully he’ll be able to do that. But we’re fully supportive of Justin. He’s a very gifted athlete and you saw a flash of it in the Indianapolis game. [You] could argue that was maybe the best play we had all year.
“These are young people who come from a variety of different backgrounds that are thrust into the spotlight, that all of a sudden have money in their pocket. Some handle it really well and some face challenges. I think, I can’t speak for the league, we as an organization can do better there, and we’re devoted to doing it.”
Takeaway No. 4: The Browns are going to be smart in free agency
The Browns have the third highest cap space in the NFL, with an estimated $52.4 million to spend.
That means the Browns don’t have to worry about making personal decisions based solely on money — they don’t have to cut someone just to have money to sign someone else — and can resign any of their own free agents that they want to keep.
But that doesn’t mean the Browns will be looking to win the off-season by spending money just because they can. It seems like we have to point this out annually, but the goal here is to win in September through January, not in February and March. Teams like Washington, Miami and Tennessee have been recent “winners” in free agency, but continue to prove that that is not the way to build a successful team.
The best way to use free agency is to build depth and strategically fill in a need that may not be fillable in the upcoming NFL Draft. It’s not meant to be a system where the Browns reward a player for what they did with their previous team by handing them a large sack of cash.
“Well, I just think you have to see what your team needs are and who’s available and see what makes sense for your team,” Haslam said. “I think you’ll see us playing less in free agency (this year).”
Takeaway No. 5: The film room situation is the biggest non-story of the year (and it’s only February)
With apologies to friend-of-the-program Mike Burgermeister, the report that team president Alec Scheiner watches film on Monday mornings with Farmer – and just Farmer, despite what Lombardi-puppet Jason La Canfora would want you to believe — is simply not a big deal.
We just don’t see what the big deal is if Scheiner wants to take some time to understand the on-field side of the game. As long as Farmer and Pettine are making the decisions, and outside of one report from a disgruntled ex-employee there is no reason to think otherwise, then we think there are bigger issues to be worried about.
“Yeah, Alec and Ray watch film,” Haslam said. “Unlike what was reported, Alec and Ray watch films after games from. It starts at 6, I don’t know how long it lasts, I don’t watch film with them. I think it was reported that Ray, Alec and I watch film together and that’s not accurate. There were a lot of inaccuracies in there and that was certainly one of them and everybody says, ‘Well, why is the business guy watching film?’ And let me ask you, if you had an opportunity to watch film with Ray on Monday morning, would you do it?
“Alec is a smart guy and one of the most competent guys in pro sports, not just the NFL and he wants to learn more so he sits in there and he’s not critiquing Ray, he’s listening to Ray’s comments.”
We’ve believed the team was heading in the right direction before, only to realize that it was all just a false dawn. (What do you want? We’re Cleveland through and through.) And until the Browns start winning consistently, we can feel optimistic all we want but anything that Haslam, Farmer or Pettine say are just words.
The only difference is, this time those words may actually mean something.