I’ve come a long way with the Cleveland Browns since I started writing about them in the Romeo Crennel era. The hope of being a fan seeped strongly into everything I did and I always looked for ways to think about things working out. I wouldn’t say all that hope and patience is gone, but it is decidedly muted from where it was. It has been replaced by what I think is a healthy dose of skepticism. It isn’t negativity, but when the risks of a situation reveal themselves to me, I now find it most important to point them out. When I wrote about Joe Banner earlier, I had concerns about him not because I don’t believe he’s qualified to be the CEO of the Cleveland Browns, but because he was overseeing another period of massive change. Today, he made another big move when he replaced the recently departed Tom Heckert with Mike Lombardi.
Tom Heckert was a General Manager and Michael Lombardi has been named VP of Player Personnel, which obviously means the position could be slightly different, but Jimmy Haslam used the two job titles pretty interchangeably in press conferences this off-season. It stands to reason that there won’t be any other significant changes to the personnel department and that Michael Lombardi will fill the void between the scouts, coach and CEO that Tom Heckert once did between the scouts, coach and Mike Holmgren. We obviously don’t know exactly how decisions were made with Heckert and company manning the draft and free agency. We also probably won’t know exactly how decisions will be made with Lombardi, Banner and Chudzinski. Point being that there’s really no reason to hit the panic button or call this thing a colossal failure. At least not yet.
Still, I think it’s fair to at least say that Michael Lombardi has a ton to prove. He’s replacing the one really effective part of the Browns’ operation over the last few years. Tom Heckert doesn’t have a spotless record, but it’s really hard to argue with a guy who has added so many young, effective players from relative obscurity. I really don’t want to get into the whole record of Tom Heckert, but suffice to say that it appears today to be better than average, if not excellent.
So how do you rate Michael Lombardi right this second? I don’t think it’s necessarily fair to go back in time and put every draft pick that ever occurred in Mike Lombardi’s presence on his record. There’s just no telling how much say he had when working for the Raiders, for example. Every organization runs a bit differently and certainly an Al Davis organization tends to reflect on him rather than his employees.
All that being said, there’s no way that I can sit back and tell everyone to relax and enjoy the ride either. There’s very little in the track record over the last few years that makes me confident that the Browns have solved all their issues in terms of acquiring talent via the draft and free agency. If anything with Tom Heckert, I didn’t think they had a problem to solve. Through that lens, there are more question marks than ever before in that respect, but how could it have gone any other way? The Browns have a brand new CEO, coaching staff, and now personnel department head.
So use that skepticism and watch carefully. Is Joe Banner making the decisions? Is Michael Lombardi? Does the coach have a big influence on what the Browns need in terms of priority? These are all questions and concerns that I have. They can’t be answered by sitting back and thinking about them or by researching. There is no right answer to the questions yet.
The Browns, specifically Joe Banner and now Michael Lombardi, are on notice and on the clock. The Browns said they were going to hire the best of everything for their organization this off-season. I know there are a lot of Browns fans and critics in the media who don’t think Michael Lombardi can live up to that.
Lombardi isn’t deaf. He knows it too. We’ll see how he and the rest of the Browns’ personnel department respond with Tom Heckert’s draft record as the measuring stick. That’s the comparison we have and I know we’ll all feel free to use it.