Michael Lombardi has a lot to prove to Cleveland Browns fans


Michael_LombardiI’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 It has been replaced by what I think is a healthy dose of skepticism.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.

  • nj0

    I am very angry right now.

    The one thing that got me this far was the belief that Lombardi was not coming here. Even if he isn’t the worst thing ever, why why why bring a guy with his history back to this city? You couldn’t find someone just as good who isn’t so universally despised by the media and older fans? Why?

    To me it shows a complete disregard for the health of the organization. This is just another old boy hire to hook up an old friend and crony. It’s disgusting. The guy couldn’t sniff an NFL job for five years!

  • NeedsFoodBadly

    I always tell myself it can’t. And I’m always proven wrong.

    Also, I think you’re dead on about the cronyism stuff. Very worrying.

  • Harv 21

    OK, hopefully last spew, some impressions after watching the intro presser:

    – Don’t knock the local writers for missing tough questions. They asked all of them, sometimes twice.

    – There will be no “legit” personnel guy wedged into this new org’s chart. Lombardi is it.

    – Even after all the main pieces are now in place, Banner still won’t answer who makes the final call on personnel. It’s all consensus, ties aren’t good anyway, blahblahblah. Guess who that means.

    – HasBan are keenly aware (as is Lombardi) about the toxic local reception to this hiring.

    – Lombardi claims no way can he presently comment on Weeden or anyone on the roster because you have to be in the building, he just doesn’t know anything about the roster, he’s got lots of inside work to do first. Also, Josh Gordon “has nothing to worry about.” (Must have slipped unnoticed into a practice wearing his special 3-D Gordon-only glasses).

    – Banner extols not only Lombardi’s ability to pick players, but pick and develop scouts. Somebody slap me, quick. Believe I need a good cry.

    – Like many of you guys have claimed, this was a done deal long ago. Slippery, modulated answer of we just talked “seriously” in the last few weeks in response to questions of when they first considered Lombardi.

    Folks, meet your new GM, Joe Banner. I do not like the first whiff of this cologne. Hope it becomes tolerable soon.

  • nj0

    The consensus crap bothers me to no end. It’s downright insulting. Somebody HAS TO have final say. HAS TO. You guys are not ALWAYS going to agree on everything. We’re not children. We know how the world works. So how about instead of insulting the intelligence of the Browns faithful, somebody comes clean, mans up, and takes responsibility for the final decisions that will decide the fate of our football team?

  • nj0

    Nothing has provided me with better excuses to drink before noon than the Cleveland Browns.

  • http://www.facebook.com/cb.everett.9 CB Everett

    What if Mike Lombardi predicts that “Mike Lombardi will be a fantastic talent evaluator”? It’s kinda meta isn’t it?

  • humboldt

    Exactly. To me, it represents total willful ignorance of local beliefs, which are far from irrational but rather predicated on actual events and track records that fans remember.

    Hiring Lombardi would be a tough sell under any circumstance, but for Banner to categorically deny the organization’s interest in him and not even take the time to address fans’ concerns and/or make an argument for why things are different now is so inept I can’t even wrap my mind around it.

    Couple that with impressions that the organization seems to be recycling old failures or semi-failures (Chud, Lombardi, potentially even DA!), and it’s hard to understand how Banner/Haslam could possibly think that their plan will inspire hope, much less work out.

  • Harv 21

    Dear Flying Jimmy:

    You paid $1B for a football team. I don’t even really know what $1B means. When my first grade class all collected pennies for the whole year to try and conceptualize the number ten thousand we never even sniffed that. But presumably it’s a lot.

    The evaluator of player personnel is a key position, right? You’re a smart busness guy right?

    Hold on, is someone threatening you, Jimmy? Who fixed you up with Banner? You know, maybe I saw something in your eyes when you said Lombardi is one of the best personnel people out there according to all the “top” people you’ve recently spoken to. I’ll watch the presser again with a hostage expert, concentrating on your blinking and hand motions. If anyone can crack a code, it’s this guy. Just go with the flow. Be agreeable to Banner, but not too agreeable, got it? Don’t try to contact me. Stay calm and let us do our jobs.

  • nj0

    100% agreement.

    The lies get me too. They’re insulting. Just say – “yeah, we had Lombardi tapped from the get go. We believe in him.”

    People in the know saw the writing on the wall for this on day one. Just admit to it instead of lying like a three-year-old with his hand in the cookie jar.

    Is it too much to ask for a front office not to lie right to our faces?

  • maxfnmloans

    if it goes well, it will be Banner’s doing, if it goes to crap, Banner convinces Haslam to fire Lombardi

  • mgbode

    i’ll take it. give me “final say” and the GM chair :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/michael.ball.73932 Michael Ball

    The Lombardi hire has completely undone all of hope that was building up with the hiring of Chud and Turner. Any power for Lombardi is too much power. He has a terrible track record everywhere he’s been and I dont see that changing this time around with the Browns.

  • Harv 21

    well, Davis had plenty to say about Mike Shanahan and everyone he fired. Plenty of ammo against Lombardi without quotes from the pathological.

  • nj0

    I learned that from watching Holmgren – always make sure you have layers of underlings to blame your failure on.

  • Steve

    Three years now and Haden hasn’t even really sniffed a Pro Bowl. He’s good, but he’s clearly a step below the elite CBs in the league. I’d bet he doesn’t make more than one.

    The other guys are a lot of wishcasting. Being banged up/injured at that young an age (a freak accident for Taylor, but something we should have known/expected for Richardson) isn’t something we can wash away. It’s a bad sign going forward.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    Listening to Lombardi on bill simmons’ April 23 podcast just prior to NFL draft… he’s been right on a lot so far. Called T-Rich 3rd best player behind Luck and RG3. Liked Kalil at LT. Thought Miami was the only team in love with Ryan Tannehill. Thought Claiborne and Blackmon were both decent players but wouldn’t be impact guys in year one. He wasn’t sure Blackmon is a #1 guy. Thinks Claiborne might not be physically tough enough to be elite as an NFL CB but likes his coverage skills.

    I still don’t love the Lombardi pick, but I wanted to make myself feel a little better and I do. A very little.

  • nj0

    Not saying Al Davis is a good judge of anything. I see this more as a crazy old man saying things everyone thinks but won’t say because they’re young and sane. The guy couldn’t get a job for five years.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    He also talked about Arizona needing to get better at OL and shouldn’t take a WR. His miss so far might be that he loves Dontari Poe, but it’s tough to say how well he did as the nosetackle in a 3-4 defense… those guys don’t ever get big stats.

  • nj0

    Third best player behind Luck and RG3 seems wrong. Not to bury T-Rich, but I could name more than a few guys I’d rather have right now than him.

  • Vindictive_Pat

    That’s fair, but I would still take him there. He played hurt for half the season and although he had problems with dancing around too much, the offensive line also had problems making holes for him to run through. I want to see how he does after we get a decent guard to replace Lauvao.

  • maxfnmloans

    Haslam = Admiral Stockdale?


  • nj0

    I appreciate you’re attempt to be positive, but I don’t think any of those draft observations are any more insightful than what you’d hear from your average knowledgeable NFL fan.

    I agree that it’s good that he wasn’t way off base, but it doesn’t diminish my concerns at all. But then again I am the excitable type.

  • mgbode

    yeah, this seems fan tone-deaf and shady as heck. about the worst PR move/handling possible.

  • TSR3000

    The fact that the fans hate this move makes me wonder if it might actually work. We are wrong a lot. We loved the Holmgren hire.

  • nj0

    Vice Admiral James Bond Stockdale was a legit bad ass.

  • Harv 21

    got it. and btw, you sound as p.o’d as me. The presser did me in. A PR fail, I believe, no one aquitting themselves particularly well. They should have written talking points for Lombardi that implied competence rather than letting him just claim ignorance of all current team personnel all and profess deep Cleveland love. Who gives a fig about your Cleveland love, Mike?
    (ok, I’ll try to stop, again).

  • Vindictive_Pat

    I’m not disagreeing… I’m not sold on him yet, just glad that he isn’t completely inept. Interesting that he really loved both Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower… he’s good buddies with Belichik and advised him quite a bit in spite of not officially being on his staff… Patriots took both guys.

  • mgbode

    I agree. Though, I actually think Phil Taylor is better than Haden it’s going to be hard for him to get the recognition if he doesn’t have a JJ Watts type season.

  • Steve

    Who is “we”? The people who loved the Holmgren hire were those who didn’t think any deeper than “I know this guy, he’s won in the NFL”. There was no parsing that he did it as a coach, and his track record as GM was not that great, and as soon as the cronyism started, many realized how bad things were.

    When we actually look at a guy’s track record, see Shurmur, aren’t we usually right?

  • Harv 21

    virtual drinks with my virtual friend is all. You can handle it.
    Better get your mind right, Luke.

  • mgbode

    lots of people disagree with your Haden assertion. he might never be the elite of elite’s but you only have to be top4-5 CB in the AFC to make a probowl.

    i agree on the injuries with Richardson and mentioned he might bust (and it would likely be largely from them). I feel like I have alot more faith in Phil Taylor than most though. He played like a terror when he came back this season.

    Gordon will depend on what we do at QB. we find a good one (or weeden turns into one) and he’ll make some probowls as our best WR. if not, and he won’t.

  • mgbode

    i used Powell, but it was a pretty consistent theme for Lombardi that he would swing and miss in the first 2 rounds everywhere he went.

  • mgbode

    are you saying Lombardi is an empty chair?

  • Harv 21

    agree. Around here it seems Haden’s been pro bowl eligible since he put on that Varajao wig. He’s good, with the potential to improve and get the nod some year. There’s also potential to not be as good a player as he could be.

  • nj0

    I think I am so mad because I’ve seen this all before and, like the sucker that I am, somehow fell for it again. With Holmgren it took a while longer, but ended up in the same spot.

    Cautious optimism
    Dismiss worrying media reports
    Rationalize away warning signs
    Justify unexciting interviews
    Become enraged at blatant cronyism and lies

  • architrance

    It continues to shock me how many people comment on these articles about a franchise that hasn’t accomplished anything of note in decades, since I was in elementary school…

  • nj0

    don’t cost you nothing

    and it’s friday afternoon

  • nj0

    It’s a shame we won’t have need of him in our 3-4.

  • mgbode

    he’s prototypical size and style for a 3-4 DE. in fact, that was what many thought he would be drafted to be (and we moved him to both DT and DE during the season).

  • nj0

    Ah. Ok. Just being a smartarse.

  • mgbode

    sorry, i’ll get the batteries replaced in my saracasm detector.

  • Harv 21

    Hey, Cleveland, you’ve finally been weaned from the NFL draft!


  • gren

    The guy drafted Sebastian Janikowski and Shane Lechler in the same draft…

    At least we’ll find a replacement for Phil and Reggie this year. That’s about all I can say with confidence about this guy. That and he can put together a mean presentation about or players weaknesses.

  • gren

    our players*

  • DCdawg

    Lombardi in the owner’s suite, derek anderson under center…….I was elated at the Chud hiring and am now terrified.

  • TSR3000

    Russell was the consensus #1. Anyone that needed a QB would have taken him. Not fair.

  • Lucas Vaas

    this years draft class will be huge…. i think it will answer a lot of questions whne they hit the field…

  • Porckchop

    Im heading to Fados in Easton. Anyone who needs a Glenmorangie or Oban Im buying

  • Porckchop

    Im not even down on the move I kust like scotch…

    And Baxter

  • Garry_Owen

    Ach, you’re a good laddie.