The Browns are poised to make a mind-boggling gaffe even before they hire their next coach.
They’re prepared to lose Assistant General Manager Ray Farmer and keep General Manager Mike Lombardi.
I’m flabbergasted by that possibility because it should be the other way around.
I can’t believe the Browns would choose Lombardi over “one of the up-and-coming stars in the NFL,” as Browns CEO Joe Banner described Farmer in September.
I can’t believe owner Jimmy Haslam hasn’t realized the folly of what he said at the NFL owners meeting in March. “I’ll be surprised if Ray’s not a GM in the next few years, which will be good and bad news for us,” Haslam said, conceding that one day Farmer would work for an opponent.
That doesn’t have to happen.
Haslam is in charge. After a disastrous 2013 draft, a supposedly bad coaching hire in Rob Chudzinski (not on Lombardi’s watch) and a worthless trade for wide receiver Davone Bess, Haslam has every right to change who’s making the football decisions in Berea. (The only things I see on the plus side of the Banner/Lombardi ledger is the Trent Richardson trade and the signing of quarterback Brian Hoyer, a no-brainer considering Lombardi’s love for anything Patriot.)
Haslam could tell Banner he’s running the day-to-day operations and overseeing stadium upgrades, but not picking the players. He could tell Lombardi to head back to the NFL Network. He could hand Farmer those 10 selections in the May draft, those two first-round picks to find a quarterback of the future and a reported $46 million in salary cap space and let him go to work.
I’d have much more faith in where the Browns are headed if Haslam and Farmer were leading them.
The chance Farmer could leave the Browns arose Wednesday when the Browns gave him permission to interview for the Miami Dolphins GM vacancy. A league source, speaking on condition of anonymity because the two teams had yet to comment, confirmed that for the Beacon Journal.
Farmer has all the credentials to be a GM. A linebacker for the Philadelphia Eagles for three years, Farmer joined the Browns last season after spending 2006-12 with the Kansas City Chiefs, where he was director of pro personnel. He worked four years as a scout for the Atlanta Falcons. A four-year letterman at Duke, Farmer served as the Blue Devils’ football academic coordinator after ankle and knee injuries ended his career with the Eagles.
Farmer’s mentor is former Browns guard John Wooten, now chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, which advocates the hiring and promotion of minority candidates in the NFL.
Wooten said Farmer is ready for the next step. He called Farmer’s talent evaluation skills “excellent” and lauded his people skills.
“That’s why we put him in Cleveland last year,” Wooten said in a telephone interview Thursday. “He’d done the college, he’d done the pro. We wanted him in a situation where he could learn the nuances of office administration, how you communicate with the league, all of that. We know that he’s more than ready.
“He represents everything we want to see. We want the hard work, the dedication, the commitment, above all the ability to study and make yourself better all the time. He has all that. He’s not a selfish person.”
Per league rules, the Browns could not deny Farmer the chance to interview for a general manager position because it wasn’t a lateral move. Although Banner approves all player transactions, the Browns gave Lombardi the GM title less than two months after he was hired so they could bring in Farmer last March.
Now Wooten wants Farmer “to have the opportunity to run his own show.”
That doesn’t mean Farmer’s departure from Cleveland is a certainty. Wooten has issues with the Dolphins’ organizational structure that might keep him from recommending Farmer take the job if offered.
“You’ve got to bring in more cohesive people in terms of the coaches working together with the personnel department and the front office and the ownership,” Wooten said. “All of that has to be working together. There’s a reason why certain teams win and certain teams don’t win and it’s not always because of the players they have on the field.”
Wooten was speaking about the Dolphins, but he might as well have been talking about his old team.
If the Browns elevated Farmer, it would strike a chord on two fronts. It would be a bold move by Haslam to show that more than the coach was responsible for a 4-12 season. But it would also be lauded in a league where only six of 32 teams have black GMs.
Banner continually refers to the fact that he discovered coach Andy Reid in Philadelphia. This could be Banner’s chance to find the next Ozzie Newsome.
There is no certainty Farmer will be as successful as the Ravens’ Newsome, the Pro Football Hall of Fame tight end and former Browns player who was named the league’s first African-American general manager in 2002. Newsome is the man Farmer and his peers hope to follow.
But what if Farmer does possess some of Newsome’s talents? Are the Browns prepared to let him walk while they stick with their poor structure and bad decision-makers?
As much as it disturbs me, I suspect they are.
By Marla Ridenour - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
©2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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