Steven King

Farmer's Plan For Rebuilding Browns Not Clear Yet

Created on Feb. 12, 2014 2:31 PM EST

The reign of terror in Cleveland is over.

Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi are out as CEO and general manager of the Browns…thankfully.

But that’s old news. Now, what happens on the football side of the organization going forward under GM Ray Farmer, who is in charge of all football operations and has the final say on the 53-man roster?

No one – not even Farmer -- has the exact answer to that question at this point. It has to play out.

But since it appears Farmer is quite different from Lombardi and even more different from Banner – in that he’s more affable and open and personable – as was proven in his introductory press conference on Tuesday, it only stands to reason that Farmer will also have different views on players and talent acquisition.

Some of the answers will start becoming evident soon with the beginning of the free-agent signing period. The Browns have two Pro Bowl players who are set to become free agents in C Alex Mack and S T.J. Ward.

If it’s true that good teams are built up the middle – and it probably is – then Cleveland has some very important decisions concerning those two players. Can the Browns, who have plenty of holes already as evidenced by their 4-12 finish in 2013 afford to let any good players, especially Pro Bowlers, go?

What also must be added to the discussion – in fact, it is a key part – is that the Browns have a whopping $45 million to spend in free agency. With that king’s ransom type of amount and the fact Farmer mentioned countless times during his Tuesday presser that the Browns have to start winning ASAP, money shouldn’t be a factor in re-signing Mack or Ward or any other free agent – from Cleveland or otherwise – for that matter.

Thus, if the Browns choose to let Mack and/or Ward walk and also don’t do much in free agency, then they are making a conscious decision to do so. It’s not because of finances. Whatever decisions they make, they had better be right or else the criticism that has been levied against all the other management teams for failing to build a winner during this decade-and-a-half nightmare of the expansion era, will be thrust upon Farmer, team president Alec Scheiner and owner Jimmy Haslam in the form of a veritable roundhouse punch to the jaw.

However, forget about how much that would hurt Farmer, Scheiner and Haslam, their jaws or their egos. Rather, the important question to ask is how much it would hurt Cleveland fans, who deserve so much more than what they’ve gotten after fighting to get the team back following the original franchise’s move to Baltimore at the conclusion of the 1995 season.

Talk about receiving a bill of goods.

But again, the biggest issue facing the Browns remains at quarterback, where it has remained since the team returned in 1999. Until the Browns figure that out, all of this other stuff is superfluous.

Lombardi was a big supporter of Brian Hoyer and, unless something drastic happened, then the Cleveland St. Ignatius High School product and North Olmsted native was going to be the starter at quarterback going into next season. He was set to be backed up by the player Cleveland takes in May’s NFL Draft. That player might have been Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel, with whom both Lombardi and Banner seemed enamored. The term “man-crush” does not do justice to just how much they apparently liked him.

Lombardi and Banner are not there anymore, though, so things could change drastically. Farmer said Tuesday the Browns, who currently hold the No. 4 overall pick, would not be trading up to get a quarterback or a player at any position. He also said the Browns will take the best available player – regardless of need – with that first pick.  So if those two things are true, then it’s impossible to say what Cleveland will do. Three months from now, when we’ve been around Farmer more and thus have a better read on him, it will be easier to plot the Browns’ draft plans.

All of those things will shake out on their own. Contrary to popular belief, it’s an exciting time in Cleveland because Lombardi and Banner are gone and there is a legitimate football guy in Farmer calling all the shots. While everyone else across the country believes this front-office turnover is the continuation of the recent dysfunction in the Browns’ organization, Cleveland couldn’t be much happier with the notion it might finally be headed in the right direction. (Imagine that, letting someone who is well-versed in football making football decisions? What a breath of fresh air.)

There is still a long way to go, but the Browns – with their common-sense approach – are taking baby steps toward finally getting this thing right.

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