Cleveland Browns – Fleecing the Fans

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October 12, 2012. That’s the date that James Arthur Haslam III was unanimously approved by 31 NFL owners as the new majority owner of the Cleveland Browns. Since that date 3 ½ years ago, Mr. Haslam has fired three Head Coaches (Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski and Mike Pettine), three General Managers (Tom Heckert, Mike Lombardi and Ray Farmer) and also either asked or allowed three Team Presidents (Mike Holmgren, Joe Banner and Alec Scheiner) to leave the organization. Not surprisingly, his record so far as owner of the Cleveland Browns is 11-37-0 (0.229) and has never finished anywhere other than last place in the AFC North. All of this prompted the following;

 

January 3, 2016. An Open Letter to Fans of the Cleveland Browns.

It was important to us that we communicate directly with you regarding our decision to part ways with General Manager Ray Farmer and Head Coach Mike Pettine. We greatly appreciate Ray’s and Mike’s dedication and hard work while with the Cleveland Browns. We’ve made this difficult decision because we don’t believe our football team and football operations were positioned well for the future.

We are all disappointed with where we are and clearly understand your frustrations. We take full responsibility and understand you expect better from us. Your support and loyalty to the Browns is beyond compare, and as the stewards of this franchise, we take the task of creating success to heart. We are confident we will build a winning football organization.

Our focus as we move forward is on finding strong, smart leaders with high character who are relentlessly driven to improve our football team, willing to look at every resource possible to improve, and who embrace collaboration to ultimately make the best decisions for the Cleveland Browns.

We will approach the search for our next football coach and executives to lead our football operations with a clear vision regarding what we need to do to build a successful organization. Along with strong leaders, we need to build out a strategic plan, stay disciplined to it, and develop the right systems and processes to make better decisions for short and long-term success. We will be methodical in looking at candidates that epitomize the values we have laid out. While we understand the inherent challenges that come with changes, we’ve learned valuable lessons during our past four years as owners that will help us make sure we provide our team the best people, leadership and resources to succeed.

Our family is deeply committed to bringing you the winning team you deserve while continuing to try and make a difference in the community.

We are excited for the new opportunities ahead of us and embrace the hard work that needs to be done.

Respectfully and gratefully yours,

Dee and Jimmy Haslam

 

While that letter was being published (the now) Co-Owners Jimmy and his wife Dee, toured the world of professional sports and came to the conclusion that they really don’t need a General Manager. Instead they opted to move the team’s General Counsel (lawyer), Sashi Brown, into the position of Executive Vice President, Football Operations.

That head scratcher was followed by the hiring of Paul DePodesta as the Browns new Chief Strategy Officer. Never mind that no one knows what the hell a “Chief Strategy Officer” is, the fact that so far he has spent his entire professional career in Major League Baseball (most notably associated with the term “Moneyball”) adds to the questions about this hiring . And, beyond that . . . other than the Haslams, every single person in the organization reports directly or indirectly to him.

To the Haslam’s credit, they did land the consensus top available Head Coach in Hue Jackson. One has to wonder what, exactly, did they say to Jackson to convince him that Cleveland offered him the best opportunity. My guess is that it went something like this. “Hue, all you have to do is let us know what players or type of players you need to succeed and we’ll go get them. You just do what you do best and coach them up”.

During their respective introductory press conferences, every one of them said all the right things. Everything was scripted to reel in the fan base hook, line and sinker.

  • “We’re not going to build this team through free agency. We’re going to build a sustainable team through the draft.”

 

  • “That kind of behavior will not be tolerated. We will deal with his situation as soon as the league rules permit”.

Keep in mind that Browns fans were still more than tad miffed about paying a free agent wide receiver $9,000,000 for zero starts, seven appearances, five receptions for 53 yards, and (obviously) zero touchdowns. They also made it known that they have had their fill of Johnny Manziel.

And it worked. Everything made sense. In order to build through the draft, the first thing a team must do is re-sign the players they have drafted and developed. The Browns had numerous starters entering free agency and more than enough salary cap space (approximately $43,000,000) to re-sign every one of them. They also had the 2nd overall pick in the 2016 draft and the only team in front of them at #1 had just drafted their franchise quarterback in last year’s draft. The snake oil was flowing freely all over northern Ohio.

And then the new league year commenced. Apparently Harvard graduates (both DePodesta and Brown) don’t feel the need for a Plan B. To put what happened during the start of free agency into perspective, it’s about an 8 hour drive from Cleveland to New York City. If the Browns had their four top free agents in a car heading for New York, every one of them chose to bail out and hitch a ride to their next team before the car even got to Erie, Pennsylvania. In the first 3 hours of free agency, they saw 40% of their starting offensive line, their top wide receiver and their pro-bowl free safety disappear. Using the sketchy contract information available for these four, it appears that the Browns chose not to spend a combined $1.8 Million to retain these four players. That’s only 4% of the available salary cap space.

They also chose to wait on cutting ties with Johnny Manziel. Two possible explanations were offered. One, they we’re hoping that the NFL would suspend Manziel based on the latest domestic abuse allegations. Two, they were open to fielding any calls from a team willing to trade for him. Both reasons are equally ludicrous. Manziel and his family could afford to hire enough lawyers to tie up any NFL suspension in court for years and to think that any team would offer anything for this kid is foolish.

No. I have come to inevitable painful conclusion that it’s all about the money. For the Haslam clan, nothing else matters except the bottom line on a profit and loss statement. The way the NFL is set up with all 32 franchises, an organ grinder’s monkey could make money off of an NFL team. For the Haslams, though, that’s not enough. Every single thing they have done since October 2012 was done with the intention of making even more money.

Well, this is one fan who has had enough. Until such time that Haslam does something to better the team instead of his own bank account – I’m done.

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I am a transplanted Connecticut Yankee. My family moved to Northern Ohio in the very early 1950's and plopped me right smack dab in the middle of the Otto Graham, Dante Lavelli, Marion Motley era Cleveland Browns and I have been a fan ever since. I'm also an avid history buff so the combination of the NFL and history seems to be a perfect match for me. I hope that I will be successful in sharing some of my research on the history of the NFL and hope you learn something new while reading my articles.
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