Browns owner Jimmy Haslam’s intentions are good. Promise patience, praise the front office and coach Hue Jackson, try to eliminate five months of questions about their job security.
While I appreciate Haslam’s availability Saturday at his annual training camp state-of-the-team news conference, drawing any conclusions is premature. There are no absolutes in July.
And there shouldn’t be.
So fans and media need to pump the brakes before saying the regime put in place following the 2015 season — head of football operations Sashi Brown, chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta, vice president of player personnel Andrew Berry — is guaranteed to return intact in 2018.
I know Haslam said Saturday: “We feel we have the right people in place.”
In early August 2015, he said: “I think we’ve got the right people in place. We’re not going to blow things up, OK?”
He was referring to general manager Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine. Both were fired the day the season ended.
Haslam has to believe he finally got it right this time. Or else he’d go insane.
But it’s simply too early to tell. And acting as if whatever happens this season couldn’t change his mind is naïve. He’s fired three coaches and three GMs since arriving in 2012, none making it to a third season.
Haslam says he’s learned his lesson, is more patient and has embraced the philosophy of building through the draft. That’s how it should be.
But none of the evidence — admittedly it’s early — shows the front office excels at talent evaluation. Brown and DePodesta had never been involved in the process prior to their new roles, and Berry took a big jump in responsibility.
Haslam’s professed confidence remains a leap of faith.
The new regime, with the input of Jackson and his staff, has selected 24 players in the last two drafts. Haslam can’t accurately say he knows he has the right guys when the bushel of picks has yielded so little.
None of the 14 picks in 2016 looked like a star as a rookie. First-round receiver Corey Coleman showed glimpses but had a disappointing season. Second-round end Emmanuel Ogbah was solid, but 5.5 sacks isn’t all-rookie-team material.
This season will be critical for the top two picks and many others. Tight end Seth DeValve, tackle Shon Coleman and safety Derrick Kindred are in line for starting roles after doing little as rookies. If they flop, the doubts about the analytics-driven front office will double.
That’s why this season should be vital to the fate of Brown and Co. After two years, we should have a good feel for the future of the 2016 class. And have valuable information about the rookie class.
Haslam was asked if he needed to see a big performance from the two draft classes to be sure the front office knows what it’s doing.
“It’s tough for rookies to come in and really tear it up,” he said. “You can go back and look. There are a few exceptions. The Cowboys had a couple last year, but for the most part it takes a guy into his second or third year.
“Don’t get me wrong. I hope they tear it up the first game against the Steelers, but it’s not the end of the western world if they don’t. I think we’re going to give them some time. By their second or third year if they’re not producing, then I think you’re going to be concerned, but I think you have to be realistic. The adjustment between college football, particularly the way it’s played now, and pro football is dramatic.”
So Haslam is willing to wait until after 2018 to evaluate the drafting skills of Brown and Co.?
“That’s where the patience comes in,” he said.
Brown and DePodesta have sold Haslam on their long-range plan and their ability to execute it. But I’m not buying his newfound patience can survive a 3-13 season on the heels of a franchise-worst 1-15.
Brown has done a masterful job accumulating draft picks. The Browns have two first-rounders in 2018 and three second-rounders. If I were Haslam, I would need to see significant production from the last two draft classes before I let Brown lead another draft, especially with so many high picks.
Continuity is important, but Haslam can’t afford to waste another draft hoping “the right guys” draft the right players. Especially if they’ve been unable to identify a franchise quarterback.
Haslam was forthright when he said the expectation for the rebuild is a “substantial” jump in 2018 or ’19. That can only happen with a legitimate quarterback in place and tremendous contributions from the recent drafts.
He must wait to see if his faith will be rewarded.
We must wait to see if he sticks to his plan of patience.
It’s far from guaranteed.