BEREA — Head of football operations Sashi Brown spent much of his 26-minute news conference Monday answering questions about trade sabotage, job security and a deteriorating relationship between the coaching staff and front office.
It’s been that kind of week and season for Brown and the Browns (0-8).
He denied he or anyone in the front office purposely caused the failure of the attempt to trade for Bengals backup quarterback AJ McCarron last week before the NFL’s trade deadline. The proper paperwork didn’t reach the league office in time, and the league denied the Browns’ appeal to allow the trade.
CBS’ Jason La Canfora reported Sunday that some Browns coaches believe the front office sabotaged the deal, citing team and league sources.
“That’s wholly untrue,” said Brown, who has executed 17 trades in less than two years on the job. “We were all in there together.
“I’m not worried about that internally. Externally, I can just put it to bed. That’s just not the case. Nothing we would ever do, to try to make up a trade to sabotage a trade. Just wouldn’t make any sense.”
The Browns agreed minutes before the 4 p.m. deadline last Tuesday to send second- and third-round picks to the Bengals for McCarron. Brown acknowledged the organization waited too long to finish the negotiations with the Bengals. He said the notion the Browns made a procedural error in submitting the paperwork is wrong.
“We’re talking about minutes and seconds before the trade deadline ended we were on the phone with the NFL at the time to try to make it happen and it did not happen,” he said. “I do think Cincinnati in earnest tried, I know we did everything humanly possible to get it done, and it just didn’t happen. It’s truly that simple.”
The Browns were once again the butt of jokes around the league, even during their bye week. Brown, who was the team’s general counsel before being put in charge of the football department, said he doesn’t worry that the failed trade will cost him his job.
He reports directly to owners Jimmy and Dee Haslam.
“I think we’re in good communication with both Dee and Jimmy on these things and they’re well apprised of what we’re doing and why and how things come together,” Brown said. “I think they’ve seen our track record in terms of being able to perform and pull off some of the more creative deals in the league and a host of just simple, straightforward of these transactions. I think they understand that we’ve been as aggressive as any team trying to churn this roster and improve it.”
The Haslams could point to several other factors if they choose to fire Brown at some point during or after the season. The Browns are 1-23 since he took over, and Brown admitted the roster he assembled isn’t good enough to win week in and week out.
He said he hasn’t been assured of returning for a third year but added it’s not a conversation he would have with the Haslams.
“The most important thing for us to do is really stay focused on our task at hand,” Brown said. “You’ve got eight other opportunities this year, our guys have been resilient and focused, I think you’d expect no less from the front office and the coaching staff, and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”
The McCarron mishap came on the heels of the Patriots trading quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to the 49ers for a second-round pick. The Browns were interested in him for months and wound up offering more for McCarron, leaving the impression they were asleep at the switch when Garoppolo was sent to San Francisco.
“It’d be nice to be able to control where all the other teams are going to send their players,” Brown said.
The CBS report also said coaches were upset that members of the personnel department left the building early Monday and Tuesday last week.
“A lot of this stuff that’s been written has been made up,” Brown said. “Someone can call my wife and kids and tell them where I was at 5 o’clock, but it certainly wasn’t home.”
The relationship between the coaching staff and front office has been strained throughout the 0-8 start, and the failure to acquire Garoppolo and the botched trade appeared to make it worse. Brown insisted everything’s fine.
“In these (rebuilds) and in these moments, there is a lot of adversity that will put pressure on people and we have to stay united internally,” he said. “We are working together.”
Coach Hue Jackson had long wanted McCarron, whom he coached in Cincinnati. And Jackson has been vocal in criticizing the roster given to him by Brown.
“He knows the efforts that went in to try to get the deal done,” Brown said. “Hue was in the room as we were hustling to try to get the deal done, so he observed it, witnessed it.”
Jackson spoke about four hours after Brown and declined to comment on “anything that happened here last week.” He was asked specifically if he’s comfortable with the relationship between the coaches and front office.
“I’m not going to talk about any of those things,” Jackson said. “I think Sashi addressed all of that. What I’m going to do, I am going to focus on coaching this football team and getting this team to win, getting our coaches better, getting our players better and find a way to win football games.”
Since returning in 1999, the Browns have repeatedly been torn apart by organizational strife. Brown said the current edition can’t fall victim to such in-fighting.
“It’s been here. It’s been elsewhere,” he said. “It’s incumbent upon the leadership to come together and to address it and to lead through it.
“We have to do everything we can to stay unified.”
Members of the coaching staff are bitter about the roster provided by Brown. Among the questionable moves are going without a veteran quarterback — or one with a win in the NFL — the release of cornerback Joe Haden before the season, the trade of middle linebacker Demario Davis and keeping rookie kicker Zane Gonzalez over incumbent Cody Parkey.
Brown said he’s disappointed in the record and acknowledged the roster isn’t where it needs to be.
“It’s my responsibility to deliver a roster here that is talented enough to win week in, week out,” he said. “And we haven’t done that, yet.”
But he pointed to progress from many young players and remained resolute he and his group will get it right.
“We have a very aggressive plan as we move forward to bolster this roster in a huge offseason, probably the most important we have coming up,” he said. “We’ll plan to execute on it.”