Owner-Centric Offseason

For all the moves the Browns made in the front office and with player personnel, nothing was bigger than what happened at the Pilot Flying J headquarters on April 15.

Although there are still many weeks until the games actually count, training camp is almost here and that signals the end of the long, but busy NFL offseason.

This was the first offseason for the reorganized Cleveland Browns led by owner Jimmy Haslam and CEO Joe Banner.

Boy, was it anything but boring.

As is the case with anything Cleveland Browns-related, the offseason ranged from a few highs to a few lows and a few "what-the-hell" kind of stories that left you uttering, "Only the Browns."

For all the moves the Browns made in the front office and with player personnel, nothing was bigger than what happened at the Pilot Flying J headquarters on April 15. The FBI and IRS showed up in Knoxville, Tenn. that morning. While most of us were glued to what was going on with the Boston Marathon bombings, federal agents were running roughshod through Haslam's company.

As it stands, Haslam maintains he knew nothing of the shady dealings of his underlings. Reports to the contrary say that Haslam did know. Less than 10 days before the official opening of training camp, news broke that Haslam agreed to a class-action settlement with the companies Pilot J cheated out of fuel rebates.

Why does this take precedent of the drafting of Barkevious Mingo, the hiring of Toledo-native Rob Chudzinski as head coach or the signing of a free agent like Paul Kruger?

Regardless of the settlement, the situation remains volatile and Haslam's future and his company's future are uncertain. Sure, Haslam has "no plans" on selling the Browns, but if his legal troubles get worse, he may not have a choice.

This takes precedent over a draft pick or free agent signing because this is exactly what the Browns didn't need. They need stability, security and the knowledge that their new owner and front office will be around for the foreseeable future. They don't have that.

Andrew Schnitkey of the must-read WaitingForNextYear.com wrote about how Browns fans supporting owner Jimmy Haslam is a tricky proposition.

"First off, whether Haslam knew about it or not, the money he used to buy the Browns came from Pilot Flying J, a company that shrewdly defrauded less sophisticated customers out of money that was owed to them.

"Second of all, if this all happened under Jimmy Haslam's nose without his knowledge, it sort of sets a bad precedent of oversight and leadership.

I realize no two companies work exactly the same, but in talking with several people who have worked in sales for large companies, they are pretty unanimous in asserting that sure it's possible to have a CEO not know something like is going on. Maybe even plausible. But they also felt pretty strongly that a CEO who is a strong, hands-on leader would know about this at least to some degree."

Circumstantial evidence isn't very favorable for Haslam. And this is Cleveland. Only a team like the Browns would have their brand, spanking new owner embroiled in controversy with federal agencies.

It has been less than a year when the news broke that Randy Lerner was selling the team. You were hard pressed to find a Browns fan that was disappointed in the news or a fan that didn't like how Haslam presented himself.

Since Haslam took over, the Browns have been in a constant state of flux. A few months before the Halsam news broke, the Browns fired and hired a new rookie head coach – again – and added new offensive and defensive coordinators. At least the coordinators came with impressive résumés. From there, the upgrades to the defense began in earnest with a few offensive additions to boot.

It's a Browns offseason. It's going to have massive amounts of turnover, but the hope is the front office and coaching staff turnover would be kept to a minimum with Haslam now in charge.

But if he is forced to ditch the Browns, the reboot begins anew and new owners will have different ideas on how the team should be organized.

Haslam's troubles haven't been the only off the field issues that haven't been favorable for the Browns. There were the attempted murder charges on undrafted rookie defensive lineman Ausar Walcott (who has since been cut). And who could forget the joke in the Mansfield Browns fan's obit that made national news?

What is going on with Haslam shouldn't matter to the potential upgrades the Browns made by drafting pass rusher Mingo, trading for veteran wide receiver Davone Bess or signing veteran linebacker like Kruger in free agency. Even bringing in an offensive coordinator like Norv Turner to maximize the potential of quarterback Brandon Weeden and running back Trent Richardson was seen as a positive move.

As has been the case, despite the front office or coaching turnover the Browns experienced, there is some renewed hope for the current edition of the team. Overall, the Browns' talent level seems to be improved from a 5-11 team that lost at least three games because of dumb coaching last season. (Hi, Pat Shurmur!)

Unfortunately, while the desire to create some stability within the organization is still in doubt, the Browns will have a first-year coach paired with a starting quarterback who needs to step up or he will be sent packing.

Regardless of what happens on the field, the collective breath of the Browns organization will continue to be held until the Haslam matter is fully resolved. Why? It goes back to finding continuity within the Cleveland Browns organization.

I leave you with Schinikey's words.

"Short of selling the Browns tomorrow, the best thing for the franchise would be to move forward with Jimmy Haslam remaining as owner. For Haslam to never face charges or have evidence brought up proving his direct knowledge. If that happens, this could all be over in a year or so.

"The worst case scenario for fans and the franchise itself would be for the owner to fight and scramble to hang onto the franchise, only to eventually have to give it up a couple years from now. It would mean prolonged doubt, dwindling resources, and general confusion for a couple years, only to start all over again at a later time."

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