Browns at the Bye: Mike Holmgren out, Joe Banner in, and rookie expectations

Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

The Browns enjoyed a Sunday off in Week 10, but Ryan Alton returns with Part 2 of his thoughts as the teams embarks upon the second half of their season.

Just because the Browns don't play a game this week doesn't mean the gears stop turning inside the mind of a restless Browns fan. With that said, I'm back to offer a few more thoughts about the state of the franchise and all the uncertainty that lies ahead.

Related: Browns at the bye week -- Part One

The Big Show in Big D? I suppose it's somewhat moot to spend too much time worrying about what outgoing team president Mike Holmgren plans to do after he packs his saddlebags full of Randy Lerner's money and rolls his Harley out of Cleveland at the end of the season. He was hired by Lerner to add credibility and a strong visual presence to an organization that had neither, and to basically be the owner so that Lerner could do Lord knows what, despite not necessarily being qualified for any of the roles he was expected to fulfill. The only role Holmgren was qualified to fill was the one he didn't want... at least not in Cleveland.

Now, reports are starting to surface that Holmgren may actually be open to coaching again if the "perfect opportunity" came along. In fairness, he left the door open and basically said just that in his farewell press conference in front of the Cleveland media last month. Then, on Sunday, Jason La Canfora of CBSSports.com told "The NFL Today" that sources close to Holmgren told him that he has "serious interest" in coaching the Dallas Cowboys next year if owner Jerry Jones decides to make a change from Jason Garrett after the season. La Canfora's sources cited "the competitiveness of the roster, the skill players present, and his relationship with owner Jerry Jones" as the main reasons Holmgren would consider the Cowboys.


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Personally, I appreciate the fact that Holmgren was wise enough to hire Tom Heckert as General Manager to rebuild the roster in Cleveland and I never really expected him to return to the sidelines as head coach of the Browns. But I have to admit, it kind of rubs me the wrong way that he would choose to go coach another team after he had the chance to do so here and refused. It's not like Lerner would have forbade him from doing so. He just simply chose not to. Instead he went out and hired Pat Shurmur, who has been nothing short of a disaster in his brief stint as coach, while he gets to ride off after three years at about a million dollars per win, dignity intact.

Furthermore, if Holmgren likes Dallas because of the talent on the roster and the skill players they have, what does that say for the Browns players he is leaving behind? If I were Josh Cribbs or Joe Haden, I might have a little chip on my shoulder heading into next week's match up against the Cowboys. But it's a win-win situation for Holmgren. Who will prevail? The roster he covets or the one he helped build? The Big Show seems to have a knack for coming out smelling like roses, no matter what kind of mess he leaves behind.

More Perspective on Joe Banner. If you haven't already, I highly suggest all Browns fans head over to the National Football Post and read a column by longtime NFL agent Jack Bechta, entitled "What Browns Fans Will Get with Joe Banner." Bechta, being an agent in the NFL for over 20 years, has developed a close, professional relationship with the Browns new CEO from when he would represent various players and Banner worked as team president in Philadelphia.

Bechta describes the roles in which Banner filled for over a decade in Philadelphia. "From negotiating contracts, training camp leases, radio/media sponsorships, hiring/firing coaches and front office men, directing PR initiatives, pregame entertainment, and stadium leases to overseeing the team's cash flow and attending league meetings, Joe has seen it all," explains Bechta. So Browns fans can rest easy knowing Jimmy Haslam III has replaced a man in Holmgren, who had no experience overseeing such team operations prior to coming to Cleveland, for a man who has done this for years previously with the Philadelphia Eagles.

According to Bechta, Banner oftentimes found himself in the crosshairs of the relentless Philly sports media. "Joe was an easy target for the venomous Philly media," Bechta describes. "I once had a working lunch with Joe in his office. On the way in I tuned into the Howard Eskin show. A caller called in and said he saw Joe Banner on the golf course that day. The caller complained that Joe should be getting draft picks signed and taking care of some of the Eagles' many problems. Of course, Eskin and other callers piled on Joe. However, Joe was nowhere near a golf course in 6 months and was waiting for me in his office. When I told him what I had just heard he just shrugged it off as part of the territory of the job. When I got back in my car two hours later the host and callers were still bashing Joe. It's the Philly way."

If Bechta has ever had the chance to listen to Cleveland sports radio, he would soon realize, this is also the Cleveland way. I can personally remember hearing eerily similar call-ins to Cleveland radio shows about the recreational exploits of Mike Holmgren (word has it, the Big Show enjoyed bike rides in the Cleveland Metro Parks during work hours from time to time). So yeah, Banner will get no reprieve from the fans and the media backlash here if the team doesn't start winning soon. Fortunately, once again, he comes with great experience.

So what can we expect from Banner now that he is officially in charge? Says Bechta, (on hiring the right people):

"Joe will not make a decision without calling 10 to 15 references on hiring a coach or personnel man. Joe's biggest strength is taking his time in making decisions, doing massive amounts of research and getting everyone's opinion. Joe is credited for hiring good football people. He was quick to pick up top football people who were fired from other positions and have them focus on whatever their strength is."

On dealing with the players:

"Joe's Eagles may have had the best record of any NFL team over the last decade of getting draft picks signed on time and faster than any other team. Joe started a trend in signing young blossoming talent a year or two before their contract was up. Thus, often securing them at a huge discount to their upcoming free agent value. He may have missed on a few players but he did hit on the majority, keeping the best talent for the long term. Even if a player became unsatisfied with his contract, the Eagles still owned them. Expect to see this method implemented for the Browns' young talent."

So about that angst with Holmgren leaving for greener pastures? Never mind. I think we might just be okay with Joe Banner running the show.

Rookie Wall? It wouldn't be appropriate for me to go two whole posts without once mentioning the expectation of two of the most important players on the Browns roster for the final seven games of the season.

Brandon Weeden was having a fairly successful rookie season until last week's flop against the Ravens. He seemed to revert back to some bad habits he displayed early in the season, such as locking onto receivers, missing reads, and being a split-second late on his release, which can cause defenders to key on the ball. He seemed overly aggressive at times, throwing the ball into harm's way, while other times, he played it safe and checked it down to a safety valve when the play clearly called for something to be thrown further downfield.

I believe part of Weeden's troubles in the Ravens game came from miscommunication with the sideline and the inability for Pat Shurmur to get the plays in on time. By the time Weeden broke the huddle and ran up to the line of scrimmage there was oftentimes just a handful of seconds left on the play clock. This didn't allow Weeden the opportunity to read the defense properly and make any needed changes or audibles at the line.

Hopefully, Weeden went back and learned a lot from that Ravens film and used the bye to familiarize himself more with the playbook. He can't continue to be as inconsistent and as trepid as he was when the Browns got into the red zone against the Ravens. Weeden has developed a reputation for being a gunslinger. He has to take his shots down field but he has to be smart about trusting his receivers and finding them when they're open. Hopefully, he can bounce back from the Ravens game like he was able to after the dreadful debut he had against Philadelphia in Week 1.

Before the players left for their week off, Trent Richardson promised that the bye would do him good and that hopefully he could return 100 percent. With the minor knee procedure just before the beginning of the preseason and the rib injury that has hindered him for the last few weeks, I'm not sure that we have really seen the full display of his abilities. Hopefully, the bye will give him that time to heal so that he can come back and be the dominant running force we expected when the Browns moved up to take him No. 3 overall in April.

It's tough to see Tampa Bay phenom Doug Martin and Washington's Alfred Morris have monster rookie seasons while Richardson seems to have been held back by injury and or an offense that focuses on using the pass to set up the run. Richardson is the type of "old school" back that needs at least 20 carries a game to really wear down a defense and get rolling. So far, he hasn't been utilized in that way and it leaves much to be desired from him in Shurmur's offense. What's impressive is that, despite these hindrances, he is still putting up respectable yardage totals week in and week out. Hopefully, if he returns 100 percent healthy after the bye, he'll have a breakout performance against somebody. You get the feeling, he's just about due.

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