NEW YORK – The Cleveland Browns didn't just get the running back they wanted in Trent Richardson and a quarterback they desperately needed in Brandon Weeden in the first round of the NFL draft Thursday, they took the pressure off the man in charge.
Coming into the draft, the natives in Cleveland were growing restless with Browns president and resident football guru Mike Holmgren. As rumors swirled that the Browns might get jumped by Tampa Bay for the right to draft Richardson, the grousing was starting to percolate in the team's front office.
It's not so much that the Browns have gone backward in two years under Holmgren (a minor decline from five wins in 2010 to four in 2011). It's that they've had little hope of growth, particularly on offense.
It's one thing to lose. But when a team loses and doesn't score, it's crushing. Colt McCoy hasn't been much of a find at quarterback, which is why he's about to face a challenge from Weeden, a rookie three years older than him. Running back Peyton Hillis went from hero to head case – thus the desire to add Richardson – and the wide receiver position has been a bigger wasteland than West Texas.
OK, that happens. But what happened earlier this offseason started to shine a serious light on Holmgren. When Washington jumped the Browns in going from No. 6 to No. 2 to get the rights to draft quarterback Robert Griffin III, suddenly people were looking at the team and wondering what direction Holmgren was taking it.
"In March, when you see how much the trade cost, you say, 'Oh, that's too expensive,' " a team source said. "But then you get to this point and you see Washington with a quarterback of the future and you're thinking, 'Man, I'd really like to have that guy now.' "
That perception was compounded when quarterback Ryan Tannehill of Texas A&M said last week that Holmgren wasn't there when he visited the Browns. Some people correctly took that as an indication Cleveland had no real interest in selecting Tannehill.
But it also made people wonder about Holmgren's commitment to doing the job.
"People around the building are wondering how much he really wants to be here," the source said. "Really, the best thing would be for him to step away and say, 'Sorry, this is not something I really want to do.' "
Cleveland spokesman Neal Gulkis disagreed with that assessment, saying that Holmgren was "fully engaged in the draft process."
And it should be noted that the criticism of Holmgren came before the Browns made the deal to secure Richardson and then take Weeden (with an extra first-round pick acquired last year in the Julio Jones trade). Some of that talk was borne of frustration that the Browns might not get a star player who could give the fans hope.
At the time, it appeared that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would be the second team to jump Cleveland for a player the Browns wanted. Richardson. But in the end, the Bucs didn't want to pay much for Richardson as proved by the fact that it cost Cleveland only fourth, sixth and seventh rounders to move up one spot.
For the chance to get the player a team likes most, that's not expensive. For a chance to keep fans happy and execute a plan, that's cheap. For the chance to keep the fans and media from ripping the top football man in the organization, it's vital.
But there is a larger issue in all of this, and that is whether these "football czar" jobs are really worth the money. Holmgren was hired because Browns owner Randy Lerner didn't want to bother himself with the day-to-day details of running the team (Lerner has enough problems with a soccer team he owns, Aston Villa, which is about to be relegated out of the England Premier League).
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While Holmgren shouldn't be expected to make every decision (he has hired capable General Manager Tom Heckert to run personnel), the job is still full-time, at least from a dedication standpoint.
Just look at what happened with Bill Parcells in Miami. Parcells was fully invested in the job … until it got really hard after some of the team's draft picks (quarterbacks Chad Henne and Pat White) didn't pan out. Parcells' lack of complete commitment contributed to the unraveling of the Dolphins the past two seasons.
Being great at anything in football requires throwing yourself into it. John Elway has done that in Denver, which is one reason the team was able to land Peyton Manning this offseason. Elway lives for the mundane tasks of the job, such as waiting outside locker rooms until the wee hours of the morning after college bowl games to talk to players and meet with coaches. At the NFL scouting combine, Elway was everywhere.
By contrast, Elway's old foil, Dan Marino, bowed out quickly from that same type of job in 2003 when the Dolphins hired him. Marino found out in less than two weeks that football isn't a part-time gig, even in an advisory role.
Now, there are questions about Holmgren. The Browns worked to dispel some of them Thursday with a couple of aggressive moves.
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