I would like to thank Jon Stinchcomb of Dawgs by Nature for taking the time to answer a few of my questions.
We have Lombardi. Not the Lombardi we wanted this winter, but it's the Lombardi that's going to have to suffice until next season begins.
I thought it was a great move. I thought Lombardi, an old friend of Bill Belichick, would be a perfect ingredient for the front office. He's a draft wizard. He's able to challenge Belichick. And I was under the impression that he'd had a lot to do with setting the Cleveland Browns up for success this upcoming off-season.
Of course, I may have been a little misled. While it's true that the Browns did a more-than-adequate job in preparation for this next season (the coulda-woulda-shoulda-been second season of the regime), the person to whom we attributed the success and blame may be a little misguided.
I was under the impression that Mike Lombardi, as GM, was in charge of the personnel decisions. That includes the signings, the cuts, the salary cap management, and the trades. It turns out that it was a little more complicated than that.
"Lombardi's role in the front was primarily in the player personnel department," DBN's Jon Stinchcomb says via e-mail. "But it was also hard to tell exactly how much he was doing, how much Banner was doing, [and] how much Farmer was doing."
It turns out that former Browns CEO Joe Banner was the main driver behind the trade of running back Trent Richardson to the Colts, where Cleveland acquired a first round pick. Lombardi's actual role in the trademark transaction of his tenure is up for question. This lack of role definition led to the inevitable clashing of cultures and organizational friction.
"It was very clear that the last front office was afraid of accountability," Stinchcomb continues. "Now that the firings have come down, even more is coming out about those power struggles. There are so many conflicting reports coming from all over that it's hard to determine which are true and which are not. One thing is certain: It was a mess."
And a lot of this can be linked to an obvious piece of rot in the Bill Belichick coaching tree: they don't play well with others. From Scott Pioli to Josh McDaniels to Jim Scwhartz to Eric Mangini, they all try and lead in their own fashion that inevitably ruffles the feathers of those around them. Perhaps bringing Lombardi back into that environment will help nurture his obvious eye for talent.
But maybe most importantly, the lack of defined structure in Cleveland leaves Lombardi's role in New England up for greater interpretation. For all his ability to evaluate talent, his execution was just nonexistent.
"I'm being completely honest when I say the only plainly good things we can attribute to Lombardi are the Trent Richardson trade and the acquisition of DE Desmond Bryant," Stinchcomb states. "Overtly bad moves are harder to point out at this time...but he just wasn't here that long."
One could argue that his time with the Browns was cut short so prematurely that we'll never get a true idea on how he would perform as a GM; he was set up with a tremendous amount of open cap space ($48.9mm), but a myriad of expiring deals on current players. He had players, but he didn't have a team. He wasn't given the necessary time to build one.
Team building also starts with the coaching staff. I misattributed the signing of Rob Chudzinski, Norv Turner, and Ray Horton (coaches who I truly believe would direct a fantastic squad in a better scenario) to Lombardi. Chud signed with the Browns a week before Lombardi was hired as GM. Norv was hired the day before Lombardi. Horton signed the same day as the new GM. Lombardi's impact was essentially zero when it came to building his coaching staff.
As for setting up the team to succeed in the long run? Most of their star players (wide receiver Josh Gordon, tight end Jordan Cameron, center Alex Mack, cornerback Joe Haden) were acquired well before Lombardi joined the franchise. And the free cap space for 2014?
"[The Browns'] great cap situation and much of the "team building" were established by Tom Heckert and co. [the front office team prior to Banner/Lombardi]," Stinchcomb points out. "Obviously [ignoring] Richardson and Weeden."
So our picture of Lombardi is left slightly less rosy that it was before. He was the GM, but his role wasn't nearly as defined as we would have hoped. He had very little to do with the building of the 2013 Browns, looking at both the roster and the coaching staff. He butted heads with CEO Joe Banner and often disagreed with team owner Jimmy Haslam.
His potential role with the Patriots will be less defined and structured than what he had with the Browns. MMQB's Greg Bedard believes that his role is essentially the same as it was from 2010 to 2012, as a draft consultant of sorts. Maybe this is the job that best suits his skill set and his mentality.
This Lombardi is not the one the team wants. His short-lived tenure in Cleveland was an undeniable disaster. But maybe he's coming to an environment that can put his knowledge to good use. Maybe he's coming to a front office that knows how to handle his type of personality and can capitalize on his extensive skill set.
This isn't the Lombardi the team wants. But maybe he can help the Patriots get the real thing. And who knows- maybe some time in the New England air will develop him into the GM I originally thought he could be.