Thinking back to the years in which Lombardi acted in a similar capacity for the Browns, fans bristled. No matter that during his first stint in Cleveland (1987-94) the team won the AFC Central twice, reached the conference championship twice and, in 1994, his second year as director of player personnel, the Browns had an 11-5 record and a playoff appearance—the recent hiring of Lombardi still hit a sour note.
For Cleveland fans, Lombardi comes with a lot of baggage, regardless of how he performed with the team the first time around or how well he performed in a similar capacity for the Philadelphia Eagles. Though nearly 20 years have passed since the last time he worked with the Browns, second chances and trust are still hard to come by, especially from a fanbase that has seen few results over that time.
But fear not, those of you who aren't in Lombardi's corner: He may be vice president of player personnel, but roster, draft and free-agency decisions won't be his alone. No, the Browns are taking a collaborative approach to all personnel matters, with a four-person collective consisting of Lombardi, owner Jimmy Haslam, CEO Joe Banner and head coach Rob Chudzinski each having equal say in every decision.
It's an unconventional approach, especially when it comes to the owner and the CEO weighing in on football personnel, but it's a smart move for the Browns.
The Browns are a young team, but one yet again in transition. They have a new owner, new front-office leadership, and aside from retaining their special teams and offensive line coach, a whole new staff. Among the challenges facing this new-look (again) Browns is building trust between the ownership, front office, coaching staff and the fans, and a great way to do this is to show how much trust there already is between three of those four components.
No one person will have final or total say, which means there will now be a series of checks and balances when it comes to draft-day and free-agency decisions and other roster moves. It will help decrease the chances of a power struggle and allow all moves to be made after thorough discussion. As Banner himself said (via clevelandbrowns.com), if everyone is on the same page, then the decision is likely the right one.
Banner made it clear last Friday that none of the four men will have the final say: "If we’re sitting in the first round of the draft and there are four decision makers in the room and two are for and two are against the pick, it’s probably a risk to pick that person."
This way, Banner, Haslam, Lombardi and Chudzinski are all accountable, with no one to shift the blame to or away from if a decision proves to be a wrong one. Nor will anyone take all the credit if the decision is right.
This approach could be called team building by example—the Browns have assembled a team of decision-makers, all of whom are equally responsible for the roster they build. Just as a win on the football field is a team effort, so is the effort to build that winning roster.
No one man can advance his own agenda without the approval of the others. No one is going to pull rank and demand a certain player be taken with a certain draft pick without the other three men having any say in the matter. The goal is that every move made will be done so with the Browns' best interests in mind and nothing else.
What the Browns need is strong leadership and good decision-making, all with the goal of long-term success and stability. With Haslam, Banner, Chudzinski and Lombardi all on the same page, all wanting the same things, the errors can be minimized, there will be consistency in all matters and the team—as well as its fans—aren't beholden to the whims of one man's vision.
This is a strong alliance of football minds in Cleveland, and none are at odds with one another. After years of power struggles involving Eric Mangini, Mike Holmgren, Tom Heckert and others, a singular vision and a promise of collaboration is nothing more than a sign that the Browns are making progress, not taking a step back.