Michael Lombardi isn’t going to have a big leash from Cleveland Browns fans. That much is the only certainty for the former scout turned personnel executive.
He comes in, officially named as the team’s general manager, in a time where expectations are beginning to grow around the young and talented Browns.
Fans have been watching and waiting for that magical season where everything finally comes together.
So far, Lombardi has overseen several crucial signings, including scooping up Super Bowl champion Paul Kruger from the Baltimore Ravens.
Free agency is important for team-building. The Browns have a plethora of cap space and an abundance of needs, and Lombardi went out and filled some of those weaknesses.
He hasn’t been working for a team since he left Oakland in 2007, but his continuity as an NFL Network analyst kept him sharp. Being able to step away and evaluate others' decisions was likely a fruitful exercise that will pay dividends for him in his new position.
Hindsight is sometimes 20/20, but from initial appearances, the team is in a better position now as the draft approaches. This is where Lombardi has struggled at times during his long NFL career.
Should we re-hash the draft misses from his past to illustrate the concerns many have? No, we’re all already familiar with his apparent refusal to draft Warren Sapp (55:25 of interview, NSFW content) and his first-round selections of Tommy Vardell and JaMarcus Russell.
Here’s a recap, for those wondering, of all of his major selections while in a position of power in an NFL organization:
Image source: TheClevelandFan.com
Instead of continuing down that road, let’s change gears and take a look at the current make-up of the team, and evaluate how Lombardi might perform.
New management, same scouts
While the power structure of the selection process figures to be a decision-by-committee process, the Browns will still employ the same scouts that have done the groundwork in drafting several key pieces over the last few seasons.
Ultimately, it is the executives who make the picks who have the final say and take the glory—or blame—for the decisions that they make.
At the end of the day, though, it is the scouts who are working tirelessly to evaluate mid- to late-round athletes for potential fits. That work is invaluable.
Knowing that these guys, who worked for former GM Tom Heckert, will still be in the mix is comforting as Lombardi prepares for his first draft since 2007.
In a position to succeed
The Cleveland Browns, believe it or not, are in a strong position to succeed. Youth, talent and a solid coaching staff have created a feeling of optimism that is beginning to grow around the team. It seems that they are finally approaching a turning point.
With talented, young players at key positions, Lombardi will only have to do a few things to right the ship and get the Browns back in the postseason.
That optimism, though, may increase the demand for instant gratification from fans.
In an ideal world, Lombardi would ace the 2013 draft, and shed the negative light around his name. Sure, Heckert did the leg work for the Browns, but it would be the long-time personnel evaluator who will have swooped in to finish the job and steal the limelight.
It’s a perfect situation for someone in his position.
That is a big reason why Lombardi will not likely fail. He is in a good position to succeed, experienced in the business and will not have to do very much in order to turn the Browns into a winner.
Long-term and sustainable success, though, will hinge on his ability to sustain depth and find a quarterback if Brandon Weeden doesn’t pan out.
Failure is not an option
While he has found himself in a favorable situation, Lombardi won’t be afforded much room for failure. New Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III has invested a truck of money in this team and will be very intimate with the processes moving forward.
This could be the last chance for Lombardi, meaning he will be working tirelessly to get things done the right way. He also has a personal connection with Cleveland, giving him extra motivation to finish the job from his previous stint there.
Doomed to fail, again? Well, he didn’t exactly fail in the first place. A record of 68-64 and four playoff appearances during his time in Cleveland isn’t exactly a failure, despite his known mistakes.
And he has made mistakes—well-documented and public mistakes that have hurt his team’s chances for success.
But, who hasn’t? The NFL isn’t an exact science. Sometimes it takes a perfect storm of talent meeting opportunity for a team to get to the next level.
With the people he has working with him and the current state of the Browns roster taken into consideration, Lombardi should be able to avoid a catastrophic failure in Cleveland.
What else can we do but hope?
Mike Hoag covers the NFL and Cleveland Browns for Bleacher Report.