Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
1. Timing is everything: What’s the significance of the timing of Jimmy Haslam’s decision to fire Sashi Brown as head of football operations? Although there were signs the Haslams were resolved to making a move of some kind after another disastrous season, the housecleaning decision by the New York Giants earlier in the week had an effect. Sources said Haslam became adamant not to fall behind and lose candidates to teams also seeking a new personnel chief. Because the Giants already have enlisted the services of consultant Ernie Accorsi, the Browns felt they could get first crack at anyone they wanted by opening the position immediately.
2. The leader: Another reason for acting swiftly was that John Dorsey, the exiled architect of the Kansas City Chiefs’ resurgence, was receiving interest elsewhere. Dorsey was almost immediately reported nationally as the Browns’ top choice. The fact Dorsey is a free agent – like former Redskins GM Scot McGloughan – allows a team to hire him without following NFL protocol, which normally calls for executive hires to occur after the playoffs. According to a source, Dorsey has been endorsed heartily by at least one of several veteran football executives that Haslam has consulted over this issue. Haslam is planning to meet the media on Friday afternoon, and there was some feeling that he might have things wrapped up by then to announce the new hire. If it is Dorsey, it conceivably could mean a more prominent role for Ryan Grigson, who was an under-radar hire as senior personnel executive prior to this season. Grigson was brought in by Andrew Berry, vice president of player personnel. The two men worked together four years with the Indianapolis Colts. Although Berry was officially hired by former Colts GM Bill Polian, Grigson kept Berry on when owner Jim Irsay replaced Polian with Grigson in 2012. A source said that Dorsey and Grigson are friends and have mutual respect for each other. If the configuration of the new front office involves Dorsey, Berry and Grigson, there will be new titles to delineate their roles.
3. Hue’s confidence: Haslam’s announcement that Hue Jackson would return as coach in 2018 took many by surprise, but not Jackson. He has carried himself with the air of confidence that he would be back, no matter what. “I think my contract allows me to come back,” Jackson explained. Now, Jackson might have just meant that he was under contract through 2019. But everyone knows many coaches don’t see the full life of their contracts. Thus, there has been speculation in NFL circles that Jackson was given a guarantee – verbal, if not written – of receiving a minimum of three years when he agreed to accept the outside-the-box front office structure dependent heavily on analytics. A source with knowledge of the Jackson hiring process, however, insists a perceived “three-year guarantee” was never discussed. Although practically every team uses analytics in decision-making, the Browns have taken it to an extreme; the hire of baseball Moneyball maven Paul DePodesta as chief strategy officer was viewed at the time as something out of left field, pardon the pun. It remains to be seen how much Dorsey – or whomever is named to succeed Brown – keeps the bloated analytics department intact, and whether, in fact, DePodesta returns next season. Although Brown took the fall, Jackson frequently was at odds with the over-reliance on analytics (SPARQ scores, etc.) to guide personnel decisions. “Analytics only played a part in what we did,” Jackson said. “I will be the first to tell you that. Am I a football traditionalist? Yes, I am. At the same time, I don’t think it is about analytics or football traditionalists or any of that. I think it is about ‘How do we get this organization to be better than what it has been?’ There has been too much losing that has happened here. We need to move forward in a different light and chase something that is better and different.”
4. Player reaction: Most every player asked about the dismissal of Brown stayed in their lanes and declined to comment. I sought Joe Thomas’ reaction because Thomas occasionally had informal talks about general team-building concepts with Brown and had endorsed Brown’s plan wholeheartedly. I asked Thomas if the firing of Brown was a rejection of the rebuilding plan. He responded: “I’m not sure what the firing says about the plan, because I haven’t been involved in the conversations, haven’t been privy to the inside workings of the front office, so it’s hard to say if it was a plan issue or a personality issue. I have no idea. So it’s hard to say the plan was rejected because we don’t know that for a fact. I’ve been here through a lot of hirings and firings and it wasn’t always because people didn’t like the plan. Sometimes it was personality-related. Sometimes it was a lot of other things.” Thomas was happy to see Jackson returning, but still would not commit whether he would return in 2018 or retire after his recent triceps tendon surgery.