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The Suburbanite
  • Lombardi's on board, but what about Weeden?

  • In a joking tone that could turn into serious team business, new Browns personnel chief Michael Lombardi says wideout Josh Gordon has “nothing to worry about,” while giving Brandon Weeden feedback that would make anyone in his position nervous.

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  • Michael Lombardi is turning over his Twitter account to wide receiver Josh Gordon.
    Lombardi came nowhere close to turning over the quarterback job to Brandon Weeden.
    Shortly after learning Lombardi has been hired as what Browns owner Jimmy Haslam calls “general manager,” Gordon got busy on Twitter, writing, “Uh oh. Am I in trouble?”
    Soon, Lombardi was joking about it in a press conference, saying, “Trust me, he has nothing to worry about ... he can have MY Twitter account if he’d like. I’m about to close that thing down.”
    So, Lombardi has seen enough from a 21-year-old receiver to hint that he is a main man. The million-dollar question is whether 29-year-old quarterback Brandon Weeden will be throwing to Gordon.
    Lombardi — whose official title is vice president/player personnel — was thoroughly evasive in his answers.
    “It’s gonna take some time to study him,” Lombardi said.
    Lombardi has been studied by Browns fans for quite some time. Presumably, Lombardi knew he was on the Browns’ radar — everyone else did — and has scoured the roster. Yet, he said he couldn’t comment on Weeden until watching practice tapes and the like.
    That, coupled with Lombardi’s sometimes negative critiques of Weeden as a media analyst, fuel the question of whether the team might take yet another fishing trip for a quarterback.
    Haslam says background research on potential general manager candidates began months ago.
    He says CEO Joe Banner “knows everybody in the business” and used key endorsements as one guide to Lombardi. Haslam had his own conversations with top men in the league. He declined to name any of them but said persuasive voices kept telling him:
    “If you can get Mike Lombardi to be your general manager, you should hire him immediately.”
    That leaves the question of why Lombardi was without a team for five years, when he held jobs as NFL analyst, including for NFL Network.
    Lombardi’s last team was the Raiders. He worked for them from 1999 through 2007, when Al Davis was calling the shots.
    Another question arises. Was Lombardi powerless to keep the Raiders from sliding backward? Or was some of it his fault?
    Starting with the ‘99 season, the Raiders were 8-8, 12-4 and 10-6 under coach Jon Gruden, 11-5 and 4-12 under coach Bill Callahan, 5-11 and 4-12 under coach Norv Turner, 2-14 under coach Art Shell, 4-12 under coach Lane Kiffin, 5-11 under Kiffin and interim pilot Tom Cable, and 5-11 under coach Monte Kiffin and interim pilot Tom Cable, and 5-11 under Cable.
    Haslam was not dissuaded, saying he was drawn by Lombardi’s “smarts, passion, drive” and “knowledge of the league.”
    Banner helped sell Lombardi to Haslam.
    Page 2 of 2 - “He’s near or at the top of the quality talent evaluators that are in this league,” Banner said.
    Banner was working his way up to the Eagles presidency when Lombardi worked with him in 1997 and ‘98. Banner says Lombardi was “integral” in drafts that delivered players who became big parts of later playoff runs, but did not fit with the Andy Reid regime that arrived in 1999.
    “I’ve had a good relationship with Mike since we worked together,” Banner said.
    Lombardi will have a big voice in any changes in the Browns’ personnel department, which he helped organize as the Browns’ player personnel director in the latter days of the Bill Belichick regime.
    “You’re all familiar with the scouting staff that was here in Cleveland,” Banner said.
    In 1995, Lombardi’s ninth year with the team, the player personnel group included Ozzie Newsome, Scott Pioli, Tom Dimitroff, Phil Savage, George Kokinis and Jim Schwartz. Their world was rocked midway through a 5-11 season when Art Modell announced he was moving the team to Baltimore.
    The Browns’ team complex opened in 1991. Lombardi worked there for five years. Returning in 2013 as the expansion Browns’ top personnel man, Lombardi said, is “surreal.”
    Strained relationships in the 1990s were real. Lombardi’s 2013 return was discussed for more than a month, often in unflattering terms.
    “We’ve all grown from those days,” he said. “I know I have. I stand before you different in terms of personally and professionally.”
    He was 35 when he left and returns at 53.
    “If I was the same guy who was here 20 years ago,” he said, “I would say, ‘Jimmy and Joe, you shouldn’t have hired me.’ ”
    Haslam said public criticism gave him no pause in hiring Lombardi.
    “We didn’t worry about that at all,” the owner said. “I have the utmost confidence Mike is going to help us build a winning team. That is all that matters.”