So, what’s up? Anything interesting happen lately? Anything… Anything at all?
Oh wait, that’s right. The Cleveland Browns are for sale… HOLY CRAP! So much for a normal, boring, run of the mill Friday sitting in my cubicle watching the seconds on the clock tick away.
News broke early this morning that the Randy Lerner was in negotiations to sell primary ownership of the Browns to a mystery third-party. The internet immediately broke as motives for a sudden sale began to be thrown around and dissected at break neck speeds. Naturally, the biggest cause for concern was whether or not the Cleveland Browns will in fact remain the Cleveland Browns, or are we in the beginning stages of watching our beloved football team pack up and move away for the second time. Rest easy my friends, the Browns aren’t going anywhere for three reasons.
1. The Browns current lease with the city to play in Cleveland Browns Stadium is virtually iron clad and spans 30 years. There is no way in hell that lease is being broke early and if they attempt to do so, the team will be caught up in legal issues for two decades to follow.
2. Randy Lerner has assured everyone that under no circumstances will he ever consider selling the Browns to someone who doesn’t intend on keeping the team in Cleveland.
3. The NFL would never allow the team to move again in such a short period of time. It would be a financial and PR disaster. Like, complete and total nightmare. Cleveland is a relatively large market in terms of NFL football and the Browns fan base stretches from coast to coast. No Cleveland Browns fan would ever watch another down of NFL football or spend money on it ever again. I know I wouldn’t. And let’s face it, the NFL likes making money.
Once the dust began to settle, the mysterious third-party was revealed to the masses via a statement by Randy Lerner.
“In connection with current rumors and press inquiries, I can report that I’ve been approached by Mr. Jimmy Haslam, who is interested in making an investment in the Cleveland Browns. We are currently in negotiations and both sides have agreed to keep that dialogue and its details private. Given that any transaction would require League approval, care has been taken so that this process will not be disruptive to the organization, in particular the football team, as it prepares for the upcoming season. We will share further details or make an announcement if it becomes necessary.”
Jimmy Haslam!!!… Wait, who?
No, Jimmy Haslam doesn’t play for the Miami Heat, he doesn’t host a golf show on WKNR, and he isn’t the former coach of the New Orleans Saints. Jimmy Haslam is the CEO of Pilot Transit Centers, aka Flying J and Pilot truck stops. He’s from Tennessee, his brother is the current governor, and he is one of the primary boosters for the Tennessee football team. He also happens to be a minority owner of the Pittsburgh Steelers and 1000% a Steelers fan.
Yes, the potential new owner of the Browns owns a minority stake of our most bitter rival and has declared himself to be a full-blown fan of the team. Awesome. There are one of two possible explanations. Either the Steelers have convinced him to buy the Browns and take us down from the inside, or he’ll take what he’s learned in his time with the Steelers and transform the Browns into a winner.
Since the Browns have done a fairly decent job of sabotaging themselves throughout the years, I’m banking on the latter.
Honestly though, the Steelers thing isn’t a big deal. Haslam wanted to own an NFL team and minority ownership was his first step. It just happened to be with Pittsburgh. I’m not a genius, but if someone is going to spend upwards of $800 million on an investment, they’re going to want that investment to succeed at all costs. That means a motivated owner who will be fully invested in whether or not his team succeeds. In other words, the complete opposite of Randy Lerner.
It’s hard to say Randy Lerner has been a good owner in the NFL. While he’s a great guy by all accounts, owning the Browns was never a burden he wanted. It was thrust upon him after the sudden death of his father and he’s remained “committed” due to a sense of honor to help make his father’s vision succeed. Unfortunately, it just hasn’t worked out. A historic timeline of poor decisions and what has seemed to be a general lack of disinterest have turned the Browns in to perennial losers under Lerner’s watch.
This might be his best decision since taking over the Browns in 2002. By selling the team as it hits what appears to be a new era for the 38th time in 13 seasons, Lerner is ridding himself of any potential ridicule. He’s survived all of the losing seasons and all of the down and out years to this point so why risk having to endure further abuse should the Weeden/Richardson era fail? Why not pass the buck on to someone else who may be better suited to ensure its success? If anything else, selling the team now is the ultimate survival tactic. If he leaves and the Browns become a winner he rides off into the sunset a hero. If they lose like they always have, he becomes a forgettable footnote.
Now Lerner is free to do what he really wants. He can travel to England whenever he pleases, manage his professional soccer club, and not have to worry about the hopes and dreams of a city that hasn’t seen a title since 1964. It’s someone else’s burden now. Hopefully Haslam is up to the task. From all accounts it appears he will.
So with that, another era of Cleveland Browns football appears to be ending. It was an era that saw them fall on their faces time after time. Poor drafting, poor coaching, poor everything. Now as Randy Lerner exits stage right and Jimmy Haslam enters from stage left, a culture of winning that has been missing can finally begin to grow. Then again you never really can tell with these things. Browns fans have been clamoring for new ownership for years. Hopefully the grass is greener on the other side.
Let’s hope that for the first time in his ten years of owning the Browns Randy Lerner finally made the right decision.