As with anything you care maybe a little bit too much about, you always risk losing perspective on that very thing. Forest for the trees and all that. Here at WDR, we like to check ourselves from time to time to make sure all our ranting about Mike Brown is not misguided by listening to those in the broader NFL world. A friend, former Eagles front office employee and born/raised Patriots fan sent us the following observations on Mike Brown and the Bengals. In preview, yep, turns out he's still the worst. Please read on though, what follows is a very articulate, exceptionally clear, well-reasoned, and evidence based piece on Mikey Boy.
Also, check out the great breakdown of Livings by Blesterov below-SwB
As an outsider to the bizarro football ecosystem of Cincinnati, it's hard not to sympathize with Bengals fans. It's even harder to fathom Mike Brown's motivation.
At first, it seems that Bengals' robber baron wants to operate the franchise to maximize profit regardless of how it affects his reputation or the on-field product. Although the Bengals' payroll averaged 17.7/32 from 2000-2009 (I use payroll because its a more accurate reflection of money spent than cap hit), in the year without salary cap (2010) they ranked 28/32, and now without an individual team salary floor they are currently slated to be somewhere between $40-50M under the cap. One could argue that the Bengals didn't aggressively spend in 2010 because they were reigning AFC North champions and anticipated a return of the salary cap in 2011. Similarly, free agency in 2011 is far from over, and the Bengals could end up considerably closer to the cap. Either way, when the spending restrictions of the old CBA were in place the Bengals were more spendthrift than average, and during the two seasons without those rules they have spent even less relative to other teams. Add in the lack of investment in training facilities and team personnel that caused contract disputes with Marvin Lewis, and the refusal to hire a GM, and it's easy to see how Brown has earned this characterization.
But Brown isn't Mr. Burns, staffing his plant with incompetents and uncaring about how the surrounding town is impacted by his penny-pinching practices solely in the name of monetary gain. If he were, why wouldn't he sell the naming rights to Paul Brown Stadium? That would reap huge revenues that wouldn't need to be shared with the rest of the league. Or why won't he release Carson Palmer when it is clear by this point that the demoralized quarterback will only serve as a salary cap albatross when he unretires?
The reason is unclear. Does Brown view himself as some bastion of the old guard, where protecting his father's name on the stadium and not releasing his QB from his contract purgatory are uncompromisable principles? Does he view modern scouting systems and upgraded facilities as passing fads that are ultimately secondary to winning because his father didn't need them to achieve his success? These would each be viable narratives if they weren't deeply flawed. What is so important about the contractual agreement, the word of Palmer to Brown when teams can unilaterally cut players and terminate their contracts when they want? Why would Brown be so opposed to modernizing his facilities and personnel practices out of allegiance to his father when Paul Brown was one of the great innovators in scouting and player development in the early NFL?
Ultimately there is only so much to be gained from guessing at Brown's psychology. He might just be a hypocritical curmudgeon. But it would seem that something would have to give between the potential driving factors behind his ownership decisions: profit and "principles". Especially in the wake of Johnathan Joseph's departure for the Texans when the Bengals clearly have more than enough resources to make a competing offer, it appears that Brown's principles in not upgrading his facilities, personnel, or freeing his hostage signal-caller have resulted in a higher-than-average price tag for players to don orange and black. If that is true, then the Bengals are likely looking at one of two potential scenarios.
- Brown stands by his principles, pays above-market prices for a few free agents to come to the team to bring it over the salary floor. The Bengals become a collection of newly drafted players serving their time, players who have already served time and are not good enough to be given a second chance by the Eagles, and a few veterans who are looking to cash out.
- Brown compromises his principles, making significant investment in team infrastructure, personnel, and player negotiations. The asking price for free agents declines over time, and the Bengals start to resemble other NFL franchises.
My own suspicion, assuming the individual team salary floor kicks in starting in 2013, is that Brown recognizes his team is a wreck right now, wants to gut it and take home as much profit during the next two years. In 2013, after he has stood his ground with Palmer, he will reevaluate how much spending is necessary.
In other words, the former.