Earlier this morning, Mike Lombardi was officially named the new vice president of player personnel for the Cleveland Browns. Then shortly after that, some dot connecting began.
I’m generally a big fan of that game, but only if the dots being used eventually create a spaceship or a friendly dinosaur. That way at least we can all feel as though we’ve accomplished something. Taking one player evaluation dot and connecting it to nothing is still a fun game only because it generates often baseless chatter, but the connecting line fades into oblivion.
This is the time in the NFL calendar with ye old speculation machine begins to wind up, with the seeds planted for mid April when the knob is ripped right off. That’s why Lombardi’s hiring led to this…
For Patriots fans, Mike Lombardi getting Cleveland personnel job puts possible Ryan Mallett trade back on front burner.
— Greg A. Bedard (@GregABedard) January 18, 2013
As Rotoworld’s Evan Silva notes, Lombardi was a pretty big Mallett pom pom waver in the spring of 2011, a far away time when along with the rest of us briefly, he believed the Patriots backup and former Razorback would be not only be a first-round pick, but also a top-20 pick. But Lombardi did more than just join the rest of us in our worship of the speculation gods and goddesses. He was convinced Mallett would be a first rounder.
How did that turn out? Ummm, poorly. Mallett fell to the third round, and the No. 74 overall slot, and he’s now sitting patiently in New England where he’ll either be another Bill Belichick trade pawn, or eventually Tom Brady’s successor once the soon-to-be 36-year-old begins to relent to the laws of nature. The former is far more likely, as elite quarterbacks usually age well, and Brady has said he wants to keep playing until he’s 40.
So enter Cleveland, through Lombardi. As we saw a season ago when Matt Flynn was hotter than Manti T’eo’s girlfriend when he hit the trade market and then eventually the open market where he fleeced Seattle, the backup who’s high on potential can be a highly pursued commodity. But here’s the problem with potential: you can’t really see it, and in truth it often depends on the observer, and also the subject’s lack of opportunities to disappoint you. In a year when the draft talent at the position is underwhelming, the trade values — or perceived values — of backup QBs like Mallett and Flynn again will be elevated. That’s not necessarily a good thing.
Lombardi may indeed still have an ongoing internal love affair with Mallett. I assume it’s similar to my love for Thomas the Train as an eight-year-old. Even if we hypothetically entertain the possibility of Mallett in Cleveland, Lombardi will have a tall hurdle to leap, one that’s propped up by a fan base which already hates him thoroughly. It has a name, too: Brandon Weeden.
In 2011, the Browns gave up the opportunity to draft Julio Jones, instead giving their fourth overall pick to Atlanta in exchange for pretty much every Falcons pick over the next 35 years. One of the highest picks they received in that package turned into Weeden, who had a sometimes impressive, yet mostly inconsistent rookie season. So basically, he had a normal rookie quarterback season.
And now after passing on Jones — who will play in the NFC Championship this weekend — Lombardi would seriously consider giving up on a first-round pick who started to show promise at the end of the season, and roll with a third rounder who’s attempted only four garbage time regular-season passes in his career? If being more hated than LeBron in Cleveland is your goal, Mike, pull that trigger.