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Translating interviews with Bengals owner Mike Brown

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Cincinnati Bengals owner Mike Brown spoke with the local media on Friday, discussing a variety of topics, from Marvin Lewis to Super Bowl ambitions. We review many of those and try to translate his meaning.

Cincinnati Bengals Minicamp Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Mike Brown sat down with Bengals.com and the Cincinnati Enquirer in separate interviews on Friday, touching on a variety of topics from Marvin Lewis’s return, to personnel philosophies, Super Bowls, and attendance issues among others. First and foremost, we’d like to express appreciation with the mothership and the Enquirer for these interviews (sorry #fakenews ESPN, you were excluded) as Brown initiates a public relations campaign to soften his image.

When Marvin Lewis signed a two-year deal earlier this month, the Bengals, and Brown specifically, took a major hit from their base; many of whom were eager to see the Bengals enter a post-Lewis era. We’ve seen 15 years of Marvin Lewis. What else is out there? What else is possible? Regardless, Brown, who prefers familiarity and comfort over risk, kept Lewis. Now Brown wants to explain himself. We examine both interviews and summarize most of the topics, with some commentary mixed in; you didn’t expect us to keep our mouth shut, did you? These interviews provided insight into Brown’s thinking, largely confirming what we’ve long suspected while challenging other assumptions. You should visit both sites for the full interview linked and credited throughout this posting.

Cincinnati Bengals v Tennessee Titans

+ Marvin Lewis has influence but no real power

When the Enquirer asked whether Lewis and Brown were “aligned” (aka, on the same page), Brown admitted that “there are issues. They are countless.” Brown adds that most of their conflicting issues are usually addressed, and if they agree to disagree, then those ambivalent conversations only go as far as Brown allows. “Quite often I permit him to go forward when I don’t necessarily see it the same way,” Brown said via the Enquirer. “Occasionally, I will say no, it’s going to be this way. It’s a mix of all that.”

Obviously, Brown is the owner; he’s allowed to do whatever he wants. Yet, the idea that Marvin Lewis has “power” is a fabrication from a speculative media and fanbase and should be a discarded narrative. At best, Lewis has influence and Brown does listen. Unfortunately, those conversations between coach and owner advance only with Brown’s approbation and meddling ownership generally causes more problems than successes in the NFL. While Lewis has a capable eye judging talent, he’s powerless when ownership is involved. It’s like ordering dinner: Most of the time you’ll receive what you ordered. However, sometimes you’ll get something you didn’t, and when you tell the waiter that you want what you ordered, they’ll say, “no, you can have this.” You can either leave, or publicly shame the restaurant on Yelp, but you have no real power to get what you want.

On the other hand, maybe influence is the real power here. Brown is open to change, even in disagreement. This is still a departure from the pre-Lewis Bengals. Regardless, based on these interviews, it doesn’t appear that Lewis even asked for more power. However, there is still comfort that Brown generally defers to Lewis anyway. “He has full input on that,” Brown said via Bengals.com. “I generally defer to his wishes. There are some occasions he has to accept my views. There are occasions I insist on things, but it isn’t very often.”

Super Bowl XXIII - Cincinnati Bengals v San Francico 49ers

+ How can the Bengals reach the Super Bowl

When asked how the team can reach the Super Bowl, Brown philosophically spoke about the team’s on-field shortcomings, from a poor running game to issues with pass protection. Cincinnati’s defensive issues, according to Brown, were primarily the offense’s fault because of their inability “to stay on the field, move the ball, get ahead and not make the chore of the defense harder.”

What could be viewed as concerning is when he says “perhaps we’re closer to putting together one of those pieces that has to be corrected” and that “we have people there” on defense already. It’s clear that the offensive line will be addressed during the offseason (more on that later). What’s frightening, from a personnel perspective, is that Brown is comfortable in saying that they are close to having a roster that’s Super Bowl capable. “As a group, I think they’re talented enough to win for us,” he said via the Enquirer.

Essentially he’s giving the defense a pass because they are talented enough to be a Super Bowl defense, but if that blasted offense doesn’t improve, then the conversation is mute. Whether or not the Bengals have a Super Bowl roster at linebacker or any reliable depth in the secondary is an offseason debate that will stretch into free agency and the NFL draft. However, this roster has won 13 games in the past two years and while injuries are definitely a factor, the replacement players are questionable at best.

Detroit Lions v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

+ Mike Brown knows your concerns

One aspect that impressed me was Brown’s awareness as it relates to fans. Why is attendance off? Well, after five consecutive playoff seasons, and six entries over a seven-year period that ended in 2015, fans have improved their standards. “But we’re coming off a run of playoff years and they began to see that as the bare minimum,” said Brown with the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Well, maybe for them it is. For most people in this league, it’s a pretty solid achievement. I think only a couple of other teams have managed that during that same time period. But we didn’t go forward from that. We didn’t have success in the playoffs. And that was our undoing.”

Yes.

Yes it was.

However, awareness of a problem and actually resolving those problems are not mutually exclusive in Cincinnati’s context. In addition, Brown tends to compare Cincinnati’s success to the lowest common denominator. “Hey, appreciate this! We did something few teams have! Be thankful you’re not a Browns fans.” Brown acknowledges that fans need a reason to fill Paul Brown Stadium and a winning football team will help. He’s not wrong. However, he’s also ignoring the economics of his market and the convenience of watching games at home. Fans are comfortable lazily watching from their couches, with their own (clean) bathrooms, and food/drinks that are far cheaper than what’s offered at the stadium.

Granted, a winning team may convince people to spend the money they normally wouldn’t for a seven-win team, or dedicate most of their entire day to a three-hour game, but Brown might be overstating the comparison between winning and attendance. To be sure, attendance, and ratings declines as well, are concerns that aren’t limited to Cincinnati; it’s an NFL problem. However, just winning isn’t going to fill Paul Brown Stadium. Just review the stories at Cincy Jungle about blackouts (before they were suspended) and sellout issues prior during their postseason run.

More on Marvin Lewis, Free Agency, and Offseason Priorities

  • Mike Brown on why he brought Marvin Lewis back: “I made the call for more than one reason,” Brown said via Bengals.com. “It gives us our best chance to be successful this coming season. Marvin gives us continuity. That’s important in this league. I also made the call because I felt he deserved consideration for all the time and effort he has put in here. He’s been our head coach for 15 years. That ought to be to his credit.” No, Mike. It shouldn’t!
  • Can the Bengals win a postseason game with Lewis, the Cincinnati Enquirer asked, wondering if a new head coach will push Cincinnati “to the next level?” This question generates a predictable answer from Brown, who always prefers familiarity over the unknown.

I think he has managed it in the past and I think we’ve been very close. We haven’t quite gotten where we needed to get. He knows that. I know that. I do think, repeating again, that our best chance to get there is with him having another run at it. He brings a lot to the table. You can always say the next one will be better, an improvement, but you’re talking about the unknown essentially. We do know Marvin.

  • Brown believes Cincinnati needs to rework the offensive line, through the draft and “beyond the draft,” writes Geoff Hobson. “We have to re-think our place on our offensive line,” said Brown. “It’s going to require us to consider if how we do things up front needs to be changed. All of that is obvious to everyone. We understand that and that’s the charge Bill Lazor has. I think he’ll be effective.” [Bengals.com]
  • However, Brown, who provided a brief synopsis about what the salary cap is and why they can’t spent a significant amounts of money, says that the “first order of business” is retaining “our own good players if we can.” Fortunately, Cincinnati doesn’t have that many “good players” heading to free agency. That being said, there are big contracts coming for guys like Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap, both of whom are entering a contract year in 2018. Cincinnati should prioritize Atkins and Dunlap before spending on new players in free agency.
  • Brown would like to see Andre Smith return, but acknowledges his re-signing as a low priority, provided he’s not demanding anything significant. “Yet while Brown would like Smith to return, he says it has ‘to play out,’ as the Bengals examine free agency,” writes Hobson. “He says, like always, they’ll go after most of their own free agents first, then step back and try to sign mega salary cap hits Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap before they become free agents after this season.[Bengals.com]
  • Brown said Paul Alexander’s departure was “very difficult to make that call. I had him here for almost a quarter of a century. That establishes what I think about him as a person and a coach.” [Bengals.com]
  • Cincinnati’s owner spent time detailing the generic process with the team’s assistant coaches, saying they were “fending for themselves” after signing head coach Marvin Lewis. “Once Marvin was taken care of, we turned to the assistant coaching area,” said Lewis via the Enquirer. “Some of our guys chose to leave. Some of them we chose to ask to leave. It was a big changeover. I think it’s around seven guys were moved in some fashion, maybe more. That’s unprecedented.” [Cincinnati.com]
  • Brown wants Tight End Tyler Eifert to return but acknowledges durability concerns. “The problem is he’s been injured so much he’s literally played less than half the time. Whatever deal we offer we have to take that into consideration,” via Bengals.com. Yea, he’s not wrong. Eifert is entering free agency as an unrestricted free agent.

+ Relocation Conversation Surfaces

When the Bengals were demanding a new stadium in the mid-90s, attempting to swindle public money from Hamilton County, Baltimore was used as a baseline threat for Cincinnati/Hamilton County if they didn’t come through with a new stadium. Well, apparently the Bengals weren’t that serious about leaving. “This is just a figment of somebody’s imagination. We have no intention of moving,” Brown said via Bengals.com. “We had an opportunity to move when we came here to the stadium. We turned it down knowing full well that we were turning down literally hundreds of millions of dollars that we would not see here that we would have seen if we moved. I think that ought to be understood. It seems to be ignored.”

This is an extremely interesting point. Hamilton County, threatening to withhold payments that could violate the team’s stadium agreement recently, hates this deal and wants something more budget-friendly. The lease ends in eight years (that seems much closer than just saying 2026) and, if another city expresses interest, the Bengals could jettison. With Los Angeles sporting two teams and Las Vegas getting their own, options are limited for the Bengals if they desire relocation. The NFL wants to expand globally, so cities like London could be in the mix. Or perhaps St. Louis, San Diego, and Oakland will push for a new team. Regardless, this subject won’t go away.