- Pat McManamon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Here’s an educated rundown on some possible approaches that may change with the move from Joe Banner/Mike Lombardi to Ray Farmer/Mike Pettine:
Johnny Football doesn’t become a Great Laker. Or a great Laker, though he’s not even playing basketball. ... Yes, I’ll be here all night. Tip your waitress. ... Johnny Manziel was said to be the sincere object of interest for Lombardi. In fact, many around the league were assuming Lombardi and the Browns would trade up to get him. That may still happen, but it’s sure not a guarantee. Farmer may like Manziel, he may not. Nobody really knows. “I’m definitely going to be aware of how the coaches feel,” Farmer said. “I’m going to be aware of how the scouts feel and I’m going to be aware of how I feel. I’ll mesh those opinions, as well as the other ones that we have, to make the right decision on who the quarterback should be going forward, assuming that’s the position that we actually take at that point.” If nothing else, speculation has gone from wondering about Manziel to wide open with Farmer in charge. There is no history or precedent for predicting.
It might not necessarily a quarterback first. Farmer is a former football player who seems to understand the importance of every position. He admits the draft board will be stacked his way, the way it was done in Kansas City and not necessarily the way it was done last year in Cleveland. That might open up the possibility that Farmer builds around the quarterback and fortifies other positions. “There will be a different tenor to how we kind of stack the (draft) room and what that looks like,” he said.
More football, less analytics. The analytics craze may yet hit football. It may make an impact. It hasn’t yet, though. With baseball, the numbers are more easily defined. A guy either does or doesn’t hit left-handers. He does or doesn’t prompt a lot of ground balls. He does or doesn’t hit well to the opposite field. There is a lengthy list of numbers that break down and prove what a guy is. Football analytics, from the outside at least, seem like defensive numbers in baseball. There’s too much subjectivity. There are also variables that can’t be measured like a cornerback’s closing quickness or a defensive lineman’s ability to get off blocks. Or heart. Or want. Or willingness to work during the week. Farmer seems more of a football guy who will rely on more tried-and-true football principles and measurements than statistical analysis.
The environment may truly be more open. Farmer does not seem averse to answering a question, nor does Pettine. While some may shrug that it doesn’t matter, this is a team that needs its connections with the city and fan base re-strengthened. There’s nothing wrong with being honest. Yes, some strategic items should be kept in-house, but the NFL has taken this belief to absurd lengths. Trust is important in any profession; it starts with honesty. Allowing fans a window of reasonable understanding is never a bad thing.
Age may not preclude a player getting paid. Banner said he got a bad rep for it, but his rep was he did not favor paying a lot of money for certain positions, and he did not favor paying guys as they aged. Sheldon Brown once went through a lengthy list of players allowed to depart the Eagles when Banner was there. There was clear belief that Banner didn’t want to pay guys past 30. This may help a guy such as D'Qwell Jackson, a guy the analytics may say not to pay, but a player a football guy such as Farmer might appreciate.
The approach with free agents may really be aggressive. Farmer will have a lot of salary cap space to bring in new players. A year ago, there was a similar situation and the big signees were Paul Kruger and Desmond Bryant. This offseason it may change. And it may open the door for Alex Mack and T.J. Ward to return as well. Farmer wasn't tipping his hand, though, saying only: "We'll do everything in our power to make sure we have the right players for this football team moving forward," he said.
The bottom line. Farmer boiled it down when asked what changes he would try to bring to the Browns. His answer hit the proverbial nail on the proverbial head. "I think we need the most improvement in wins," he said. "We have to find a way to win football games."