No gray area: Browns GM Ray Farmer must take ownership of this draft


CLEVELAND -- You hear it all the time in NFL circles: Ray Farmer is a good evaluator. Other stuff has gotten in the way.

What, exactly, the other stuff is would spark a complex study into the many tentacles that define -- or rip apart -- NFL franchises.

Usually, these circles refer to one of three things:

  • The text message investigation that benches Farmer for the first four games of 2015.

  • The challenges of building a team in a place such as Cleveland, which has spewed out many well-meaning people over the past two decades.

  • Whether Farmer was nudged by owner Jimmy Haslam to select Johnny Manziel No. 22 overall in last year's draft.

The last factor is tricky because Farmer has publicly taken ownership of the pick. But an ESPN.com story Friday that revisits why the Cleveland Browns passed on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater shows a glimpse into Farmer's thinking.

Farmer put a lot of work into scouting Bridgewater, and there were no obvious red flags with the former Louisville star. It's possible Farmer was on a prudent track on this one. Something, somewhere, changed that. Farmer has alluded to the fact this year's draft operation has been smoother than last year's, when he was handed the keys with less than three months before draft night. Perhaps the quick turnaround affected draft thinking.

And now it's Year 2 for Farmer. There's no "other stuff" as the draft approaches. It's all about football now. Farmer will have space and time to nail this draft if he so chooses.

It's all on him now.

No more rumors. No more apologies for text messaging habits. Farmer will make the picks and should have free rein to do so.

Farmer can evaluate. Joel Bitonio and Chris Kirksey are terrific value picks. Pierre Desir will become one. If Justin Gilbert maximizes his potential, he could make Farmer look awfully smart. And Manziel, though a long way off, might not be the lost cause many think he is. Last year's big free-agent signings Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner and Andrew Hawkins, have all worked out. Tramon Williams is a proven cornerback, a smart signing.

As a result, don't be surprised if Farmer makes picks that won't excite the public but will be good long-term moves -- think DL/OL with the 12th and 19th picks, maybe a pass-rusher or a top-shelf receiver if available.

Farmer doesn't have the cachet to be lauded for whichever picks he makes, but the logic he delivered in a Thursday news conference -- even if a bit scattered -- makes sense in the big picture.

Right players, right prices.

Best players available.

Must take players from different schemes (spread offenses, for example) and create a plan that works for them and you.

"I like the idea of slow-brewed, fresh-brewed coffee," said Farmer, addressing the process of building a team. "I'm going to grind my coffee beans, I'm going to get my filter out, I'm going to pour it in, I'm going to let it simmer, I'm going to get a good cup. We all want it to happen like right away, we want these guys to come in, you want to improve your football team."

The example is clunky, but it's the truth. If Farmer gets the chance to build this team, really build it, this is the right approach.

Even if he does a masterful job of brewing organic, Arabic-toned coffee, he'll probably be judged by one position. It's his job to find a quarterback. Don't have one, get one. Have one, declare it and put faith in coaches to coach him up.

Teams can win a reasonable number of games with a mess at quarterback (See: Texans, Houston). They won't win big, but they can win seven to nine games without one.

Dumping three first-round picks on Tennessee for the rights to Marcus Mariota -- when there's no evidence the Browns absolutely love him enough to do so -- would seem to run contrary to Farmer's philosophy to take as many draft swings as possible.

Hey, if Mariota's his guy, go get him, stand boldly.

"I always think you take the opportunities where you get 'em," Farmer said.

Like the Browns have preached to Manziel for months, Farmer needs to take his own advice.