Cleveland Browns: Ray Farmer Q&A

Browns GM Ray Farmer Q&A: Part 3

August, 24, 2014
8/24/14
4:30
PM ET
Ray Farmer is in his first season as the Browns’ general manager. He recently discussed his feelings on the state of the team, its lightning-rod rookie quarterback and trying to be patient and prudent in an age that craves immediate gratification. Farmer joined the Browns as assistant GM in March 2013 after seven seasons (2006-2012) as Kansas City Chiefs director of pro personnel. He spent four seasons (2002-05) as a pro scout with the Atlanta Falcons, where he saw firsthand the emergence of Michael Vick as a star. Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of Farmer's interview.

The fascination with your quarterback, is it at the level that you anticipated or is it more than you expected?

Farmer: I think it’s right where I expected.

See, I say your quarterback and you know who I’m talking about (Johnny Manziel), even though he’s not even your starter.

Farmer: That’s OK. That’s an outside perception. Again, he’s drafted in the first round. Of course he’s got a great future with this franchise. I’ll ask, how long did it take Aaron Rodgers to play? He was drafted in the first round. Michael Vick was the first pick in the draft; how long did it take him to play? It’s a part of it. Guys grow up in different times.

As far as the fanfare and attention that Johnny gets, I will tell you that it’s interesting. It really is. I just find it fascinating that, why does everybody love this young man? Or why is everyone so fascinated by who he is or what he does? Yeah, he’s had success at the college level, no different from several other players who’ve won Heisman Trophies or been good. But somehow he has gone beyond that, and maybe it’s the information age of how things are so popular. Everybody is a member of the media to some point. Everybody’s got a camera phone; everybody’s uses Twitter. But I just think it’s fascinating.

I was in Atlanta when we had Michael Vick, and the Vick experience was rocking and rolling. Life was good. The reality is that [Manziel] is different, and for whatever reason that people find him different, it’s definitely made things interesting around here. People are more excited about Cleveland in part because of him. That’s a good thing. It’s fine that they follow him around and what to know what he’s doing. I would say -- and I’m not him, I don’t live in his shoes -- but it’s interesting when a man loses his anonymity and how that can potentially affect him.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel and Ray Farmer
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesBrowns GM Ray Farmer, on drafting Johnny Manziel: "For whatever reason that people find him different, it's definitely made things interesting around here. People are more excited about Cleveland in part because of him. That's a good thing."
What have you seen?

Farmer: It’s weird when you can’t walk out of your house without people wanting to look at you ... follow you or talk to you.

How have you seen it affect him?

Farmer: I don’t have anything to judge it on, other than how he’s been when he’s been here. I have the history of what people have told me when he was in college, but a college campus is much different circumstance than it is in the National Football League or any professional sport. The closest I have is, Grant Hill was in school when I was at Duke. It was like seeing Muhammad Ali walking around campus. G’s a normal guy. You can talk to him and hang out with him. But when other people saw him, it was like it was a catastrophic event and they want to spend some time with him.

I think Johnny is experiencing that same thing. For him, I think it’s becoming old hat. But I will tell you it’s very interesting when a person loses his anonymity. That’s probably the easiest way for me to classify it. It’s hard for some people to grasp it, but I would say, who would any of us be if we walked out there and everybody knew our name, what we looked like, and wanted a piece of us at 20-21 years old?

You made a comment I was curious about. You said the Michael Vick experience was different. How so? Vick was a pretty big phenomenon when he came out.

Farmer: Mike didn’t play his rookie year. It wasn’t a big deal [to the public], for whatever reason, but it wasn’t. Now fast-forward that to the next year. We win nine games [in Atlanta]. We go to the playoffs and win the first [postseason] game ever in Green Bay. People were fascinated by Mike; Mike had a rabid following. People were crazy about him, but it was different in that the media presence in Atlanta was not as great at that time as far as people wanting to come to training camp, wanting to be a part of what’s happening, as it is today with Johnny. It’s just different. Why that is, I don’t know. Mike was drafted first overall, did not play substantially as a rookie, and people didn’t put a great focus on it and I think it helped his maturation.

The thing is, I don’t think everyone understands that these players aren’t all the same. They’re different. Position players might play right away. Quarterbacks may not. A corner may not; I gave you Ronde Barber as an example. Guys come along at different speeds.

I’ll leave you on Johnny with this: In your time with him, have you seen anything that has led you to believe he can’t be what you envisioned when you drafted him?

Farmer: No. I think he is right where he’s supposed to be. I laugh because it’s four weeks into his first training camp, and everyone is waiting to see Steve Young run out the tunnel. I don’t know where the reality in that lies. Look at Steve Young’s past: USFL, Tampa [Bay Buccaneers], San Francisco behind Joe Montana. And it still took him time to get on the field.

But now, with the instant gratification that everyone is looking for, four weeks is just too much time. It should’ve happened eight weeks ago. So four weeks before the draft he should’ve been ready to play. I just don’t see any reality in that. It’s like anything else. If you’re learning a foreign language, guess what, you’re not going to go to Spain tomorrow and in four weeks feel like you’re fluent in the language and just start talking. It just doesn’t happen like that. You may be able to communicate, but not effectively.

Browns GM Ray Farmer Q&A: Part 2

August, 24, 2014
8/24/14
3:30
PM ET
Ray Farmer is in his first season as the Browns’ general manager. He recently discussed his feelings on the state of the team, its lightning-rod rookie quarterback and trying to be patient and prudent in an age that craves immediate gratification. Farmer joined the Browns as assistant GM in March 2013 after seven seasons (2006-2012) as Kansas City Chiefs director of pro personnel. He spent four seasons (2002-05) as a pro scout with the Atlanta Falcons, where he saw firsthand the emergence of Michael Vick as a star. Here are Part 1 and Part 3 of Farmer's interview.

You’ve talked about what you like about this team. What are your concerns as you go forward with the team? What are the questions that have to be answered?

Farmer: There are several questions that have to be answered. You always want to get better. I think that, assuming everyone was healthy and available to play, our top 22 vs. anybody else’s top 22 -- I’m very comfortable with that. The difference in the National Football League is, if you’re missing an A-level player, the drop-off between A and the next guy is where the questions start to arise.

Every team is concerned about their depth. I like our young players, but with all of them, you just don’t know until they play. You have to have enough depth on your roster to contribute in the instance that Player A stubs his toe for a week and he’s gone. Or he has turf toe or small ailment that’s not a catastrophic injury, and even if it is, you may have to replace him for not only one week but maybe 10 weeks or 16 weeks. The reality is you’ve got to have enough quality depth in your roster to sustain when there are injuries, because people get hurt. This is the National Football League.

That being said, this is definitely a process. I keep using that word, but fundamentally everyone is excited about the moment, and we’re excited about the journey.

How tough is it to get people to understand that it’s a process?

Farmer: It’s tough. Everyone wants what they want today. We’re in an instant-information society. Twitter is blowing up. Instagram is blowing up. I want it now. Nobody writes letters anymore. Nobody wants to wait. I’d rather send you an email.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Haslam and Ray Farmer
AP Photo/Mark DuncanBrowns owner Jimmy Haslam wants a winner, and Ray Farmer will try to reverse a trend. The Browns have had six consecutive losing seasons.
Do you send letters?

Farmer: I don’t, but I’ll tell you that my patience level would allow me to write letters. I try to appease those that need email and need Instagram.

You’re speaking to a dinosaur.

Farmer: Dinosaurs are good. What happened 15, 20 years ago? Somebody couldn’t reach you when they called, they left a message and waited for an answer. Right now if you don’t call them back in 15 seconds, they got an attitude the next time they see you. That’s the way it goes. I get it. My kids are the same way. My daughter says, “Why didn’t you text me back?” I was in a meeting; that means you wait until I have an opportunity to get back to you. Our team is that. It’s tough to be a ready-made product, but everybody wants instant coffee. We like the freshly roasted kind.

Looking at your background, you’re not a “shortcut guy.” You respect hard work and the process that you’ve spoken about. But you and I both know that this is a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league.

Farmer: Absolutely.

And you have an owner who’s fairly new and clearly wants success, that sort of thing. How do you balance that as a first-year GM, knowing the reality of this league is that there’s no guarantee you’ll get a second chance if you don’t succeed the first time around?

Farmer: My balance is simple: I’m going to stay true to me. I’m going to do everything in my power to make it a better football team. We’ll make smart decisions. They’ll be calculated to a large degree behind what we do, when we do and why we do. That’s the genesis. At some point soon, we’re going to get this right. I have no qualms in my mind that I’m going to have success in this league of helping to establish something that hasn’t been done. But we’re going to do it the right way. You can do a lot of things in a short period of time and cut corners, and you may not see the results of that today, but inevitably they’ll show their faces. To me, like my mom and dad used to say, you don’t have to cut the whole yard today, but sooner or later I’m going to be able to look out there and say, "You didn’t cut this side. You let that side go for three weeks." I’m not about that. I’m going to take my time and cut the whole yard, and when it’s done it’s done.
Ray Farmer is in his first season as the Browns’ general manager. He recently discussed his feelings on the state of the team, its lightning-rod rookie quarterback and trying to be patient and prudent in an age that craves immediate gratification. Farmer joined the Browns as assistant GM in March 2013 after seven seasons (2006-12) as Kansas City Chiefs director of pro personnel. He spent four seasons (2002-05) as a pro scout with the Atlanta Falcons, where he saw firsthand the emergence of Michael Vick as a star. This is Part 1 of Farmer's interview. Here are Part 2 and Part 3.

How are you feeling about where the team is?

Farmer: I feel good. I feel like we’re right where we thought we were going to be. We went into free agency, we did what we were supposed to do -- at least in my mind. We went and got players who we believed would help change the culture in this building, help establish us as a defensive-minded football team. Whether it’s Karlos Dansby, whether it’s Donte Whitner, we’ve brought in guys who are demonstrating that they’re definitely worthy of our selection and how we compensated them and what their value potentially was in free agency. So I feel good about the acquisitions made there.

Then we went into the draft, and I think we did well. We brought in guys that are going to contribute to this football team, and at the end of the day, it’s not always about instant coffee. This is a process. Within the process, we’re doing what we have to do to develop our guys the right way. Inevitably it’s not just about winning at the moment. It’s about sustaining wins. So the way you grow players has a large part in how they perform long-term.

That’s a big part of what we’re going to do: We’re going to raise them right, we’re going to discipline them when they need to be disciplined, we’re going to force them to be tough on them when we need to, and we’re going to do all the right things we need to do to make them understand what it means to be a pro.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer
AP Photo/Evan VucciBoth Cleveland Browns starter Brian Hoyer and backup Johnny Manziel have had to battle a learning curve with a new offense.
When you talk about the process, do you put timetables on it? How do you know when it's right?

Farmer: It’s like a good cook. They go in the kitchen and they don’t measure how much brown sugar they put in it. They do it until it tastes right. It’s based upon the feel for where you are with the player, the rhythm you have with him, where he’s at psychologically, how his development and maturation is going. Then, when he’s ready to take his opportunity, then you can put him in.

I’ll give you an example. Ronde Barber did not play much on defense, if at all, in a regular-season game his rookie year until the playoffs. Then they [the Buccaneers] turned him loose. Now you see Ronde Barber at the end of his career and you [don’t have to] wonder why he’s a pro.

What do you think he learned from sitting?

Farmer: You have to earn your stripes. You have to earn your opportunity to contribute in a viable way. Even though you may be talented, even though you may make plays every practice, you’ve got to get your opportunities at certain points and times. When you structure that appropriately, you can potentially shield a guy from himself, you may help a guy grow up, you may help a guy do a lot of things that presents a better picture eight games from now, 10 games from now, 16 games from now or maybe a year, year and a half from now.

Inevitably, guys change. That’s part of this process. When you draft them, when you get young guys who you feel can grow and develop, they’ll grow up in time. The negative is, when you put a guy in before he’s ready, people say, “Aw, he can’t play.” Well, guess what: Very few guys come in to this league and start tearing it up from day one. Randy Moss, I applaud you. He came in, and he tore it up from the day he stepped on the field. That’s a rarity, but I think that’s what everybody sees as commonality. That’s the expectation.

Is that because of the young quarterbacks who came in and played right away?

Farmer: I would ask how many of them came in and threw the ball 35, 40 times a game and won. Not many. Look at Peyton [Manning as a rookie]. Twenty-eight interceptions and three wins as a rookie. You can do that, but some guys never recover from it. Peyton had a different mental toughness. He had a different perspective on life. He overcame his shortcomings when he was a rookie. But if you look at the long-term maturation of a lot of guys that sat and took time to grow, they fared better by getting their chance to learn how to play.

I know you don’t believe in doing things based on public opinion, because teams can never win that way, but when you set up organizationally how you were going to handle the quarterback situation -- if a veteran like Brian Hoyer isn’t able to separate himself from a first-year player (Johnny Manziel) who has so many challenges in front of him like learning a playbook with more verbiage, having to make protection calls at the line, taking snaps from under center, going through multiple read progressions, all these things he never had to do before -- why should that instill confidence in the team or the public?

Farmer: It should instill confidence from the standpoint that when he’s had to perform -- the difference now is that you have two guys learning new playbooks and new systems. So people say he’s a veteran. Well, to some degree, yeah, he’s a veteran. But they’re both coming in with little to no knowledge of the scheme they’re going to be implementing. To that degree, the race starts at the same point.

As you move forward, you say, "OK, what guy has done what? What guy has done what in practice?" Games are a part of it, but I look at it like the 3-point shooting contest [in the NBA All-Star Weekend]. There are a lot of brown balls before you get to the striped ball. The striped balls are the games; they offer a little bit more. But they don’t take away from or negate what you see in practice. So it’s looking at the totality and not just the money ball. If it was just about the money ball, then that’s all you’d shoot. But there are a lot of other things that go into the process. It’s understanding the totality of the process that gives us a different and clearer vision for why one guy’s different from the other.

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