NFL Nation: Ray Farmer

Browns offseason wrap-up

May, 23, 2014
May 23
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 With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Cleveland Browns' offseason moves:

[+] EnlargeRay Farmer
AP Photo/Tony DejakIt's looking like a smart move -- for now -- that the Browns hired Ray Farmer as their general manager.
Best move: Naming Ray Farmer general manager was a shocking move, but it was the right move. Farmer has brought stability, a clear vision and common sense back to the front office. His free-agent moves replaced players lost to free agency and added needed talent at running back. His draft picks were based on evaluations and not projections. His answers have been filled with common sense, logic and a humanity to appreciate. It's all still on paper. Farmer's team has yet to play a game. And the details behind the move from Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi to Farmer are still not known -- Banner and Lombardi could have been just as active as Farmer. But what is known is Farmer has brought many clear positives to the Browns.

Riskiest move: Drafting Johnny Manziel could be the greatest move Farmer ever makes. Or it could backfire. Prior to the draft, there were as many people saying to avoid Manziel as were saying to take him. The Browns played it coy, perhaps even leaking word they were more interested in Teddy Bridgewater. Manziel has supercharged interest in the team since the draft, but he still has to play and prove that he’s tall enough, competent enough and tough enough to be Johnny Football in Cleveland.

Most surprising move: Not taking a receiver in the draft went against all logic, especially because the Browns front office knew prior to the draft of Josh Gordon’s likely suspension. Without Gordon, the Browns lack a playmaker. They lack their only playmaker. The time to take a receiver would have been in the second round, but the Browns chose offensive lineman Joel Bitonio. That tells much about how the Browns feel about Bitonio, and about their approach in winning games this season.

Smartest move that wasn’t originally thought to be so smart: Giving the transition tag to Alex Mack. The initial thought was that would allow other teams to swoop in and steal the Pro Bowl center. In the end, Mack wound up getting a tepid offer from Jacksonville that the Browns quickly matched. Yes, the Browns are paying a center a ton of money, but it’s essentially a two-year deal that either side can end after 2015. At that point, the team can assess again how much it likes Mack.
Catching up on some of the leftovers from the Cleveland Browns offseason practice on Wednesday:

• As things stand now, John Greco is lining up at right guard, with free-agent signee Paul McQuistan and second-round draft pick Joel Bitonio at left guard. Bitonio looks the part of a guard. Stout, strong -- and he brings a bit of a 'tude to an offensive line that probably would welcome it. When Ray Farmer was asked by ESPNCleveland.com about the one under-the-radar guy the Browns drafted, a guy he thought fans would really like to see, he mentioned Bitonio. Clearly there are high hopes for him -- and clearly those high hopes are part of the reason the team did not take a receiver in the second round.

• Brian Hoyer had some interesting things to say about new wide receiver Andrew Hawkins. Hoyer compared Hawkins to Wes Welker in the way he runs his routes and finishes them. Hawkins looked very good on the day the practice was open.

• The attention paid to running back spot, something that was missing last season, was evident during one practice in shorts. Ben Tate and Terrance West both look the part, and Farmer is very high on free agent Isaiah Crowell.

• The way Tyler Thigpen threw on the day folks could watch him begs the question: What the heck happened to Vince Young?

• It was refreshing to hear Farmer say on radio that Hoyer is ahead of Johnny Manziel by a substantial margin. Refreshing because it was honest and lacked the games of past regimes of talking around an issue. And it's refreshing because Farmer recognizes it's not in any way a condemnation of Manziel. He should be behind right now; he’s been a Cleveland Brown for one stinking week.

• An objective look at the quarterbacks shows this: The No. 1 with three games started for the Browns coming off an ACL reconstruction, a first-round draft pick trying to learn as he goes, a veteran backup trying to revive his career and an undrafted free agent. Yes, it's a good thing it's May.
It sounds like it was Johnny Manziel in the draft at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, or nobody.

Manziel
That is the upshot from an interview Ray Farmer with ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi this week, as Grossi asked Farmer questions rapid-fire with some rapid-fire answers.

Asked what quarterback the Browns would have wound up with had they not been able to trade up for Manziel, Farmer said the player “is already on the roster.”

Asked the one player in the draft who will definitely be a star, Farmer said guard Zack Martin of Notre Dame, taken by Dallas instead of Manziel.

Finally, Farmer dropped this interesting tidbit about the quarterback spot, and presumably Brian Hoyer.

Asked what it means if Manziel is the starting quarterback in the season opener, Farmer said that “somebody got hurt.”
Dowell Loggains concluded his phone interview Thursday with Bo Mattingly of ESPN Arkansas by saying "No problem."

Have untruer words ever been spoken?

Because Browns quarterback coach Loggains basically blew to smithereens two of the important narratives the team has been trying to make sure people knew since they drafted Johnny Manziel. And Loggains did it while saying there was no "cone of secrecy" over the Browns' draft moves as far as he was concerned.

Consider the following set of quotes.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
William Perlman/USA TODAY SportsThere seems to be ambiguity over what path the Browns want to take with Johnny Manziel, following quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains' comments to an Arkansas radio station.
General manager Ray Farmer on the draft's final day: "I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that Jimmy Haslam at no point demanded, requested or tried to influence the process in any way."

Loggains after receiving a text from Manziel urging the Browns to draft him so he and the team could "wreck this league" (a classic phrase in its own right): " ... when I got that text, I forwarded it to the owner and to the head coach. I'm like, 'This guy wants to be here. He wants to be part of it.' Soon as that happened, Mr. Haslam said, 'All right, pull the trigger, we're trading up to go get this guy.'"

According to a source inside the draft room who witnessed a lot of things coming together as the Browns tried to acquire the pick that would be Manziel, the text was sent and Haslam's statement was more inspirational and cheerleading than mandate.

But Loggains presented his version with absolute certainty, with nary a hint of doubt in his voice.

Then there are these two quotes.

From Haslam, to the lunch crowd at the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Monday: "We were frank [with Manziel] on Friday ... you're the backup quarterback."

From Loggains on the radio, while admitting Manziel has to work on fundamentals: "I think we can throw him out there right now and I think he's going to be one of the most exciting players in the NFL."

The Browns believe the two statements are not incongruous, that anyone enters as a backup, even an exciting player. But there still is quite a disparity.

On the one hand, the Browns have an owner and a GM and a head coach insisting that the owner did not force the selectinon and the celebrated pick has to earn his way (doesn't the latter notion seem more and more laughable as each day passes?).

Then they have a quarterback coach, a guy well down on the organization and coaching hierarchy, evidently going on an Arkansas (?) radio station on his own and bringing to light a completely different narrative.

This from a team that refused to talk with the local media about whether Nate Burleson had broken his arm in the offseason and promised it would not talk about player injuries at all. A team that asks the local media to "request" an assistant coach 24 hours in advance and relay the topic of the story so the assistant coach can be prepared.

Then it has one of its own coaches on the air in Arkansas spilling the entire bucket.

While the Browns try to put a lid on a pressure cooker and keep things contained on the Manziel mania before training camp, one of their own turned the heat up so high under the cooker it blew the lid right through the ceiling. Evidently the best way to get a story out is to go to a state and radio station far, far away.

You want to credit Loggains for telling the truth. If our kids don't tell the truth, well we tend to get angry. The same standard should apply for adults.

Loggains did say other things that were consistent with what had been said. He said Manziel was always at the top of the team's quarterback board; earlier in the week coach Mike Pettine said the team considered Manziel at No. 4, but no other quarterbacks.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Haslam
Andrew Weber/USA TODAY SportsThe narrative on Johnny Manziel has become a bit clouded, but Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is certainly entitled to influence decisions. Cleveland fans will only care if their new quarterback is misguided.
Loggains said the Browns tried to trade with Tennessee and Dallas but backed out. Farmer had admitted discussions with Tennessee.

There also was the usual pablum about Manziel "grinding in the meeting rooms" and how Manziel has been "a great teammate." For all of four days.

Loggains even added this about Manziel going through the draft process: "I think he's learned how to say no."

Tack that statement on the next picture from a party at a private New York club and the next TMZ shot at Manziel leaving some club or event in the wee hours. He's allowed to have fun and it's fine, but let's not pretend he's become a saint because he got drafted.

It will be good when all this finally translates to the field. Because then Manziel will either play well or he won't.

But in just a few days since he was drafted the Manziel story has spun like the Tasmanian Devil. Remember what the devil looked like when it stopped? Grunting and panting and just standing there? That's the perception people now have of the Browns. Spinning and stopping. Spinning and stopping.

If Haslam wanted Manziel and liked Manziel -- something else Loggains admitted -- then so be it. The guy paid a billion dollars for his team, and he's entitled to like a guy. He's even entitled to urge his drafting. He's the owner.

The city won't care and the fans won't care if Manziel walks in acting like the starter, nor will they care if Haslam influenced the pick. Browns fans are happy to have him, and they want him to act like he's the guy.

They'll only care if he's mishandled, or if he is lousy on the field.

As for the Browns, it's kind of amazing many thought the storyline in "Draft Day" was preposterous. Maybe it's time for a high-level meeting in a deserted water park.
AURORA, Ohio -- Monday was coach Mike Pettine's turn to calm the frayed nerves of Cleveland Browns fans.

"We do have a plan," Pettine said about the team's receiver situation.

He would not detail the plan or hint at it, but he confidently stated the team has a plan to address a perceived need at receiver for the Browns.

The talk about the spot has raged in Cleveland since the report broke that Josh Gordon would miss the season due to a failed drug test, a report Pettine could not address specifically. But he did address the receiver position, and the fact that the Browns did not draft a receiver even though they were aware of Gordon's failed test, as reported by "Outside the Lines."

"This situation didn't call for panic," Pettine said.

Which is always a positive.

Gordon's teammates expressed strong hope that Gordon still can play. All admitted losing him would be a serious blow.

"He is a key player to us," linebacker Jabaal Sheard said. "It's important that we have him. Hopefully that's not the situation."

"He's a great player, that's the bottom line," linebacker Paul Kruger said. "One of the best receivers in the league."

Pettine, though, echoed the thoughts of GM Ray Farmer, who said the Browns have to be a team that can withstand the loss of a player.

"Losing players for extended periods of time is part of the game," Pettine said. "Successful franchises are the ones with enough depth built and enough options scheme-wise, coaching-wise to account for it."

The issue is what happens when the Browns lose this particular player, as it certainly seems they will. Players leaned on the "next man up" theory, and said they believe they still can win.

Depending on what happens, tight end Jordan Cameron could be most affected by Gordon's absence.

"You have to pay extra special attention to [Gordon] when he's out there," Cameron said. "Obviously that takes eyes off of me. But I feel like [offensive coordinator] Kyle [Shanahan] will figure out a way to make things happen. He'll find ways to get guys the ball and be creative."
There’s been much said and written about what it would mean if the Cleveland Browns really were to lose Josh Gordon for a year.

Much of it has been lamentation worthy of desert wanderings. Which is the easy way to go in Cleveland, of course; negativity lurks at every corner.

[+] EnlargeJosh Gordon
Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesThe Browns' passing game will surely be easier to defend if Josh Gordon is suspended for the season.
But in this case, much of it is justified. Sugarcoating what the loss of Gordon for an entire season means is illogical and impossible.

That’s a tough blow for GM Ray Farmer and coach Mike Pettine, who pulled off an eye-opening first day of the draft. They now see some of the excitement over their moves tempered -- from outside at least -- by the impending suspension of Gordon for a failed drug test, which was first reported by ESPN’s "Outside the Lines" on Friday.

Farmer remains steadfast the Browns can win with Gordon or without him. Heck, even with him last season, the Browns won just four times. Farmer said he can still build a receiving corps, and that sometimes guys simply need opportunities, using the Giants' Victor Cruz as an example of an unknown receiver who took advantage of an opportunity.

Farmer also is right that teams lose guys to injury all the time and it’s his job to make sure the team can win no matter what happens.

His confidence gives reason for belief, but the challenge he and the Browns face is significant. While Farmer is encouraging, every team has certain players they simply can’t lose.

Right now, Gordon is that player. His loss would leave the Browns as a run-the-ball-win-with-defense kind of team.

Or a dreaded manage-the-game team.

Even with Johnny Manziel.

Not to mention it brings into question Gordon’s long-term future in Cleveland. Do the Browns bring back a guy who tested positive after getting a break from the league on his suspension last season? Can they trust him? Can they pay him?

Those difficult questions are down the road. This season’s are ahead.

With Gordon, safeties have to respect the deep area of the field. Double coverage opens up the field for tight end Jordan Cameron and the second receiver and allows the run game to work.

Without Gordon, the Browns become so much easier to defend.

Stack the box, stop the run, and force the Browns to find a playmaker to beat them. The whole point of the Cover 2 defense is to force teams to be patient and take the long way to scores.

Without Gordon, that’s the Browns' offense. Short passes and the run game. Which may be why the Browns took a strong, powerful offensive lineman in Joel Bitonio and added a talented running back like Terrance West.

That goes completely counter, though, to the direction most of the NFL is going. It’s a passing league, as Joe Thomas will remind anyone, dependent on throwing the ball to guys like Gordon for big plays and big chunks of yards. His presence was the foundation of the offense.

Fans can be optimistic about Manziel all they want.

They can be excited for what he may bring, what he can do on the field.

But Manziel might not even have a receiver on the Browns as good as what he had in college, when he threw to Mike Evans.

At this point he has to do what Tom Brady does in New England and Aaron Rodgers does in Green Bay -- and that’s make every receiver who plays on his team better.

If Manziel can do that, then the Browns might be OK.

But that’s a tall order for a rookie quarterback, one who still has to earn the job, according to his coach.

Farmer is right that games aren’t played until September and there’s time to address the situation. But to say that losing Gordon for the season would be detrimental to the Browns' hopes is a gross understatement.

It would be a very tough shot to the gut to a team that really doesn’t need any more shots in the gut.

And it makes for a very tough challenge in figuring what to do to replace him.

There’s no hiding from that reality.
Ray Farmer is confident he can put a sound receiving corps on the field for the Cleveland Browns this season, with or without Josh Gordon.

ESPN's Mel Kiper Jr. falls into step with the masses, though, saying the Browns needed a receiver before the news of Gordon’s possible suspension broke, and they really needed a receiver on the draft’s second or third day after "Outside the Lines" broke the news that Gordon would miss the 2014 season.

Kiper gave the Browns a B-minusInsider in his annual grades, crediting them for some picks but wondering about the pass-catcher. In the Kiper parlance, that’s a pretty good draft, with a minus. He summed it up by saying: “The Browns have potentially changed the face of their franchise, but (Johnny) Manziel could use somebody to throw the football to.”

Elsewhere ...

On SI.com, Greg Bedard had nothing but praise for the Browns' draft, writing: “Yes, it’s disappointing that Gordon had another lapse, but he’s just one of 53 and doesn’t play quarterback. It takes a team to win the NFL, and that’s the important work Farmer is doing.” Also on SI, Chris Burke and Doug Farrar felt better than Kiper, giving the Browns a B-plus and calling the draft’s first day one of the most exciting in franchise history.

At Yahoo! Sports, Rob Rang of The Sports Xchange was harsher, saying the decision not to draft a receiver was an “inexplicable ignoring” of the position. Grade: C-minus.

Noted harsh grader Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com agrees with Rang, saying the decision not to take a receiver drops the Browns' grade to a B-minus.

I interpreted Bedard’s high praise as an A, and I’ve devised a very clever way to figure the draft grades. Call it Pat Macalytics, something that would make sabermatricians proud. It involves a ... wait for it ... point system for each grade, A-plus through F.

Combine them all and the average grade for the Browns is a B.

Which I think is understated.

The Browns landed the top cornerback and quarterback on their board on Day 1.

They landed an offensive lineman and a running back they like a great deal on Day 2.

They landed a highly thought of cornerback on Day 3.

I’m not sure about a 230-pound inside linebacker, but they also landed a first- , fourth- and sixth-round pick in next year’s draft.

Yes, they traded out of picks, but they took guys they like, guys that make sense.

The decision not to take a receiver is ... interesting. There’s no arguing that Sammy Watkins and Manziel sounds better than Justin Gilbert and Manziel. But Gilbert, Manziel and 2015 first- and fourth-round picks is impossible to criticize.

The receiver position is a bit of an enigma. On the one hand losing Gordon is a huge problem. Huge. There’s no sugarcoating it. But I always flash back to the season opener in 2006, when New Orleans visited Cleveland with two undrafted and unknown receivers. Those unknowns went out and competed, and the Browns were embarrassed in their opener by a team led by Drew Brees that would go on to the playoffs. Those two receivers turned out to be Marques Colston and Devery Henderson, guys who would play for the Saints for 17 seasons and catch 852 passes and score 83 touchdowns. Prior to that game, they were weak links. At season's end, they were in the playoffs.

Not taking a receiver is head-scratching. Taking the guys a GM believes in and works months to find and rate is not.

I think the loss of Gordon is a serious blow (more on that later today), but I still give the Browns a very solid A-minus for the 2014 draft.
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Ted Thompson did not come right out and say it, and Ray Farmer was not asked about it.

But it's safe to say that the general managers of the Green Bay Packers and Cleveland Browns discussed a trade for the 21st overall pick in Thursday's first round.

"Um," Thompson said with a smile. "We talked to a number of teams."

A few minutes after Thompson picked Alabama safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, the Browns traded up to No. 22 to take quarterback Johnny Manziel.

If Farmer offered Thompson the same deal he swung with the Philadelphia Eagles, the Packers would have received the 26th overall pick in the first round plus Cleveland's third-round pick (No. 83 overall).

That still would have allowed the Packers to still make a pick in the first round, and it would have given them four selections on Day 2 (rounds 2 and 3).

However, it would have put them at risk of losing Clinton-Dix.

Although no team between 21 and 26 selected a safety, perhaps that would have been different had Clinton-Dix still been on the board.

The Packers still would have had a chance at the two other first-round safeties == Washington State's Deone Bucannon (who went No. 27 to the Arizona Cardinals) and Northern Illinois' Jimmie Ward (No. 30 to San Francisco) -- but it's not known whether Thompson valued those players in the first round.

As things stand now, the Packers have three selections on Friday: Nos. 53 (second round), 85 (third round) and 98 (third round).
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BEREA, Ohio -- NFL map, this is Cleveland, Ohio.

It has been missing for quite some time. No, it hasn't disappeared. It just hasn't been able to stop tripping over itself as it tries to put a winning team on your cartography.

That's right, Cleveland is right there by Lake Erie. You got it.

Now you need to start paying more attention to this place because Johnny Football will be in Cleveland , and how this goes will be a story worth watching.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Elsa/Getty ImagesRegardless of how he fares with the team, Johnny Manziel has made the Browns relevant.
Because the Browns' move to trade up and select Johnny Manziel with the 22nd overall pick in Thursday's draft means the Browns are again a story, again worth paying attention to. A team that needed some kind of boost got it with the selection of Manziel. And the fact that the Browns did it with the 22nd pick and not the fourth somehow makes the story that much more relevant, because the risk is lower.

Manziel brings the same baggage he would have brought had he been taken fourth. He spends too much time wandering around the pocket. He freelances too much. He's not a pure pocket passer. He won't get away with all the jitterbugging in the NFL that he did in college. And if he starts right away, he gets a huge faceful of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener, a group of guys who have done serious damage to past Browns quarterbacks, a group that would no doubt love to teach Manziel a quick lesson about life in the NFL and AFC North.

All that has to be dealt with, worked on and overcome. The Browns' history with 22nd picks at quarterback certainly does not bode well -- what with Brandon Weeden and Brady Quinn washing out after being taken there.

But perhaps the third time is a charm, and perhaps general manager Ray Farmer's strategizing will finally pan out for the long-suffering fan base of the Cleveland Browns. Because this pick provides the Browns an electrifying jolt of excitement and national interest that has been missing for a long, long time.

The Browns pulled off a trade after Manziel had waited nearly three hours to be picked. Fox's Jay Glazer reported on Twitter that the Minnesota Vikings were trying to trade up for Manziel and thought they had a deal with the Eagles, but the Browns called with a better offer -- their first-round pick (No. 26) and a third-round choice.

Which means former team president Joe Banner's trade of Trent Richardson last season wound up bringing Manziel to the Browns.

The interesting thing will be how the Browns handle the circus that goes with Manziel. His every move will be watched, his every pass scrutinized. Every Brian Hoyer incompletion or interception will lead to cries for Johnny. Hoyer is the clear loser in this; he's worked his whole life to start for his hometown team, and less than an hour after Manziel's selection, Browns vice president of fan engagement Kevin Griffin was tweeting a photo of a Manziel jersey.

Handling all this will take some finessing, and the Browns have a first-year coach on the job. The intense scrutiny and attention will at times be overwhelming. Tim Tebow to the ninth power.

New coach Mike Pettine has said over and over he does not want a rookie quarterback to start. Good luck with that, keeping Manziel on the bench. Doing so would take serious intestinal fortitude.

But it also took serious intestinal fortitude for Farmer to bypass Manziel at No. 4, then at No. 9 after a trade down, then at No. 8 after a trade up. He didn't. He stuck to his plan and took Justin Gilbert, a cornerback, with Manziel watching in New York.

When Dallas passed on Manziel at No. 16, it opened things up again for the Browns. They knew that Philadelphia might be a trade partner, and when the chance came at No. 22, they made the move. It's no coincidence that the Browns moved ahead of Kansas City, another team that might have been interested in Manziel.

Instead he comes to Cleveland, which seems on some levels to be so odd. A guy who's been seen at every major sporting event around the country and clearly seems to like staying out until the wee hours comes to ... Cleveland. A guy whose nickname is after the sport itself comes to the place where Paul Brown developed the game without fanfare or self-promotion.

If history has taught anything in Cleveland, it's that simply arriving guarantees nothing. The names of failed Browns quarterbacks who had their confidence chewed up and their careers spit out is long.

Manziel can be the guy to change that. But if Browns fans know nothing else, it's that it's not automatic.

But it sure will be fun to see him try.
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BEREA, Ohio -- Clearly the Cleveland Browns targeted cornerback Justin Gilbert with their first pick in the draft.

They went through all sort of machinations to get him, trading down five spots and then trading up one. In the end, they gave up a fifth-round pick this year -- “It didn't cost us much,” GM Ray Farmer said -- to acquire a first-round pick and fourth-round pick from Buffalo in 2015.

Farmer said the end result was the Browns drafted the player “we thought we wanted.”

Gilbert
There is risk. There always is risk. In this draft, the Browns bypassed two playmakers on offense in wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans.

Watkins has been my preferred choice since January, but it's tough to argue bypassing him when the Browns acquired a first-round pick in '15 to move down just five spots. Clearly the Browns were not as high on Watkins as the Bills, who made the bold statement that Watkins makes Buffalo a playoff team.

There are teams that annually manipulate the draft to get extra players and maintain a level of talent. The Browns now have another first-round choice and they have an improved secondary, a necessity in the Mike Pettine defense. That system requires aggressive, pressing corners. In Joe Haden and Gilbert, the Browns have two like that -- assuming Gilbert is the real deal. Buster Skrine moves to nickelback to cover the slot.

“We're excited about having corners that we think can go out, play press, get after people and give us a chance to turn the ball over,” Farmer said. “We've improved our defense. We're going to do some other things to make our overall team better, but we definitely like the corner combination that we're going to have. Hopefully, we keep those guys together for a long time.”

Farmer has made a lot of logical moves this offseason in free agency. He still needs another wide receiver and a quarterback, but the second pick in the first round and the second round awaits. Clearly the Browns do not feel the depth of players at cornerback is as good as it is at receiver. The Browns took the guy they wanted.

Farmer took a risk bypassing the offensive players, but he did something logical by filling a need. It might not be the most exciting move, but it's tough to argue it.

And it will look even better when the first round of next year's draft rolls around.
Here is what general manager Ray Farmer had to say about the Cleveland Browns' moves with the fourth pick, the trade down and trade back up to get cornerback Justin Gilbert. The quotes were distributed by the team:

On the thought process for the first-round trades:

“The thought process was simple. We had an opportunity to move back, pick up some future considerations. We knew where we were in the draft and we felt like it was a good opportunity to continue to improve our team with the number of picks we could get so we made a deal to move back to Buffalo (No. 9). Second trade was another opportunity to get the player we thought we wanted. It didn’t cost us much to move back into position when he was on the board. We took that opportunity, and we took the pick with (Oklahoma State CB) Justin Gilbert.”

On DB Justin Gilbert as a player:

“Justin Gilbert the player -- He’s long. He’s fast. He’s explosive. He’s a playmaker. He plays like a Brown. Number one thing we talk about when we talk about corners is they’ve got to cover like Browns. He’s got great arm length. He’s got the speed. He’s got the ball skills. I know some people have questioned his tackling. We cover like Browns, tackling was good, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be great. We understand exactly who he is, what he is. We think he can make plays for us. He’s going to play relentless. He’s going to play at the line of scrimmage and press people. He’s able to do things we need him to do.”

On Gilbert and Browns CB Joe Haden playing together:

“Joe Haden, Justin Gilbert, (Browns S) Donte Whitner – I’m getting excited. I probably shouldn’t go there. We’re excited about having corners that we think can go out, play press, get after people and give us a chance to turn the ball over. We’ve improved our defense. We’re going to do some other things to make our overall team better, but we definitely like the corner combination that we’re going to have. Hopefully, we keep those guys together for a long time.”
The endless debate about Johnny Manziel will end Thursday night.

Just in the past two days, reports from respected national reporters have said the Cleveland Browns are leaning toward Manziel if tackle Greg Robinson is already gone (he will be), and also that the Browns would not take Manziel.

Manziel
Coach Mike Pettine denied that Manziel has been crossed off any list.

He told ESPN’s Sal Palantonio: “Our board is wide open. Everything is in play.”

Presumably Manziel would fall under “everything."

In some ways, General Manager Ray Farmer has people right where he wants them, and he’s smiling that he does.

He wants folks guessing at the Browns' plans, and boy are they guessing. A team that leaked so much negative and painful information about coach Rob Chudzinski during the team’s season finale has turned into the Hoover Dam, with little or no information getting out.

This much is clear: The Browns will take a quarterback high in the draft.

But Palantonio threw an interesting wrinkle into things with his report that other sources had told him the Browns were high on cornerback Justin Gilbert.

Combine this with the reality that this Browns regime is a lot more traditional in its approach, and it’s very possible the Browns could go with a player like Gilbert if the trade is right, or even an offensive tackle with the fourth spot. Robinson is one of the most intriguing players in the draft, and Jake Matthews could be a 10-year starter like his father.

But ... the question for the Browns is the same one that has been asked since the pre-draft hype started months ago: Can they afford to turn away if a quarterback is available at No. 4?

Doing so would take some serious intestinal fortitude.

It’s why I took Manziel fourth overall with the team’s first first-round pick. (Insert cracks about lack of intestinal fortitude for someone who has always favored receiver Sammy Watkins here.)

It’s difficult to find a quarterback, more difficult to pass on one. And those who do pass on a guy who turns out to be good ... well that can be a career-killing decision.

It’s a tough spot for a first-year GM to find himself.

But it’s also an exciting spot, because the right picks can do a lot for a team that needs something to go right.

Farmer wanted this job and he’s handled what has come his way adeptly to this point.

Now the draft is coming full bore right at him.
Teddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles, and Johnny Manziel USA Today Sports, Getty ImagesTeddy Bridgewater, Blake Bortles and Johnny Manziel are options the Cleveland Browns will consider with their top pick in May's NFL draft.
And then there was one.

The Cleveland Browns' busy offseason leaves them having addressed the possible loss of Alex Mack (he stayed) and the departures of T.J. Ward and D'Qwell Jackson (Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby). They added a running back (Ben Tate) and they added depth at several spots, including the offensive line (Paul McQuistan), receiver (Andrew Hawkins, Nate Burleson), tight end (Jim Dray) and cornerback (Isaiah Trufant).

On Monday, they even added the long-lost fullback, a guy the team did not give Rob Chudzinski a year ago. Chris Pressley is coming off a missed season due to ACL surgery so he is not a lock to make the team, but if he can give anything at all it’s more than the Browns had a year ago.

All this does is set the Browns up to draft the way they want to draft, not the way they have to.

"[GM] Ray [Farmer] talked about that process of just stabilizing, leveling the ship," coach Mike Pettine told the gathered media at the NFL owners meetings.

Which basically leaves one spot to address: quarterback.

Yes, Virginia, there will be a new quarterback in Cleveland before training camp.

Probably two.

The team must add a veteran before the “voluntary” minicamp the end of the month. They can’t go into camp with only two guys, especially because Brian Hoyer will probably be limited as he comes off knee surgery. Given that the market of veterans left are the Rex Grossmans of the world, the Browns also will add a quarterback in the draft.

When is the million-dollar question.

If it’s fourth overall, the choices remain the same three: Blake Bortles, Johnny Manziel or Teddy Bridgewater. If it’s later, there is a bundle from which to pick.

"That's the position that needs to be addressed," Pettine said. "But we're not locked into, 'We're drafting a starter.'"

Which is good to hear.

Because if the Browns draft a guy to start and they force him in too quickly they'll be following the wash-rinse-repeat cycle that has contributed to so many problems since 1999. The challenge comes in managing the situation.

Because if the team selects a quarterback with the fourth pick, Hoyer will find out quickly what it’s really like to play for his hometown team. Assuming he starts, the first time he has a two-interception, one-touchdown game in a 23-14 loss, the clamor will start from fans and media about the guy drafted fourth.

If it’s Manziel, that clamor will be loud and ornery.

If it’s Bortles, folks might be a little more patient because the word on him is he will need a year or two.

If it’s Bridgewater, it’s anyone’s guess.

Then if the young guy plays the negativity will continue if he struggles.

This negativity has affected Browns quarterbacks since '99 – all the way back to Tim Couch and Kelly Holcomb. It’s unrealistic to think it didn’t, because quarterback is a confidence position. He who hesitates is lost. It may sound like an easy excuse, except it affects a player’s psyche.

The spiral is almost natural. Young guy has to learn, to grow, but because he’s learning he makes mistakes, which leads to criticism, which he says he doesn’t hear but he does. Which leads to self-doubt, which leads to tentative play, which leads to more mistakes and more questions and clamor – and soon enough, the environment to succeed is damaged, which only exacerbates the issue.

There is the Bruce Arians argument, which says a team needs to pass-protect and run the ball to help a young quarterback, but if the guy can play he can play. But Bill Walsh, the great quarterback guru and leader of the San Francisco 49ers, once talked about protecting a young quarterback from a damaging environment. He talked almost emotionally, as if the damage to the player was almost permanent.

The word he used: traumatic.

The Browns have to be aware of this, and if they’re not they need only look at their history since their return. The good thing is whoever plays will have a much fuller deck than many of his predecessors. That’s the result of the offseason work.

But the Browns have saved the most important position for last.

How they handle it not only in the next two months but also through the entire 2014 season could have as much impact on the team as the selection itself.
Derek Carr's workout for the Cleveland Browns showed why the Browns are skipping players' pro days.

The Browns were able to send their coaches to or near Fresno State and have Carr make throws they wanted to see, not the ones he wanted to do. GM Ray Farmer, coach Mike Pettine and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan got to watch Carr up close and personal.

Carr said on SiriusXM NFL Radio after the workout that it was definitely driven by the Browns.

Carr
"Everyone was standing there, talking, of course, giving their input, things they wanted to see," Carr said on "Late Hits," hosted by Alex Marvez and Gil Brandt. "We do their drills. They really want to tire you out. When you do individual drills, they want to tire you out, see how you're feeling, really grind you a little bit. And then you throw routes when you're really tired, like a football game. Then some bootlegs, they want to see how you move on the run when you're tired. Then we do some reads that they have."

The Browns also had dinner with Carr the night before.

Lo and behold, in two days they got a longer, more in-depth and more personal interview than the 15 minutes they'd have had at the combine, and a longer, more focused workout than they would have seen at the pro day.

Johnny Manziel's pro day may have set new standards. His turned into more of a sideshow than a revealing workout. The apparel that Manziel wore for his workout were soon put on sale by Nike after the pro day -- and here we thought he wore football stuff to simulate football conditions -- and Manziel made a show to thank all the scouts and team officials for finding their way to Texas A&M, a place he called hard to find. Never mind all in attendance had probably been to College Station several times before.

Rest assured, though, Johnny Football has gone away. #sarcasmfont

Carr told SiriusXM that the workout went exactly as he hoped, which is to be expected, but he also said doing it for just the Browns was "a great experience."

There's nothing wrong with the way the Browns are going about this scouting process.

The only thing that would be wrong would be getting the pick wrong.
Josh Gordon said it early in the day on ESPN's "SportsCenter." He said it as the day continued. And he reiterated it late in the day in an interview with ESPN.com: He expects the Cleveland Browns to take a quarterback with the fourth pick in May's draft.

“I don't think Ray Farmer wants to miss out on a quarterback pick,” Gordon said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon.

Gordon
Gordon
Which in words is a slight upgrade from him saying earlier in the day that he was “pretty sure” it would be a quarterback. (Then again ... Gordon also was quick to say Farmer had texted during the day to keep folks guessing.)

Gordon was not saying Farmer told him anything. Just that he had talked with the Browns GM, and after the talks he feels the Browns are leaning toward the passer. To the point that when the possibility of drafting wide receiver Sammy Watkins was mentioned, Gordon talked as if he'd be the 26th overall pick, not the fourth.

“It would be great to have him, if he lasts that long,” Gordon said.

The three quarterbacks Gordon mentioned as possibilities were Blake Bortles of Central Florida, Johnny Manziel of Texas A&M and Derek Carr of Fresno State.

This is either the greatest smokescreen in draft history, a player just expressing his opinion or a clue to the Browns plans.

Given Farmer's stated belief in keeping others around the league guessing, it might seem more smokescreen than clue. But Gordon is not just another guy on the team. He spent Thursday on several shows with interviews at ESPN. Late in the day he said the Browns need a quarterback and Brian Hoyer can win.

“Both are true," he said. “We need a quarterback for sure. We only have one on the roster (actually two, Hoyer and Alex Tanney), and you never want to go through that battle of attrition -- like last year.”

He called the quarterback carousel of 2013 “extremely frustrating,” and sounded like a guy anxious to settle in with a guy. He also sounded more concerned about Hoyer's return from a torn ACL than many others.

“It's never something I'd want to rush on anybody,” he said. “That can ruin a career. He can do it on the field, but at the same time you've got to be looking for the future and longevity.”

Gordon may have been thinking of his friend and former college teammate at Baylor who came back too soon, Robert Griffin III of Washington. Gordon supports Hoyer if he's healthy, and appreciates the notion of Hoyer throwing to him and Watkins.

To a point.

“There's more than enough balls to go around,” Gordon said. “The more weapons you have on offense, the harder it is for the defense to key in on one guy. But first and foremost, we need to solidify a quarterback back there.”

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