Browns CEO Joe Banner and General Manager Mike Lombardi addressed the media today during a pre-draft news conference.
The Browns own the sixth overall pick, and they have 18-20 prospects with first-round grades, Banner said. The draft begins at 8 p.m. April 25.
“There’s a lot of pressure, mostly self-imposed, frankly, for us to be successful,” Banner said.
Below are some highlights, broken down by topic.
The Browns lack a second-round selection because former GM Tom Heckert exercised it last summer by choosing wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft. So it wouldn’t be surprising at all if the Browns traded down from No. 6.
Would you like to trade down and get a second-round pick? Lombardi: “I think a lot of that is situational. It comes down to the situation at the time. It’s hard to go into it before that.”
National writers have concluded you’re trading with San Diego, which has the 11th overall pick. Have there been any preliminary talks with San Diego or any team? Banner: “Well, it’s normal at this time to be talking to teams. Some are teams you exchange some opinions on. Some are teams you just get a feel for, ‘Are you open to moving up or down?’ As you get closer to the draft, sometimes those conversations become more specific. So I won’t go beyond the fact that we haven’t had any specific conversations about trades or what would be involved in a trade. We have had conversations with teams either initiated by them or us just kind of feeling out, ‘Are you interested in going up or back or are you open to it depending upon who’s there?’ We’ve had those kind of feel-each-other-out type of conversations.”
If there’s a trade, will it happen on the clock? Banner: “I think that’s highly likely but not absolute if there was going to be a trade.”
How much does not having a second-round pick influence the level of your desire to move down? Banner: “It doesn’t change our desire to move down. We have to make the right decision based on the value. If we think trading back or up produces better value for something we think is important or we rated high enough, we have to do it. If you made the priority filling in a hole that existed, you might not to get the fair market value you’re looking for in a trade. If we got offered something we thought made us a better team than staying where we are and picking or moving up, we’d make the trade. If we didn’t think it provided that benefit, we wouldn’t.”
How many teams would you talk to about a potential trade? Banner: “At some point before the draft, you’ll talk to almost every team. There are a few teams that almost never trade. You might touch base, but it’s not a priority. Some of these conversations might not be focused on the first round. We may say we don’t have a third-round pick. Would you consider moving your pick? Some of them are very long shot conversations to translate into anything, but you are at least exchanging notes.”
Do you think you would have takers for the No. 6 pick if you wanted to trade down? Banner: “I think there are teams interested in moving up, but there are also teams interested in moving down. So how that fits together, I know it's only a week away, but it's too early to have any idea of that. But I think there are teams in both directions interested in possibly moving depending on what players are there.”
Would you be disappointed if you weren't able to move down? Banner: “No. I'd only be disappointed if we made a pick that we didn't all feel really great about, and I don't view that as even a possibility the way our board sets up.”
Banner has said incumbent starter Brandon Weeden will get every chance to succeed and he doesn’t expect the Browns to draft a quarterback in the first two rounds. However, the Browns have devoted plenty of time to studying this year’s crop of incoming rookie quarterbacks. They’ve conducted private workouts with West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib and hosted Florida State’s EJ Manuel, Southern California’s Matt Barkley and Arizona’s Matt Scott during pre-draft visits.
Has your focus changed regarding the quarterbacks or are you just doing your due diligence by spending so much time with quarterbacks? Banner: “I think as Mike said you have to prepare yourself for any possibility. You don’t want to under-evaluate probably what everybody would agree is the most important position on the field. We are just trying to be very thorough about everything. There are quarterbacks in this draft who are intriguing, and we will have make an evaluation between now and next Thursday just how intriguing. Other teams will be doing the same thing so you will see what’s available where. But we are not going in it with a focus other than to continue to build the team, especially at the key positions that we think really good teams are strong at and move forward that way.”
Is there a quarterback this year worthy of the No. 6 pick? Lombardi: “I think like every year, there's always quarterbacks that do some real positive things and there are guys that don't, so I think this draft offers certainly those guys. In terms of the value of the pick, I think that remains to be seen. I think you put a grade on each player, and you see where that focus is where that grade goes to.”
What do you think of Weeden? Lombardi: “I’ve been really busy. I watch the tape. It’s been busy. I’m really studying on the draft at this point and watching the tape of the practice.”
How did your workout with Geno Smith go? Lombardi: “Any workout we do with a player, we're not going to discuss about that. It was fine.”
Considering coach Rob Chudzinski introduced the read-option offense to the NFL during his time with the Carolina Panthers, is it your goal to acquire a quarterback who can thrive in that system? Banner: “I think Rob’s demonstrated probably better than anybody, even though everybody says this, when you can win with Derek Anderson and you can win with Cam Newton, [you] couldn’t create two more different schemes, he truly is able to adapt to the players and the talents they have as opposed to the other way around. I know everybody says that, but if you actually watch it, most people don’t do that. They run their system, then eventually get the players that will fit it. I think especially specifically as it relates to the quarterback position, he’s demonstrated the ability to create things that can work and fit the quarterback we have and I think that’s his plan.”
What message are you sending by working out so many quarterbacks? Lombardi: “I think you have to work out every player in the draft. You better know them because they’re all available, you know? I think it’s important. I know when I worked at the Raiders if the defensive coordinator didn’t know every quarterback in the draft, there might be somebody who was really upset with him. So I think it’s important you know every player.”
The Browns did not acquire a starting-caliber cornerback to play opposite Joe Haden in free agency. It seems to be the most glaring hole on the roster heading into the draft.
How would you describe your strategy on cornerbacks in free agency? Did you want to acquire a starter or did circumstances prevent that? Lombardi: “The strategy was to try to make sure we got good players at positions at an economic value at those positions, and I think we did that.”
Can you assess the class of cornerbacks? Lombardi: “Cornerbacks? I think because of college football, there’s a lot more passing, so there’s a lot more guys that cover. So it’s got a lot of depth to it and it’s making sure you define that depth and define the role. So it’ll be an interesting corner class.”
Is there a big drop-off after the top group of cornerbacks? Lombardi: “There’s always certainly levels. It’s just making sure you get the right guy for your team. You might take the third corner and he could end up being the best corner. You have to make sure you get it right.”
What do you value more – cornerback or pass rusher? Lombardi: “Can I say both?”
Picking up another pass-rushing outside linebacker for Ray Horton’s 3-4, multi-front scheme seems to be another priority for the Browns, as evidenced by their failed pursuit of Victor Butler in free agency.
Is pass rusher a priority even after signing outside linebacker Paul Kruger? Lombardi: “I think rushing the passer is always a priority in any NFL game, but I think certainly it's all about fit, too.”
What do you think of the edge rushers in this draft? Lombardi: “I think it’s a really good draft for edge rushers.”
How do rank this class of outside linebackers? Lombardi: “Like in most drafts, there's always guys that can rush the passer, and I think this draft has several guys that can do that. So it's more than just rush the passer, it's trying to make sure you find guys that can do a little bit of everything.”
Is Brigham Young’s Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah better suited as a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker? Lombardi: “I think Ziggy's a good player. I'm sure he can do both.”
Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner and Oregon outside linebacker Dion Jordan are rehabilitating from surgeries to repair torn labrums. Would you draft a player coming off that injury? Banner: “As long as the doctors are telling us it's going to be fine, it won't be a factor.”