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2014 NFL Combine: Transcript from Browns GM Ray Farmer's interview

By Nate Ulrich Published: February 20, 2014

Browns General Manager Ray Farmer met with Northeast Ohio reporters today during the NFL Scouting Combine. Below is a transcript from the interview.

On Bill Kuharich's formal role and relationship with the Cleveland Browns: “Bill does have a relationship with the Cleveland Browns. The relationship was somewhat forged while Mike (Lombardi) and Joe (Banner) were both here. Bill is a consultant. He’ll be working with me directly on all aspects of what I’m going to be tasked to do. So, he’s a consultant and that’s Bill’s role.”

On whether Kuharich will be in the office: “A combination of both. Bill is still founded in Kansas City so he still lives in the Kansas City area. His family is there so he’ll be back and forth.”

On prioritizing the needs of the organization in the upcoming weeks: “I think that the needs will be prioritized in a way that between Coach (Mike) Pettine and I we’ve already discussed the needs for his offense and his defense as it equates to (offensive coordinator) Kyle Shanahan and (defensive coordinator) Jim O’Neil, and we’ve kind of come up with a hierarchy already of the positions that we really need to address, which order we’ll address them and how we will address them.”

On what he is looking for in the 2014 scouting combine: “This combine – I think that they are all the same to me. You really want a chance to truly interact with the player. The No. 1 thing at any of these events is to get a takeaway of the person. Everybody’s talent is kind of spoken for itself when you watch the film. There’s no more football being played so these guys will be judged on how they play football. The athletic gifts and the tools that they’ll display on the field are really just a confirmation of what your eyes saw. The real piece that you really want to look for in these events is to truly get to the core character of the kid.”

On needing to get a franchise quarterback at the top of the draft: “I can’t say that’s true. You could talk to Joe Montana, you could talk to Tom Brady, you could talk to a number of guys that were not high picks. They were later-round finds. Inevitably you’ve got to find the guy that displays the characteristics that you’re looking for and then give him an opportunity to go into that role. (Green Bay Packers QB) Aaron Rodgers wasn’t a top-five pick. There was speculation as to whether he would be or not, but nevertheless you just want to find the right guy for your system.”

On how essential is it to find an upgrade at the quarterback position: “I think that the reality is that we want to upgrade our football team. I think that winning games and finding a way to put the best product on the field is what the fans deserve. It’s what the City of Cleveland deserves. That’s what we’re focused on, is building a better product all around.”

On meeting several of the top collegiate QBs that weren’t at this year’s Senior Bowl: “I think that we’re going to get a chance and an opportunity to spend time with, I can’t say everybody that’s here, but we’ll have time to engage with a lot of different guys at the combine. There’ll be 335 guys that’ll come in and out of the meeting rooms and the grand hall where they have the open floor, or in formals. But we’ll definitely be focused on getting character information and spending as much time with these guys as we can.”

On whether the Browns will formally interview Johnny Manziel, and other projected top picks: “That makes it too easy for you guys, if I’m going to spend time with those guys directly. So I would say that regardless, if we meet them here or we meet them somewhere else, there’ll be an opportunity for us to spend time with everybody that we really want to get to and understand who they are.”

On the characteristics he would look for in a quarterback: “On the characteristics we would look for in a quarterback for our team? First and foremost I’m looking for a winner, a guy that can win football games, if he can help translate what we’re trying to do offensively to the field. I think that smarts in an interesting part of it. I think that we all talk about guys being smart but I think that it’s the ability and the quickness at which your guys can process that information. All of us have an understanding of math and how to do certain things but the question is how quickly can you process that information and then regurgitate it as being productive on the field? There’s a lot of intangibles, a little bit of nuances that we look for in a guy’s performance. And people will talk about arm strength. They’ll talk about different athletic aspects. Can he move in the pocket, etc.? But I truly believe that a guy being able to accurately throw the football, make quick decisions and process and throw from what I’m going to call ‘a crowded pocket.’ Guys that can play in those instances are critical factors in my mind of what the quarterback needs to demonstrate and can do.”

On looking for players to fit the team’s defensive alignment: “Mike has demonstrated that he’s a versatile defensive coach. I think that Jim O’Neil is definitely in that same batch as well. We’re going to look for the best football players and we’re going to find guys that can demonstrate the ability to be productive and to make us a better football team. So again, we want the best football players for our team. The coaches have also demonstrated that they’re going to find the best positions for those guys and we’re going to get them involved as soon as possible.”

On prioritizing the needs using free agency versus the draft: “We’ve already had those conversations; we’ve had some of them. I think things never work exactly how you have them planned out so I think that there’s already a map designed of how we want to attack free agency, how we want to attack the draft. But nevertheless, I do think that we need to hone and fine-tune and adjust from what we’ve already kind of decided is the path that we should take.”

On WR Davone Bess: “I’m not going to address the Davone Bess situation. Again, I think that every player on our team, we’re not going to address those circumstances in the media. We’re going to talk with agents, we’re going to talk with players, talk internally about how we should handle any current player and future player, contract and/or otherwise.”

On his perspective of this year’s draft class: “It’s interesting. I do believe that a good indicator of how deep a draft potentially is the number of juniors that actually declare. So, we’re record-setting. With that being said, I think that does demonstrate that there are better players, a deeper pool of players. But we’re going to do the best way possible for us. One of the things that people always talk about are trades. Do you want to move up or do you want to go down? Who do you like? I think that we want to find the best football players for our football team. We want to put ourselves in a position to find the guys that we’d truly like to have on our team. I think that’s one of the strategies that we’re going to stick to. Identifying the guys that fit who we want to be and finding a way to get those guys on our football team.”

On potentially needing an "all-weather" quarterback: “The all-weather part is interesting. Now, is it still snowing in Cleveland? I don’t know. But it’s actually a good thing that you want to be able to play regardless of what the weather is. I think that everybody needs to be able to perform in those instances. The running back needs to be able to run the ball when his footing is not perfect, the receivers need to be able to do the same. So regardless of what position it is we want are players to be able to perform not matter what the conditions are.”

On being able to weigh character flaws with certain draft prospects: “I think that with any player – I said this before as I was eluding to it and I should probably clarify it - all of these players are really talented and if you get invited to the national combine, if you make it to the National Football League in any regards, if you’re a college free agent or you’re the first pick of the draft, you’re talented. This is the best kid from everybody’s high school. This is the best kid on his college team. There may be a better best kid but he’s a very good player. His talent will take him to a certain level, his character will allow him to sustain that level or take it up another notch. We’re definitely interested in how guys personally are. Who is the person? We spend a lot of time and a lot of resources trying to figure out the person as we make those definitive answers as to, do we like this guy? Do we want this guy in our building? Is he good for who we want to be? Is he good for our community? Then we’ll definitely take those. I’ll tell you this, it’s hard to think that you’re going to win football games with somebody that’s not going to have a little dirt under their fingernails. They are all not going to be exact, they are all not going to be the best people from a lot of perspectives, but we’re looking for the combination of people and talent.”

On if any decision has been made on using the franchise tag: “We’ve talked about all of those things. Again, I’m not going to comment on whether we’re using franchise tags or transitions or what the contract status is or the negotiations that have actually taken place. I will definitely handle those things between the player, agent and the organization.”

On finding a running back in the later rounds of the draft: “I think it’s organizing the board in a way that you can recognize what a guy’s talent and skill level is. I think that when you put your draft together, put your board together, the focus on the notion of ordering the guys in the right order. There are guys that have success. There are guys that go late in the draft and they turn out to be really good football players. A part of that is their skillset getting married to the right scheme. The one thing that we can really hang our hat on is stay true to the fact that Kyle (Shanahan) demonstrated at a lot of places that he’s been that he’s taken a variety of different people and found success. So for us it’s a matter of us finding a young man who has talent, has the work ethic and the drive and the things that we’re looking for to have that success and find a way to get him. I don’t think there’s an easy answer to say these guys fall, these guys don’t. I will say that the thing that’s probably most overlooked, specific to the running back position and maybe every other position is that when guys don’t run well they tend to fall.”

On drafting the best player available or fulfilling a team need: “I would say that you definitely want to make sure that you’re finding the best players. It’s hard to go wrong when you add good players to your football team. People are always going to ask the question as to, why did you take so-and-so when you already had this other guy on your roster? I get that, but I think that inevitably when you add good football players you find a way to have success. I think a good example is there are teams that they’ve taken the liberty of not necessarily having the best three-down options but they found guys to play roles that they can utilize, and when you do that I think that you have success. So we’re going to find guys that can play in a way and do the things that we need them to do order to have success on the field.”

On what he would first ask Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel: “What’s the first thing that I’ll ask him? … I think that the reality is that I really want to find out from any player who he is. How he defines himself, what would he say is his core-character makeup, what does he think about the opportunity to play in the National Football League? Is it a privilege, is it not or is it a right, and how does he see himself impacting not only in his individual performance in a game but how does he impact his teammates? What does he bring to the table that’s going to demonstrate he can get the other guys around him to have success? Football’s probably the greatest team sport in my mind. So from that perspective I need guys that understand the team concept and understand how to affect their teammates in a positive way.”

On questions about players’ off-the-field activities, including Johnny Manziel: “I think that they all need to be as good of people as they can. I was told this from an older scout: If you don’t have some dirt in your fingernails, then you are not living life. We all have to experience some negatives, to turn them into positives. We have to identify the most talented kid who may have made some mistakes in the past, but he’s learned from them and turned them into positives. We are not supposed to comment on other teams’ players, so we will keep him anonymous. There’s a kid last year who had some issues. Nevertheless, I felt he was one of the better players. He really is a good football player. He made mistakes, but he was able to identify those mistakes, turn them around and then apply that moving forward. When you think the guy has gone through life with no issues, that’s a little farfetched for me. The guy that has made mistakes and learned how to grow from those is really a guy we need to focus on, as well.”

On whether he will be aggressive, or not, regarding trades: “I would say I am probably more aggressive. That isn’t how I would classify myself. I would go with more resourceful. I am going to keep our resources as a premium whether it is trading up or down, whether it is a cry for more picks. The No. 1 thing we want to do is improve our batting average and give ourselves more opportunities to go to bat. There are more players that you want on your football team. When you look at the board and you see three or four guys that you really want to have but you are 12 picks away, you might need to make that adjustment to move up to get those three or four guys you like.  Conversely, if there aren’t players there, we need to have enough relationships around the league to slide back. We are in a good position with the number of picks we have. There will be people in the room to help in that instance. I will definitely be open to receive information from sources.”

On Johnny Manziel’s throwing and arm strength: “There are no exacts. Everybody does it a little differently.  Regardless of the traditional aspect, does he stand in the pocket and do things this way? The guy’s has had a lot of success. We can talk about whether it was the best throw or most accurate throw. When a guy generates results we have to take that into consideration. Obviously, his results are spoken highly for what he has been able to do at Texas A&M. I think he is well in the means of being able to perform in this league and he will get his opportunity to prove that here coming up.”

On importance of natural talent or who fits in the system: “I am a big component of a guy who fits in the scheme. The one thing I will say that Coach Pettine and other coaches have emphasized with me is that they will make an adjustment. We need to find the best players. We need to find guys that will impact the game. When you can impact the game whether you are a wide receiver, tight end, running back or an offensive lineman, when you can bring things to the table that allows the team to have success, that’s what we need to focus on, guys that can truly impact the game.”

On not overthinking the draft: “Doing just that: Staying simple. Don’t get out of your lane, stay with what you know and live in the moment. Create the board and live by the board. The board is what will guide us. It’s like baseball. The guy who gets up to bat and gets a good at-bat, the hits will come. You can’t wing it and say I’m going to hit this fastball. You need to take your time, know what the pitcher is capable of doing and have a good at-bat.”

On how unrealistic it is to compare 2014 to the 1996 Baltimore Ravens draft (also had Nos. 4 and 26 in first round, Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis): “Placing expectations on any one individual player and on having the stance that we happen to have the same picks as someone else had. We just want to find good football players. Those are home runs; those are grand slams. The reality is that we want to get the right guys for our football team and move forward.  Specifically at the top of the draft, we want impact players that can contribute right away, have long-standing careers, stay healthy, be products that the community can be proud of and the team can be proud of. If both of those guys are available, I’ll take them.”

On judging Brian Hoyer being a championship-quality quarterback in just three games: “I’ll stand on what I said earlier, I definitely believe in the traits Brian Hoyer has demonstrated. Nevertheless, competition drives this league. When you have guys that push the guy in front of them, that’s when the football team gets better. Every position on this team is definitely up for competition. Everybody would like to see a roster where we can say we have a really good player, and want to add another good player so that player feels that they can compete for their job. I think Brian Hoyer understands and respects that.”

On whether it’s safe to say the Browns draft a quarterback: “I would say that it could be safe, but we might not go that direction. It might not be what everyone thinks it will be. There is going to be an opportunity for some curveballs.”

On practice-squad players from last year being a member of the team: “We re-signed several players that were on the practice squad. That’s an interesting point. To me, the practice squad are guys that you can truly believe will help you win games moving forward.  I think we had some good guys on our practice squad and added those guys back. They have an opportunity to compete in the offseason and demonstrate whether they will be on our team moving forward.”

On being at the Alabama/Texas A&M game, and whether it carried more weight than others: “I don’t know if it carries more weight than others. There were a lot of good prospects on the field. It’s always good when you can go to a game and see a number of players contribute. That’s one of the big things we talk about with all-star games. Few times you can see top-flight players go against other top-flight players. That definitely was a good game to get a lot talent on the field. There were a lot of prospects in that game, specifically now that some of those younger guys declared.”

On not watching juniors while scouting: “Not supposed to watch juniors, but anytime you watch football games there are freshmen that make plays and you think, ‘Wow, who is that kid?’ I think that guys that make plays, you take note. I watch high-school games and think, ‘Wow, that kid is good.’ You see his name pop up on a list and see that he is the best running back in the country.  You definitely just watch and take note. We need to be able to focus on players in the draft.”

On how the release of Joe Banner and Mike Lombardi changes the draft: “My philosophy has been, I want to find good football players. I want scouts that have an eye for talent. One of the things I am keying on is not stifling innovation. We have a lot of young guys. Generally, when you have young guys in an organization, if I can speak to quickly, then they tend to buy in. Having those young guys to be able to speak gives us a chance to have real information of balance. Those younger guys get their opportunity on who the better player is. We will make decisions as a group and move ahead.”

On Brandon Weeden’s future: “We are only going to talk to Brandon and his agent directly. If they decide to tell everyone else where they are at then that is in their court. I will not tell the media what I will do. Those will come out in time. We will deal with Brandon and his agent and he will release that information when he feels that is appropriate.”

On if Brandon Weeden will be a good quarterback in the NFL: “When we grade players, we grade players on what they’ve done in the NFL. The college draft is a projection. Once you are in the NFL, you get graded upon your performance. We have a grade on Brandon and in time his agent and he will both know where we stand.”

On the decision regarding soon-to-be free agents Alex Mack and T.J. Ward: “We went through every player on this roster and discussed every player that will help us win. That’s what it comes down to. Coach Pettine has proven that he can generate defense in a lot of different ways. Coach O’Neil is now in that role as defensive coordinator. Kyle Shanahan has done the same. We want to find the guys that can truly affect the game and build a championship roster. I can definitely say this isn’t an overnight process. A big part of building any team is chemistry. We want to identify the right guys, level the playing field and give those guys a chance to compete and demonstrate those talents.”

On whether those two players have helped the Browns win: “They have. That’s past tense.”


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