As the entire NFL tries to figure out whether the Browns will draft a quarterback fourth overall on May 8, General Manager Ray Farmer insists he’s “not leaning in any direction.”
The decision, of course, will be influenced to some degree by the organization’s opinion of quarterback Brian Hoyer. A North Olmsted native and St. Ignatius High School graduate, Hoyer led the Browns to back-to-back wins in September before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee on Oct. 3. So far, he has rebounded well from the injury, but with only four regular-season starts in his career, there is a lot of unknown with Hoyer.
How comfortable would Farmer be with Hoyer, 28, heading into next season?
“I’m comfortable,” Farmer said today at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando, Fla. “I think that where I’m at right now, I would tell you that knowing Matt Schaub’s history personally because I was in Atlanta when he made the move, he had one start. So they come from everywhere. It doesn’t really matter. You’ve got to identify the guy that you think can do the role that you’re asking him to do. Once you do that, there’s a lot of guys that’ll come into any team this year as rookies and they’ll contribute. They’ll contribute in a big way. So here’s a guy that’s had NFL experience. He’s been in NFL camps. He has some tools to move forward with. The notion of experience is one that, to me, it can get overplayed. You have to identify truly what the young man is going to be asked to do and can he perform in that role. And if he can, don’t be afraid to move forward in that direction.”
Farmer said Hoyer’s success last season didn’t surprise him.
“Why would it?” Farmer said. “He was brought here for a purpose. We knew he was smart. We knew he was a gym rat. We knew he worked hard. We knew he could process. We knew he could put all the things in place. So I don’t know why it would be shocking that when he actually got an opportunity to do those things that he would do them.”
Farmer’s feelings about Hoyer don’t necessarily mean the Browns will wait until later in the first round, when they have the 26th overall pick, or early in the second round, when they have the 35th overall pick, to draft a quarterback.
The Browns could still draft a quarterback at No. 4, though Farmer said he would not attend the pro day workout of Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel on Thursday. Manziel, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles and Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater are the top-rated quarterbacks in this year’s draft class.
“I will not be going to Johnny Manziel’s workout,” Farmer said. “There's definitely a schedule conflict and definitely opportunities to talk to all parties that we may or may not be interested in.”
The Browns did not conduct any formal interviews with quarterbacks last month at the NFL Scouting Combine. They also raised eyebrows because coach Mike Pettine and his top offensive assistants skipped the pro day workouts of Bortles and Bridgewater.
Farmer defended the franchise’s odd approach.
“A Pro Day of orchestrated throws, I don't know what that tells you,” Farmer said. “It's a piece of it that people blow up into this great thing. I went to a lot of games and practices this fall. I've seen them throw the ball.”
Farmer emphasized the importance of the Browns being able to stage private workouts with prospects.
“We will have our opportunities to have private workouts,” Farmer said. “Being in charge of that workout is different than being at a Pro Day where it's orchestrated and scripted.”
The Browns have been purposefully secretive about who attends which pro days. Farmer said he hasn’t been to all of the workouts that media members have reported he’s attended. He was reportedly in attendance for the pro days of Bortles and Bridgewater.
“No one really knows what we're doing,” Farmer said. “Keeping everybody guessing is a positive. There's this notion that we have to take a quarterback, that we have to do certain things. I would say be careful of the have-tos.”
This much is certain: Hoyer and Alex Tanney, who's never appeared in an NFL regular-season game, are the only quarterbacks on the Browns’ roster, so they must add reinforcements this offseason. They’ll likely sign a veteran and draft at least one quarterback. Hoyer's competition could come from anywhere, including the draft.
"A competitor could be anybody," Farmer said. "You never know where they come from."
Farmer acknowledged the organization considered making a play for Schaub, who played for new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan when he was with the Houston Texans. However, the Oakland Raiders traded a sixth-round pick for Schaub last week.
“Anybody that’s available, you’ll discuss,” Farmer said. “When you get a chance to talk about any player in that regard, you consider it. The fact that he wasn’t on the open market and Houston traded him, those things never really materialized that way.”
Are the Browns interested in quarterback Mark Sanchez? The New York Jets cut him last week after they signed Michael Vick.
“We’re interested in every player that can help us,” Farmer said. “So if the name is Mark Sanchez, you can apply that to Mark Sanchez. If the name is a different name, you can apply that to that person as well.”
ESPN analyst and former NFL GM Bill Polian said Cleveland would be the best fit for Sanchez.
But would it make more sense to bring in a quarterback who’s played for Shanahan like Washington Redskins free-agent Rex Grossman?
“Every player that we look at will fit a need for us,” Farmer said. “I probably shouldn’t use the word need, but will fit a role. He’ll have a defined way to compete and to play in our offense and our defense. It’s really about driving competition. If we think that guy can come in and compete to be a quality starter, then, yeah, we’ll definitely be interested.”
Trade talks have begun
The Browns have 10 picks in this year’s draft, so they have plenty of ammunition to maneuver via trades. Farmer has already discussed potential deals with other teams.
“Those conversations have already begun,” Farmer said. “It might be interesting. It's something to keep in the back of your mind, so some of those talks have already begun, and I don't know if there's any definitives at the moment.”
Farmer believes the Browns could have opportunities to trade up or down in the first round.
“I look at the draft as currency,” Farmer said. “A first-round pick, be it early, be it late, is probably worth five years of a good player at a relative number and same thing down the line. If you can package picks to get a better pick or a better player or somebody that you're targeting, those things should always be considered. I do think there's opportunities to move both up and back in the draft.”
Securing the top cornerback
Browns Pro Bowl cornerback Joe Haden created a stir on Twitter Sunday night when he posted a cryptic message and later deleted it. “It’s a crazy business,” Haden tweeted.
Haden later responded to pranksters who were tweeting that the Browns had traded him. “No they haven’t,” Haden wrote on Twitter.
Farmer put the entire ordeal to rest.
“We have no interest in getting rid of Joe Haden,” Farmer said. “That’ll make it simple. We have no interest in that at all.”
In fact, the Browns are trying to work out a contract extension with Haden.
“We’re excited to try to keep Joe here for longer than today and tomorrow, but extended into the future,” Farmer said.
Center of attention
Pro Bowl center and transition-tag recipient Alex Mack has publicly flirted with the idea of playing for other teams. His agent, Marvin Demoff, has said he believes he could craft a deal the Browns wouldn’t want to match.
Mack has until July 22 to sign the transition tag. So he could sit out organized team activities and minicamps if he wanted to protest the tag.
“Alex is well within his rights to do the things that he thinks are necessary moving forward,” Farmer said. “We're still committed to making sure he's a long-term Brown and that's really our focus.”
Despite the tactics Mack and his agents have used, Farmer still believes reaching a long-term deal is realistic.
“Yes, I'm very confident,” Farmer said. “It's the continued interaction, the continued support, the continued vibe that we're giving Alex that will inevitably prevail.”
Why let him walk?
Former Browns strong safety T.J. Ward revealed via Twitter last week that Cleveland offered him “nothing” before he struck a deal with the Denver Broncos as an unrestricted free agent on March 11. The Browns agreed to terms with former San Francisco 49ers strong safety and Cleveland native Donte Whitner the same day.
“It’s not a slight on T.J. at all,” Farmer said. “We recognize his talents. We recognize he’s a good football player, and at the end of the day, there are other good football players. So when you have those conversations, sometimes it works in a way that’s positive for everybody and it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t.”