Browns coach Mike Pettine made it clear the franchise will draft at least one quarterback in May.
So what’s the likelihood a rookie quarterback would start ahead of incumbent Brian Hoyer next season?
“It’s a possibility,” Pettine said this morning during the NFL owners meetings in Orlando Fla. “It’s hard till we get after the draft to see how that all plays out, to make that assessment. We have a long way to go between the first camp, the rookie camp, our OTAs and then there’s all the training camp. There’s a lot of football to be played with those guys. That, to me, is the great thing about competition. We’ll be confident that we’ll have the best guy. Those guys will compete, and we’ll start the best one.”
But just because Pettine concedes the Browns might start a rookie quarterback this year doesn’t mean they’ll pick one fourth overall.
“It’s a position that’s important for us, so we are putting a lot of work into it,” Pettine said. “The fourth pick, I think there’s going to be some outstanding players available. But I also think that we are in a position, given where the roster is right now, that if that best player there is a quarterback, we’re in a position to take him. And if it’s not, I think it’s a deep enough quarterback class that we can pursue that option later in the draft.”
The organization also has a late first-round pick (No. 26 overall) and an early second-round selection (No. 35 overall), and Pettine believes starting-caliber quarterbacks can be found beyond the three top-rated ones, Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel.
Asked if he thinks the Nos. 26 and 35 picks could produce a quarterback capable of stepping in as the starter, Pettine said, “It could. That’s how deep of a class I think it is. You saw a guy like [Seattle Seahawks quarterback] Russell Wilson that was taken [in the third round in 2012] and very quickly found his way in the lineup. Once guys get in, where they were taken and how we acquired them, that disappears. We’re going to play the best players.
“It’s an interesting class. There’s more than just the first three [quarterbacks]. There are some other guys down the line that are impressive on their college tape.”
Pettine stressed the importance of not reaching for a quarterback at No. 4.
“That’s a position that needs to get addressed, but we’re not locked into, ‘We’re drafting a starter,’” Pettine said. … “I don’t think you want to force it. If that guy’s not there at that pick, I don’t think you take one and force the issue, say, ‘This is the quarterback of the future.’”
Because the Browns have 10 draft picks and believe the quarterback pool is rich, Pettine said it’s possible that they could pick two quarterbacks this year. When new Browns offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan was with the Washington Redskins in 2012, they drafted two quarterbacks, Robert Griffin III No. 2 overall and Kirk Cousins in the fourth round.
“I do [think it’s a possibility] because I think that also falls into the best player available,” Pettine said of potentially doubling down on quarterbacks in the draft. “If we get down to a certain point in the draft, and it’s funny how draft boards go sometimes, it really ends up running itself, you could end up getting to a spot where you have a whole row of magnets and all of the sudden there’s one sticking out like a sore thumb way up top, and you know that you’re getting great value at that position. I don’t think we would hesitate to add that player that’s the highest available left whether it’s a second quarterback if we’ve already taken one. I don’t think [General Manager] Ray [Farmer] would be averse to that at all.”
Like Farmer, Pettine said he wouldn’t attend Manziel’s pro day workout Thursday. Neither Pettine nor his top offensive assistants attended the pro days of Bortles or Bridgewater, either. Pettine downplayed the importance of those workouts and said he wanted his coaching staff to spend time this the spring working together on the playbook and other projects instead of traveling to pro days.
Pettine emphasized his belief that private workouts are much more valuable than pro days. He revealed the Browns would work out Bortles, Bridgewater and Manziel, plus several other quarterbacks. Pettine said offensive Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains would be heavily involved in those workouts.
The Browns also plan to host a long list of quarterbacks for pre-draft visits. The organization has raised eyebrows not only for its lack of a coaching presence at notable quarterbacks’ pro days, but also for its decision to not conduct any formal interviews with quarterbacks last month at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.
Pettine downplayed that.
“We didn’t interview quarterbacks formally in Indianapolis, but we spoke to all of them informally,” he said.
As for adding a veteran quarterback via free agency, Pettine sounded as if the Browns aren’t in a hurry.
“That’s a fluid situation,” Pettine said. “You just kind of monitor who’s available. We don’t have a game until September, so I don’t think we’re in a huge rush. If there’s a guy out there that we feel can help us, then we’re going to explore that option.”
Pettine said he likes free-agent quarterback Mark Sanchez, who helped the New York Jets reach back-to-back AFC Championship games when Pettine was the defensive coordinator for the team. The Browns’ interest, though, seems to be limited, and Sanchez is reportedly expected to sign with the Philadelphia Eagles.
"He’s a player that we’ll discuss," Pettine said. "If he’s a guy that can make the Cleveland Browns better, then we’ll be interested in bringing him in."
Free-agent quarterback Rex Grossman spent the past four seasons with Shanahan in Washington.
Asked if signing Grossman is a possibility for the Browns, Pettine said, "Options are still on the table for us to add a veteran quarterback."
For more highlights from Pettine's interview at the owners meetings, check my Twitter timeline.