INDIANAPOLIS: Everyone knows the Browns must find a long-term answer at quarterback to become relevant again, and most people assume new General Manager Ray Farmer will use the fourth overall pick in May’s draft to remedy the situation with Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel or Central Florida’s Blake Bortles.
But Farmer isn’t operating with a quarterback-or-bust mentality — or at least that’s what he wants others to think.
“It could be safe [to say we’ll draft a quarterback], but we might not go that direction,” Farmer said Thursday during the NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium. “It may not be what everybody thinks it’s going to be. There is an opportunity for some curveballs.”
Picking Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins or South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney at No. 4 would qualify as a curveball. Trading down would be another surprise. Waiting to nab a quarterback like Fresno State’s Derek Carr, Alabama’s AJ McCarron or Eastern Illinois’ Jimmy Garoppolo later in the draft would raise some eyebrows, too.
Farmer, of course, isn’t tipping his hand.
Although choosing a quarterback early seems to be the most logical and realistic option, Farmer pointed out that a top-five pick isn’t needed to secure a franchise player at the position. He listed third-round pick Joe Montana, sixth-round pick Tom Brady and late first-round pick Aaron Rodgers as examples.
“You can talk to a number of guys that were not high picks,” Farmer said. “They were later-round finds. I think inevitably you’ve got to find the guy that displays the characteristics that you’re looking for and then give him an opportunity to grow into that role.”
What are those characteristics?
“First and foremost, I’m looking for a winner,” Farmer said. “He can help translate what we’re trying to do offensively to the field. People will talk about arm strength. They’ll talk about different athletic aspects, can he move in the pocket, etcetera. But I truly believe that a guy being able to accurately throw the football, make quick decisions and process [information] and throw from a crowded pocket, those are critical factors in my mind of what the quarterback needs to be able to demonstrate he can do.”
Many Browns fans think quarterback Brian Hoyer, who led the team to back-to-back wins in September before suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, possesses those qualities. Farmer, though, made it clear he wants to acquire competition for Hoyer.
“I definitely believe in a lot of the traits that Brian Hoyer has demonstrated he has,” Farmer said. “Nevertheless, competition is what drives this league. When we have guys that push the guy in front of him or beside or behind him, etcetera, then that’s when your football team gets better. … I think Brian understands that, respects that, and I think that that’s what he’s looking for is the opportunity to compete to be the guy.”
Physical and mental attributes are obviously crucial, though Farmer said his main priority at the combine is to obtain information about the character of prospects when he interviews them. He said his first question to Manziel, who’s known for causing a stir off the field with his “Johnny Football” persona, will be the following: “How would he define himself? What would he say is his core character makeup?”
Farmer made it clear he won’t automatically eliminate someone from consideration for past off-field issues, which he referred to as “dirt under their fingernails.” He ultimately wants to learn whether they’ve learned from mistakes.
In terms of Manziel as a player, Farmer pointed to his production.
“From a throwing standpoint, I think there are no exacts,” Farmer said. “Everybody does it a little differently, and so regardless of the traditionalist aspects of, ‘Hey, does he stand in the pocket and do things this way,’ the guy’s had a lot of success. We can talk about, ‘Was this the best throw? Was this the most accurate throw?’ When a guy generates results, we’ve got to take that into consideration, and obviously his results have spoken highly for what he’s been able to do at Texas A&M. So I think he’s well within the means that he’s going to perform in this league, and he’ll get an opportunity to prove that here coming up.”
• Farmer sounded as if he’s more likely to trade down in the draft than trade up. He also touted the depth of this year’s class.
“I’m going to try to be resourceful,” he said. “I want to keep our resources at a premium, whether it’s trading up or down, whether it’s acquiring more picks. The No. 1 thing we want to do is improve our batting average and give ourselves more opportunities to go to bat.”
• Farmer declined to directly comment on the future of quarterback Brandon Weeden. Still, he also didn’t sound as if he’ll keep Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in the 2012 draft who’s 5-15 as a starter.
Asked if Weeden can be a winning quarterback in the NFL, Farmer said, “When we grade players, we grade players on what they’ve done. … So we have a grade on Brandon. We know what that grade is, and in time, his agent and he will both know where we stand.”
• When asked if he and the new coaching staff have decided to try to re-sign center Alex Mack and strong safety T.J. Ward, Pro Bowlers who are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents March 11, Farmer said they want players who help the team win.
“Do they help us win?” Farmer said of Mack and Ward. “They have. That’s past tense.”
Ward is a logical candidate to receive the franchise tag, though Farmer declined to reveal whether he plans on franchising anyone this year. The deadline is March 3.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at http://www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.