PHOENIX: The Browns are still not focused on drafting a quarterback sixth overall next month, but Geno Smith will have an opportunity to urge them to reconsider their strategy.
The Browns have arranged a private workout with Smith, the top-rated quarterback in this year’s draft class. Smith, 22, got off to a scorching start last year for West Virginia University but fizzled in the second half of the season. He finished with a completion percentage of 71.2 (369-of-518), 4,205 passing yards, 42 touchdown passes and six interceptions.
The Browns attended Smith’s pro day last week in Morgantown, W.Va., and want to study him more. They’ll continue to examine all the top prospects in the draft, which runs April 25-27, and eventually bring 30 of them to their headquarters in Berea for official visits.
“We want to make sure we’re thorough about every single thing we’re looking at,” Browns CEO Joe Banner said Monday during an interview at the NFL owners meeting. “There’s no more important position than quarterback, and our focus [is] on getting as strong as we can with players that will be here for a long time at what we define to be the key positions. I don’t want to look back and feel like we didn’t do our full due diligence on a player that there’s a variety of opinions on, frankly.”
The new regime has vowed to create competition for incumbent starting quarterback Brandon Weeden, 29, but has yet to land an adversary via free agency, which began March 12. Still, Banner said nabbing one with the top selection is not the Browns’ primary mission, though he didn’t rule it out, either.
“It’s not the focus, and I don’t think that’s going to change, which is different than saying there’s no chance we’d pick one high or in the middle or late,” Banner said. “Wherever you feel you get value and a focus, wherever possible, without forcing it on positions that makes the biggest impact, always leaves quarterbacks in the conversation. Even when you have good quarterbacks, if you saw an opportunity to pick up another one, they tend to turn into very valuable assets. But it isn’t the focus of what our plan will be.”
Of course, competition for Weeden, the 22nd overall pick in last year’s draft, could still be acquired before the draft.
The Tennessee Titans released Matt Hasselbeck on Monday, and ESPN’s Chris Mortensen reported that the Browns were among the teams interested in him. But Hasselbeck, a three-time Pro Bowl selection, has already entered discussions with the Indianapolis Colts and could sign soon, USA Today reported shortly after the Titans announced the move. The Titans, meanwhile, agreed to a two-year deal with former Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
The Browns and New York Jets are in the mix for free-agent quarterback Jason Campbell, Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports reported. There’s also a chance the Chicago Bears could re-sign Campbell, 31, according to the report.
The Boston Herald reported last week that the Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers inquired about trading for New England Patriots backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, and Banner declined to comment on the subject. Mallett, 24, has been linked to the Browns since December partly because of the close relationship between Patriots coach Bill Belichick and Browns General Manager Mike Lombardi.
Banner complimented backup quarterback Colt McCoy for his effort, leadership and improvement. However, Banner made it clear he’s not convinced McCoy is “the answer, either.”
When pressed on whether McCoy would get a legitimate shot at starting, Banner said, “Whoever’s there is going to be given a fair chance, a fair number of reps to prove where they’re at.”
In other words, the Browns are still looking for ingredients to cook up competition.
Banner also touched on several other topics related to free agency and the draft.
Banner confirmed that the Browns hosted free-agent cornerback Brent Grimes on Saturday. Grimes missed virtually all of this past season after suffering a torn Achilles’ tendon in Week 1. He also visited the Miami Dolphins, and the Atlanta Falcons reportedly would like to re-sign him. He left Cleveland without a contract offer.
“We enjoyed meeting him,” Banner said. “He obviously has other teams interested in him and a place he’s played a long time. We’ll see how it goes. He’s not 100 percent [healthy], but we felt good about the time we spent with him and the physical evaluation as well.”
The Browns have also expressed interest in Chris Owens, who played nickel cornerback for the Falcons this past season, the Plain Dealer reported. The 5-foot-9, 180-pound Owens, 26, compiled 22 tackles, four passes defensed and a forced fumble in 13 games last season.
The Browns need two cornerbacks — a starter opposite Joe Haden and somebody who can cover slot receivers in the nickel package.
“The corner market is a market we’ve been evaluating, and we’re still evaluating,” Banner said.
Mum on tight ends
Banner avoided commenting on reports about the Browns being interested in free-agent tight ends Fred Davis and Kellen Davis.
“We’re in a lot of different markets where we think there are players that can help us,” Banner said. “That just really covers all of the specifics.”
Benjamin Watson, the Browns’ starting tight end for the past three seasons, signed with the New Orleans Saints on Monday, the team announced. The Browns didn’t re-sign Watson, 32, because they view him as a short-term solution, and they’re trying to build sustainability.
Likely staying put
The Browns still only have six draft picks because they were not awarded a compensatory selection Monday. Banner said the team would “certainly be very reluctant to trade any picks.” He also said the Browns’ absence of a second-round pick, which was used to nab wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft last summer, kept them from pursing restricted free agents who received second-round tenders.
“Probably wouldn’t have done anything anyway,” Banner said. “But it eliminated even the discussion.”
Banner reiterated that his history says he’s more willing to trade down than up.
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.