BEREA: General Manager Ray Farmer is facing arguably the biggest Browns draft since 1978, when they selected linebacker Clay Matthews and hall of fame tight end Ozzie Newsome in the first round.
With 10 picks, including Nos. 4, 26 and 35, May 8-10 will undoubtedly be the most important three days in the history of the expansion franchise.
As he addressed the media Monday, Farmer had every reason to be quaking in his neatly pressed button-down.
Hired on Feb. 11, Farmer will have less than three months on the job when he makes the decisions that will try to erase 15 years of futility. That includes attempting to end the search for the quarterback of the future.
Farmer is 39 years old, the second-youngest GM in the league. He has final say on the 53-man roster and reports directly to owner Jimmy Haslam, which means his tenure could be short. In his first 16 months, Haslam fired a CEO, a GM and a coach.
But during his pre-draft news conference Monday in Berea, Farmer was the most relaxed, most talkative and most engaging he’s been during his tenure.
A former Philadelphia Eagles linebacker, Farmer seemed not only eager to take on all comers during the three days of the draft, he seemed ready for a rampage reminiscent of the Indianapolis Colts’ Chip Banks’ four-sack attack on Bernie Kosar.
Of course, there is still plenty of time to panic.
Farmer’s people skills were on full display. He addressed some of his questioners by name, sorting out those who lobbied to get his attention. It was easy to envision the friendly conversations he said he would have with every general manager in the week before the draft, including eight to 10 in the 24 hours prior to its 8 p.m. start.
Farmer didn’t avoid praising the draft’s top players. He didn’t try to convince everyone how smart he is. He didn’t give away pertinent details — like how many players he’s in love with — but offered general scenarios to try to explain his philosophy.
One of his best came when discussing the possibility of trading down from No. 4.
“If blue players are considered the elite players in the draft, below blue there’s red, is one blue player worth two reds?” Farmer said. “It’s a great question. I would tell you it depends on what positions they play.”
Farmer didn’t seem too wrapped up in Teddy Bridgewater’s poor pro day or Jadeveon Clowney’s suspect work ethic, writing much of that talk off as pre-draft smokescreens. He seemed more enthused that Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack had the game of his life against Ohio State, preferring players who can handle the big stage.
Farmer has worked in the NFL since 2002, when he was hired by the Atlanta Falcons. He’s only the second Browns general manager to play in the NFL, joining Dwight Clark, and those aren’t footsteps in which he wants to follow. Farmer honed his talent evaluation skills scouting pro players, not collegians, for the Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs. That included studying the Canadian Football League and lesser levels.
He now has his dream job with one of four teams that have never been to the Super Bowl. He’s served as an assistant GM for only one season, that last year under since-fired CEO Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi. There are plenty of reasons for Farmer to be overwhelmed.
“I wouldn’t say it’s overwhelming,” he said. “It’s interesting from my perspective that everybody is so juiced about the NFL Draft. This is bigger than a lot of sporting events. Nobody’s playing anything, but yet everybody’s fired up to see what happens … and rightfully so. This will be Christmas in May.”
Farmer hasn’t been in Northeast Ohio long enough to realize that since the 1980s, Christmas in May is all Browns fans have had to live for. It will take every ounce of Farmer’s people skills and football acumen to make the franchise relevant on Dec. 25.
With the demeanor he projected Monday, it seemed possible that the final month of the season could actually mean something. But for that to happen, Farmer will have to be as calm and as in control during his first draft as he was 10 days before it.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.