BEREA: Browns CEO Joe Banner made it clear the organization is open to trading down from the sixth overall pick in the NFL Draft and has been gauging other teams’ interest in striking a potential deal.
“We haven’t had any specific conversations about trades or what would be involved in a trade,” Banner said Thursday while flanked by General Manager Mike Lombardi during a pre-draft news conference at the team’s headquarters. “We have had conversations with teams either initiated by them or us just kind of feeling out, ‘Are you interested in going up or back or are you open to it depending upon who’s there?’ We’ve had those kind of feel-each-other-out type of conversations.”
The Browns lack a second-round selection because former General Manager Tom Heckert exercised it last summer by choosing wide receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft. Still, they could get it back Thursday night. Banner said if the Browns trade, it’s “highly likely” the deal would be made while they’re on the clock.
Several national writers and draft gurus have speculated the Browns’ new regime might try to recoup a second-round pick by trading with the San Diego Chargers or Miami Dolphins, who own the 11th and 12th overall choices, respectively. A popular theory is that the Chargers and Dolphins could trade up in hopes of landing one of the three top-rated offensive left tackle prospects — Texas A&M’s Luke Joeckel, Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher or Oklahoma’s Lane Johnson.
So how does the absence of a second-round pick influence the Browns’ level of desire to move down?
“It doesn’t change our desire to move down,” Banner said, adding the Browns have assigned first-round grades to 18 to 20 prospects. “We have to make the right decision based on the value. If we think trading back or up produces better value for something we think is important or we rated high enough, we have to do it. If you made the priority filling in a hole that existed, you might not get the fair market value you’re looking for in a trade. If we got offered something we thought made us a better team than staying where we are and picking or moving up, we’d make the trade. If we didn’t think it provided that benefit, we wouldn’t.”
When asked if he thinks the Browns will have takers for the No. 6 pick, Banner said he believes there are teams interested in moving up and down. He wouldn’t hang his head if the Browns don’t trade down.
“I’d only be disappointed if we made a pick that we didn’t all feel really great about,” Banner said. “And I don’t view that as even a possibility the way our board sets up.”
Regardless of whether the Browns stay put or trade down, there has been plenty of speculation they’ll target a quarterback early.
In previous interviews, Banner said incumbent starting quarterback Brandon Weeden will get every chance to succeed, he doesn’t expect the Browns to draft a quarterback in the first two rounds and doing so is not their focus. Weeden took all of the first-team reps this week during the team’s three-day voluntary minicamp, which wrapped up Thursday.
“I’ve seen improvement from him in these short couple days here,” coach Rob Chudzinski said. “It’s good. As long as our focus and effort remain where it has been, I feel good about the direction that we are going.”
On the other hand, the Browns have devoted plenty of time to this year’s crop of quarterback prospects. They’ve conducted private workouts with West Virginia’s Geno Smith, Syracuse’s Ryan Nassib and hosted Florida State’s EJ Manuel, Southern California’s Matt Barkley and Arizona’s Matt Scott during pre-draft visits.
So have the Browns changed their focus or have they just been doing their due diligence?
“You have to prepare yourself for any possibility,” Banner said. “You don’t want to under-evaluate probably what everybody would agree is the most important position on the field. We are just trying to be very thorough about everything. There are quarterbacks in this draft who are intriguing, and we will have made an evaluation between now and next Thursday just how intriguing.
“Other teams will be doing the same thing so you will see what’s available where. But we are not going in it with a focus other than to continue to build the team, especially at the key positions that we think really good teams are strong at and move forward that way.”
Lombardi said the Browns’ workout with Smith, the top-rated quarterback in the draft, “was fine.” He kept the vast majority of his answers brief and often avoided elaborating.
“I think you have to work out every player in the draft,” Lombardi said. “You better know them because they’re all available, you know? I think it’s important.”
The Browns did not acquire a starting-caliber cornerback to play opposite Joe Haden in free agency, and it seems to be the most glaring hole on the roster heading into the draft. Alabama’s Dee Milliner would be a logical choice if he’s available at No. 6.
“I think because of college football, there’s a lot more passing, so there’s a lot more guys that cover,” Lombardi said. “So [the cornerback class has] a lot of depth to it.”
Then again, the Browns also could use another pass-rushing outside linebacker for defensive coordinator Ray Horton’s 3-4, multifront system. Especially because they don’t know how Jabaal Sheard’s conversion from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 outside linebacker will pan out.
“I think it’s a really good draft for edge rushers,” Lombardi said.
Oregon’s Dion Jordan, Louisiana State’s Barkevious Mingo and Brigham Young’s Ezekiel “Ziggy” Ansah fit the category and are projected top-10 picks.
Some draft analysts, though, believe Ansah is better suited to play 4-3 defensive end than 3-4 outside linebacker.
“I think Ziggy’s a good player,” Lombardi said. “I’m sure he can do both.”
As for Milliner and Jordan, they’re rehabilitating from offseason shoulder surgeries for torn labrums.
“As long as the doctors are telling us it’s going to be fine, it won’t be a factor,” Banner said.
So do the Browns value cornerbacks or pass rushers more?
“Can I say both?” Lombardi said.
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.