BEREA: The new regime used its first NFL Draft since taking control of the Browns to trade for wide receiver Davone Bess, bolster its defense and stockpile picks for the future without adding a quarterback to the mix.
Browns CEO Joe Banner and Co. entered the draft with seven selections but ended it with only five players picked after trading a fourth-round choice (No. 111) to the Pittsburgh Steelers in exchange for a third-round pick next year and sending a fifth-round selection (No. 139) to the Indianapolis Colts in return for a fourth-round choice next year.
Those two trades prevented the Browns from making a pick for the first four hours of the third and final day of the draft. They also resulted in the franchise picking just two players — Louisiana State University outside linebacker Barkevious Mingo (first round, No. 6 overall) and San Diego State cornerback Leon McFadden (second round, No. 68) — in the first 174 picks.
Banner, though, rejected the idea the organization is throwing in the towel for the upcoming season and looking ahead to next year by forgoing opportunities to add to the current roster and fill pressing needs. He pointed out that the Browns swapped picks with the Miami Dolphins on Friday to acquire Bess, who passed his physical Saturday and signed a three-year contract extension that secures him through the 2016 season, and the organization counts wide receiver Josh Gordon — a second-round pick in last summer’s supplemental draft — as part of its haul.
“Listen, we’re not asking for a free pass for this year,” Banner said. “We expect to improve. We expect it to be conspicuous. … We’re not saying that we don’t expect to be better. We’re not going to reach all of our goals or fill all of our needs this year. But we think we’ll play exciting, aggressive football. I think it’ll be clear that the team is continuing to improve, as I think it has for the last year or two, and positioning itself well to have a chance to become very good and sustain it.”
Once the Browns stopped wheeling and dealing and started picking about 4 p.m. Saturday, they selected Notre Dame safety Jamoris Slaughter (sixth round, No. 175), East Central defensive end/outside linebacker Armonty Bryant (seventh round, No. 217) and Chadron State offensive lineman Garrett Gilkey (seventh round, No. 227).
Perhaps more noteworthy is who the Browns didn’t nab.
Despite rampant speculation the team would draft a quarterback to add to its competition, it stood pat at the position. Brandon Weeden remains penciled in as the starter with veteran Jason Campbell, who signed with the Browns in March, expected to push him this offseason.
“As far as the guys that are here, I want to see, and we want to give them every opportunity to improve,” Browns coach Rob Chudzinski said. “They have ability. We’re excited about them as players to see them grow and see how they progress in the system. And we feel good about the group that we have.
“I’m excited about Brandon, and I’m excited about the progress he’s made thus far and learning the system, to the point we are right now, which is still very early. And I’ve also been pleased with Jason and the role he’s taken in being there. And we want to give these guys every opportunity to succeed, and give Brandon, specifically, since you’re asking about him, every opportunity to succeed.”
It looked as if Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib, who many analysts projected as a first- or second-round pick, would be available for the Browns in the fourth round at No. 111. However, the New York Giants traded with the Arizona Cardinals to move up to No. 110 and nab Nassib.
The Browns then traded pick No. 111, but Banner insisted the move wasn’t related to Nassib coming off the board.
“That trade had nothing to do with it,” Banner said. “It was made on our own board and our value.”
Either way, the Browns traded with the archrival Steelers for the first time since 1968. Some teams consider trading within the division taboo.
“I prefer trading within the division,” Banner said. “You don’t make a trade you don’t think you’re winning, so if you’re winning a trade within your own division, you’re even better than winning a trade in another division. … We’re not afraid at all of making the trade in the division if we think it benefits us.”
And even though the Browns didn’t pick a quarterback, the rumblings about them possibly acquiring one were not silenced. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported the Arizona Cardinals are open to trading backup quarterback Brian Hoyer, and the Browns are interested.
“Quarterback’s an important position,” Banner said. “We’re always going to be open to looking at the position. We’re always going to be evaluating everybody and every option there is to get stronger there just as a matter of organizational philosophy.”
Banner said new owner Jimmy Haslam, whose family business, Pilot Flying J, is the target of a federal investigation, was “actively involved” in the draft.
“He just uplifts the energy around him,” Banner said. “He’s just a very positive, happy guy.”
It remains to be seen whether Haslam will be happy when he reflects on this draft in a few years.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at https://ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/browns.abj.