Could the Browns trade up to draft Robert Griffin III?


Browns General Manager Tom Heckert would never say never, a phrase he usually utters at least once per news conference.


But I’m not buying what Steve Wyche of NFL.com suggested last week in his first mock draft. Wyche predicted the Browns would move from No. 4 to No. 2 on the first night of the April 26-28 NFL Draft to select the Heisman Trophy winner from Baylor.


Wyche cited “league sources” that the Browns “want” Griffin and wrote that they have the most ammunition to get him. He figured they would use the 22nd overall pick and high picks in later rounds in a deal with the St. Louis Rams to lock in their quarterback of the future.


I’m not disputing the fact that “league sources” — i.e. someone in Berea — could have told Wyche that the Browns want Griffin. But it seems more likely to me that the Browns floated the notion of trading up as a smokescreen or to drum up trade partners. They surely wouldn’t mind getting such conversation flowing, especially when they might rather trade down than up.


The 2011 draft-day trade with the Atlanta Falcons that gave them the sixth overall pick and netted the Browns that No. 22 this year was two weeks in the making. Heckert was dealing with a longtime friend in Falcons General Manager Thomas Dimitroff, like Heckert a son of a former Browns scout. Swapping picks with an NFL executive with whom Heckert doesn’t have such personal ties could require much more phone work. Browns coach Pat Shurmur spent two years with the Rams, but they have a new coach in Jeff Fisher who will exert considerable influence in personnel decisions, especially since General Manager Billy Devaney was fired along with the previous coaching staff.


There is much to love about Griffin. He’s not just a runner; he throws perhaps the best deep ball in college football. He was one of the nation’s top high school sprinters who showed off his world-class hurdling skills at Baylor. He made the Big 12 Conference honor roll six times and graduated with a degree in political science in three years. His father, Robert Sr., is retired from the military. He’s not afraid to show his quirky side, revealing his Superman socks at the Heisman ceremony.


In a conference call Thursday, ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper Jr. predicted that Griffin would go between Nos. 2 and 4, with No. 2 being in a trade. Kiper said Griffin had no chance to supplant Stanford’s Andrew Luck, whom Kiper gave his best grade at quarterback since John Elway in 1983, as the top pick. That was before Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay mentioned both Luck and Griffin as likely to be selected 1-2 in an interview with ESPN’s Hannah Storm, indicating the Colts would consider both at No. 1.


Holmgren’s needs


It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Browns could be totally smitten with Griffin and would do whatever it takes to get him.


President Mike Holmgren is entering the third year of his contract, which runs through 2014, and has to be eager to find a franchise quarterback. Especially since he and his wife, Kathy, won’t be spending the rest of their lives in Northeast Ohio with their daughters living in Seattle and Salt Lake City. The clock is ticking on Holmgren’s five-year plan.


Shurmur knows from his season with the Rams, tutoring first overall pick Sam Bradford, that selecting a quarterback in the first round doesn’t mean instant success. The Rams went 7-9 in 2010 with Shurmur as the offensive coordinator and 2-14 in 2011. The Carolina Panthers took Heisman winner Cam Newton No. 1 last April and even though Newton greatly exceeded expectations, they finished 6-10.


Holmgren might have vowed that Shurmur will be the coach for “a long time,” but Shurmur needs a top-flight quarterback and an offense that averages more than the 13.6 points per game it did in 2011 to ensure that security. Then Shurmur needs time to bring that quarterback along.


With a 4-12 record last season and just one playoff appearance since the franchise returned in 1999, the Browns are treading on thin ice with fans. Many renew their season tickets on blind trust, a belief in the law of averages and/or their penchant for tailgating.


Griffin could change all that in the few seconds it takes to turn in a draft card to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.


Steep price


But I’m still not convinced the Browns would pay the steep price required to trade up to get him.


Heckert covets picks, the more the better. The Browns have more than one draft’s worth of holes to fill. Their choices at Nos. 4, 22 and 37 in April could bring loads of help for the league’s 29th-ranked offense.


Using the draft trade value chart some general managers consult before making a deal, the Browns would have to give the Rams at least the 22nd pick and a sixth-rounder to move up from No. 4 to No. 2. That doesn’t really sound like much, but No. 22 could be a No. 1 receiver.


Perhaps Wyche’s prediction was more of a smoke signal than a smokescreen. But it goes against everything I’ve seen from Heckert to believe that he would move up to get Griffin.


With draft day more than three months away, I’m skeptical that the Browns have a shocker in store.


Marla Ridenour can be reached at mridenour@thebeaconjournal.com. Read her blog at http://marla.ohio.com/. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MarlaRidenour. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.