If I were Browns General Manager Ray Farmer, I would make an aggressive push to trade up the board Thursday night in the NFL Draft for University of Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota.
After reading that, many Browns fans are probably glad I’m not Farmer.
But just put yourself in his shoes and you’ll realize the incentive he has to make a blockbuster move with the ammunition at his disposal — two picks in the first round (Nos. 12 and 19 overall) and 10 total.
On Wednesday, ESPN.com reported an unnamed source familiar with the discussions said the Browns made an offer to the Tennessee Titans that includes Nos. 12 and 19 for the second overall pick. However, a Titans source told the website the Browns had not made an offer for No. 2, and a source close to the Browns said there had been no substantive talks on such a deal.
Later Wednesday, Farmer told NFL Network he talked to Titans GM Ruston Webster by phone in the morning but didn’t discuss a specific player or trade compensation. Farmer claimed he merely asked Webster, “What are you hearing in the draft?”
Mixed signals aside, Farmer would likely need to significantly sweeten the pot to seal the deal, and there are so many reasons why he should be compelled to do so.
The Browns have been searching for a long-term solution at quarterback since 1999 and still haven’t found the answer.
In February, they signed veteran Josh McCown to a three-year, $14 million contract so he could serve as a “bridge” if needed. If McCown and some combination of Johnny Manziel, Thad Lewis and Connor Shaw starts this upcoming season with the Browns facing the ninth-toughest schedule in the league, it would be difficult to envision an improvement from last year’s 7-9 record and easy to forecast a regression. Brian Hoyer, who Farmer allowed to walk in free agency last month, was the starter for all seven wins.
Should the Browns take a step backward, Farmer’s job would be in jeopardy. Owner Jimmy Haslam could easily clean house, but I would like coach Mike Pettine’s chances of surviving another year better than Farmer’s. Especially because the GM will be suspended for the first four regular-season games of 2015 after violating league rules on texting and, thus, bringing further embarrassment to an organization routinely struggling to get out of its own way.
Farmer could buy himself time, though, if he could look Haslam in the eye and tell him, “I appeased you by drafting Manziel, but the second time around, I found our quarterback of the future in Mariota.”
Mariota should not start right away. Ideally, he would sit for an entire year behind McCown, who’s due $5.25 million guaranteed next season, because the transition from Oregon’s no-huddle, shotgun, hurry-up, spread offense to a pro-style system is daunting. Mariota sitting at length in Cleveland is probably a fantasy, but the point is he will need time to succeed.
The same can be said for Manziel, but his serious off-field issues complicate the seven-quarters-isn’t-enough-to-judge-him argument. With the personal challenges he’s facing coming off a 10-week stay in inpatient rehab, it should be considered a miracle if he ever becomes a legitimate starter, let alone lives up to the expectations placed upon him when the Browns traded up four spots to pick him 22nd overall last year.
Mariota is clean off the field and often praised for his character, so the Browns wouldn’t be burned again from that standpoint. His size (6-foot-3¾ and 222 pounds) also separates him from Manziel (5-11¾ and 210 pounds) right off the bat.
Farmer said something interesting last week in a pre-draft news conference when asked whether Manziel’s stated goal to regain trust and respect through actions, not words, would affect the second-year GM’s draft strategy.
“It doesn’t,” Farmer said. “I’ve got to make the best decision for the Cleveland Browns, not for Johnny Manziel, not for Ray Farmer.”
The quote made me ponder what would be best for Farmer. By securing Mariota, he could increase the odds of extending his tenure as a GM beyond this year. He has made some good moves in the draft and free agency, but they’re overshadowed by the texting controversy and first-round disappointments (Manziel and cornerback Justin Gilbert, the No. 8 overall pick last year). It would be difficult for Farmer to ever get another GM job if he were to go two-and-out with the Browns.
Mariota also could represent the best decision for the Browns. Farmer is a fan of Mariota and has been since the 2013 college football season. Kevin O’Connell, Mariota’s private tutor this offseason, is in place as quarterbacks coach. John DeFilippo, the Browns’ new offensive coordinator, will employ a system with West Coast roots, and during an interview last week on The Rich Eisen Show, Stanford coach David Shaw said Oregon’s offense uses several West Coast concepts, even though it’s more fast-paced and the quarterback isn’t under center.
In other words, Mariota might fit what the Browns want to do more than most people think. And his intelligence and ability to learn quickly are supposedly off the charts.
On the other hand, Mariota is a projection, and history shows trading up for a quarterback in the first round is risky. So even though I favor an assertive pursuit of the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, I wouldn’t sell the farm for him like Washington did for Robert Griffin III in 2012, when it moved from No. 6 to No. 2 by shipping three first-round picks and a second-round selection to the St. Louis Rams.
So where should the Browns draw the line? The short answer is next year’s first-round pick.
Assuming the Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston No. 1 overall like most analysts predict, Mariota will likely be selected at No. 2. The Titans could simply choose Mariota there, or they could trade with a number of teams linked to him, including the Browns, New York Jets (No. 6), Chicago Bears (No. 7), Rams (No. 10), San Diego Chargers (No. 17) and Philadelphia Eagles (No. 20).
There are ways the Browns could conceivably ascend to No. 2 without surrendering their first-round selection in 2016.
For example ...
The No. 2 pick is worth 2,600 points, according to the draft trade chart used by some teams.
If the Browns were to package Nos. 12 (1,200 points) and 19 (875) with their second-round pick, No. 43 (470), and the first of their two fourth-round choices, No. 111 (72), they would have an offer worth 2,617 points.
The deal would be palatable, in my opinion, because the Browns would receive Mariota at No. 2 and still own six more picks: third round (No. 77), fourth (No. 115), fifth (No. 147), sixth (Nos. 189 and 202) and seventh (No. 229).
If something along those lines isn’t realistic because the Titans will only budge for three first-round picks, then it’s time to move on.
The Browns have significant needs at nose tackle, wide receiver and edge rusher and would be wise to use their first three picks on those positions if the cost for Mariota is unreasonable. And if Mariota isn’t in the cards, they shouldn’t trade a first-round pick for Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford. He has suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in each of the past two years, his camp has made it abundantly clear through the media that he would avoid a contract extension with the Browns like the plague and he’s in the final year of his rookie deal.
Ultimately, I expect Farmer to make a pitch for Mariota, if he hasn’t already, but the price will likely prevent a deal from materializing between the Browns and Titans.
Of course, if the Titans stay at No. 2 and pick someone other than Mariota, the likelihood of the Browns landing him would increase. The Jets would be the next team in the draft order with a dire need for a quarterback, so perhaps Farmer would attempt to leapfrog them by trading with Washington at No. 5.
Some will be opposed to trading up for a quarterback no matter what, and the argument is valid.
Since 2000, there have been 15 quarterbacks drafted during the first round in trade-up scenarios. The Browns have done it twice, moving up to draft Brady Quinn 22nd overall in 2007 and Manziel in the same spot last year.
The list of quarterbacks, as a whole, isn’t impressive. The 15 have a combined regular-season record of 443-463-1 and are 26-16 in the playoffs. Only seven have reached the postseason, six have a winning record as a starter, four have made at least one Pro Bowl and two — Eli Manning and Joe Flacco — have won the Super Bowl. Four were picked in the top five — Manning, Michael Vick, Mark Sanchez and Griffin III — with mixed results.
No one truly knows whether Mariota would enhance the list or drag it down further in the event he joins it. But if Farmer believes Mariota can succeed, he owes it to himself and the Browns to make strong run at a monumental trade.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Browns blog at www.ohio.com/browns. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/NateUlrichABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/abj.sports.