PHOENIX: If the Browns have it their way, they’ll trade for a veteran quarterback this offseason and keep the No. 1 overall draft pick instead of moving down next month.
Those were the messages delivered by members of the organization, including head of football operations Sashi Brown, this week during the NFL owners meetings.
Coach Hue Jackson made it clear he hopes the Browns can still pull a rabbit out of their hat in the form of a trade for a veteran quarterback like New England Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo or Cincinnati Bengals backup AJ McCarron.
“I hope for rabbits, no doubt,” Brown said Tuesday night at the Arizona Biltmore hotel and resort. “But unfortunately, no hat and no rabbit. Listen, I think we’ve shown we want to be aggressive, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that something’s going to get done. We don’t want to force things just to have things happen, but we are going to stay aggressive.
“We’re going to stay aggressive at quarterback, as we will all positions. But we also know one player is not going to change things. Finding a starting quarterback, whether he’s on our roster and develops or we go out and acquire one, will help things dramatically. But we’re going to take it step by step here and see what opportunities present themselves.”
The Patriots are intent on keeping Garoppolo. The Bengals, on the other hand, have at least publicly flirted with the idea of dealing McCarron.
On Wednesday, Bengals owner Mike Brown told his team’s website and the Cincinnati Enquirer he would listen to trade offers for McCarron, even from the Browns.
“Trading within the division, that is included in the calculation of the price,” he said via the Enquirer.
Mike Brown added he has a “steep price” for McCarron.
“We like McCarron. He fits us,” Mike Brown said via his team’s website. “Last year, a handful of front-line quarterbacks — and this is the case every year — went down. Well, you need somebody to step up when that happens. McCarron, we already know can do that. We are in better position at the quarterback position than almost every team in the league.”
As for the No. 1 overall pick, neither Sashi Brown nor Jackson ruled out trading down from the top spot, but Jackson flat out said he wouldn’t like to do so.
“We will always listen if teams want to call us,” Brown said. “I think that’s our M.O. But we do feel good about some of the players that are going to be available at the top of the draft. We haven’t made our decision yet, but we have a number of players that we feel like can really help us there. But we do know there will be a couple teams that are going to be interested in talking to us about that pick.”
The Browns will likely select Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett at No. 1, even though Brown said there is more than one player the organization is considering with the top pick.
“Obviously, we recognize Myles’ talent,” Brown said. “Wouldn’t comment on [whether he’s the front-runner to become the first pick].”
Chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta explained why the Browns are inclined to draft players early this year as opposed to 2016, when they traded down from No. 2 overall to No. 8, then from No. 8 to No. 15, where they picked wide receiver Corey Coleman.
“A handful of people at the meetings in the last couple days have mentioned that they’re really envious of all of our picks,” DePodesta said. “I think our response is, ‘We’re envious of some of your players.’ At some point, we need to turn those assets into players. That’s been the goal all along.
“Last year, it was, ‘Hey, we need to do everything we can to completely rebuild the foundation of this organization,’ and almost all of the decisions we made last offseason contributed to that. This year, I think, even going back into the season, I think we were already shifting into a different phase. We traded [a third-round compensatory pick] for [linebacker] Jamie Collins. It was probably the first major shift that, ‘Oh, wait. We’re adding something to this team as opposed to just letting players go.’
“Certainly retaining him, being able to re-sign [left guard] Joel Bitonio, signing free agents this year, now we’re clearly building toward something as opposed to last year. I think we were first sort of clearing the deck and then wanting to build. But now we feel like we have the beginning of a foundation in place and a core group of players, and now our mission is to continue to build that out.”
Everyone knows there is no piece more important than a quarterback.
Nate Ulrich can be reached at email@example.com. 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.