PHOENIX: The reporter simply said “what about the one position we always ask about,” and Browns owner Jimmy Haslam immediately knew it was time to discuss the franchise’s eternal quest for a quarterback.
“We’re continuing to work on it,” Haslam replied Monday during the NFL owners meetings at the Arizona Biltmore hotel and resort. “We have three guys on our roster who we will coach and coach hard, and we’ll continue to explore all other opportunities. [Coach Hue Jackson and head of football operations Sashi Brown are] working at it every day. The organization understands the importance.”
Haslam pointed to the signings of right guard Kevin Zeitler and center J.C. Tretter as evidence the Browns are better now than they were when the worst season in franchise history ended in January. But how much better can a 1-15 team really be if it has no answer at QB?
Haslam was mum on whether the Browns still think trading for a veteran such as New England Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo or Cincinnati Bengals backup AJ McCarron is an option.
He insisted he wouldn’t veto an attempt to sign Colin Kaepernick if Jackson and Brown wanted the polarizing free agent.
And he suggested the Browns don’t consider Brock Osweiler part of their future.
Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan are the only other QBs on the roster after the team cut Robert Griffin III and Josh McCown this offseason. Kessler went 0-8 as a rookie last season and suffered two concussions. Hogan has yet to start.
The Browns’ interest in Garoppolo is well known. The Patriots say they are intent on keeping him as insurance for megastar Tom Brady.
But Garoppolo will enter the final season of his rookie contract in the fall, the Browns have a stockpile of draft picks to offer and Brady doesn’t plan on slowing down anytime soon.
“As recently as two or three days ago, [Brady] assured me he’d be willing to play six or seven more years and at the level he performed,” Patriots owner Robert Kraft said. “There’s no one that would be happier than I, and our fan base.”
Kraft was asked if there was any scenario in which the Patriots would trade Garoppolo.
“I don’t have the right demeanor of our coach [Bill Belichick],” Kraft replied. “I charge him to handle all football matters. We’re privileged to have the greatest quarterback in the history of the game, and it looks like he’s playing pretty solid. He’s off the charts, in my opinion, and we’re lucky to have him.
“That’s the most important position on the team, needless to say. I don’t think anyone could say you have too much depth at that position. I’ve charged him to make those decisions. I’ll leave that with [Belichick].”
A reason to believe the Patriots will hang onto Garoppolo: Brady will turn 40 on Aug. 3, and Kraft said, “There’s one player at the age of 40 who had one good year — [Brett] Favre.”
Haslam said he wouldn’t discuss Garoppolo with Kraft and deferred to Brown when asked about the possibility of trading for a quarterback.
Belichick won’t attend the coaches media breakfast Tuesday because of a scouting conflict.
Jackson will participate in the interview session. Brown and chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta are also scheduled to speak to a small group of Browns beat writers Tuesday.
Cross off Kaepernick?
In an interview with NFL Network, Jackson said never say never when asked about Kaepernick but conceded the former San Francisco 49ers standout had not been part of “any discussion” among Browns brass.
Haslam added he and his co-owner and wife, Dee, “have not been involved in any conversations regarding Colin Kaepernick.”
The Browns were interested in trading for Kaepernick last year but a deal never materialized. Now he’s a free agent coming off a season in which he threw 16 touchdown passes to four interceptions but became a controversial figure for political protests in which he sat and later kneeled during the national anthem before games.
Haslam was asked if Kaepernick’s protests would preclude the Browns from pursuing him.
“Absolutely not,” Haslam said. “If football people came and recommended [him], we’d go with the football people.”
What about a new guy?
Unless a blockbuster deal for Garoppolo or McCarron surfaces, all signs point to the Browns drafting a quarterback early. They’re expected to use the No. 1 overall pick on Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett on April 27, but they could still use the 12th selection on a QB.
They acquired Osweiler three weeks ago in a trade with the Houston Texans, but the Browns executed the deal for a 2018 second-round pick, not the QB. They sent that message loud and clear when the trade became official March 9, and their stance hasn’t changed.
“We’re excited to get the second-round pick,” Haslam said. “We now have eight first- or second-round picks in the next two years. We’re excited about that. Brock’s on our roster, and as long as he’s on our roster, we’re going to coach him hard. With the way the [collective bargaining agreement] works, we can’t talk to these guys right now. So we really have had almost no contact with him and won’t until players report [for the offseason workout program] April 17.”
The Texans traded Osweiler because the Browns were armed with more than $100 million in salary-cap space and willing to absorb the $16 million guaranteed on his contract.
Now the Browns would like to trade him. If they can’t, they’ll likely cut him.
“We picked up a second-round pick,” Haslam said. “Brock could be on our team or we could trade him. There’s lots of options out there.”
On NFL Network, Jackson said Osweiler is “a player on our team and we’re going to treat him just like we do all of our other quarterbacks until he’s not. He’s a guy that’s gonna come in and compete. We haven’t had an opportunity to meet with him from a football standpoint because of the rules. But once we start our offseason program, phase one, we’ll get a chance to know him, and he’ll get to know us.”
That sounds eerily similar to what Jackson said March 2 about Griffin at the combine.
“Obviously, Robert’s on our roster right now,” Jackson said then. “I think there are some things that he did well, some things he needs to continue to improve at, and we’re going to keep working with him until we don’t. He’s one of the three quarterbacks on our football team right now, and I’m very fortunate we do have some guys under contract right now to work with, but we’ve got to continue to get him better as he moves forward.”
The Browns cut Griffin on March 10.
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.