Browns Still in Play for 1st-Round Signal-Caller Despite Avoiding Pro Days

Andrea Hangst@FBALL_AndreaFeatured Columnist IVMarch 26, 2014

Johnny Manziel's pro day is Thursday, but the Browns won't be there. Ready to take him off their board? Not so fast.
Johnny Manziel's pro day is Thursday, but the Browns won't be there. Ready to take him off their board? Not so fast.Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

The Cleveland Browns have two picks in the first round of this year's NFL draft. They have just one viable, starter-caliber quarterback on the roster, Brian Hoyer, along with a longstanding problem finding a quarterback who can keep his job for more than two seasons.

Therefore, it seems like the Browns will be using one of those high picks on a quarterback this year. 

However, there are cracks in this seemingly perfect formula. Namely, the Browns not only didn't meet with any of the top quarterback prospects—considered to be Johnny Manziel, Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles—at February's scouting combine, they also are skipping their pro day workouts as well.

Head coach Mike Pettine, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains all skipped Bridgewater's pro day earlier in March, while general manager Ray Farmer was there—to meet extensively with linebacker Preston Brown.

Additionally, Pettine admitted on Tuesday to at the NFL Annual Meeting that he hasn't been to any of the quarterbacks' pro days, and that he'll also be skipping Manziel's, which is scheduled for Thursday.

Farmer won't be there either, though he was reportedly in attendance during Bortles' and Bridgewater's, though those reports are also up for debate, with the Akron Beacon Journal's Nate Ulrich reporting that, "He hasn't been to all of the workouts that media members have reported he's attended." 

Guess that means we can scratch "quarterback" off of the list of the Browns' biggest draft needs? Not so fast.

In Ulrich's piece, Farmer detailed the real reason the Browns haven't made attending the quarterbacks' pro days despite the team being linked to all four passers in the first round—that pro days simply do not matter.

Farmer said:

A pro day of orchestrated throws, I don't know what that tells you. It's a piece of it that people blow up into this great thing. I went to a lot of games and practices this fall. I've seen them throw the ball.

To translate, Farmer doesn't see value in attending a pro day, which is heavily managed and choreographed and designed to make a quarterback look as good as possible and not as he would on an NFL field. It certainly doesn't follow that this is an indication that the Browns are out of the quarterback market.

Bleacher Report's Michael Schottey asked scouts around the league whether a quarterback's performance at their pro day would influence the draft board. The answer?

The fact is, Farmer, Pettine and the rest of the Browns decision-makers aren't going to learn anything new about Manziel, Bridgewater, Carr or Bortles by going to their pro days. The work to determine where the four quarterbacks fit on the draft board was done months ago, led by Farmer, who was promoted from assistant general manager when owner Jimmy Haslam fired the incumbent Michael Lombardi.

And, further, if the Browns want to take closer looks at these quarterbacks, it should be on their own terms, in workouts of their design. Farmer, too, made this point clear on Monday:

We will have our opportunities to have private workouts. Being in charge of that workout is different than being at a pro day where it's orchestrated and scripted.

If the Browns are taking a quarterback in the first round—and that still seems to be the plan no matter how many non-answer-answers Pettine and Farmer give the media—chances are they already know who they want. Suggestions of anything else are simply feeding into the typical predraft subterfuge every team employs this time of year. 

The only people being noncommittal about the Browns' potential draft plans are the Browns themselves. This doesn't mean they are still considering their options—or that they aren't. There's no chance that Pettine, Farmer or anyone in the organization is going to tip their hands. But there is a plan in place.

There is a competitive advantage at stake here, and the Browns cannot afford to fail at drafting the players they want in deference to a hungry media and fanbase who all want to know, right now, exactly what they have planned for May. 

Mike Pettine had nothing but praise for the four quarterbacks thought to be in play for the Browns.
Mike Pettine had nothing but praise for the four quarterbacks thought to be in play for the Browns.Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports

What we know is that Pettine shrewdly praised all four quarterbacks. According to Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Pettine said Carr is the "best natural thrower in the draft," Manziel is "a gifted playmaker," Bridgewater is "NFL-ready, extremely accurate," and on Bortles, "If you draw me an NFL quarterback, that's probably who you'd draw."

In the same breath, Pettine also added the Browns could draft two quarterbacks. He also noted that they could take one in a later round and still start him, citing Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, a third-round pick, as an example. 

It's hard to draw any conclusions from what Pettine and Farmer have said over the past few days, and that's just how they want it. This dog-and-pony show isn't for our benefit—it's a way to get rival franchises off their trail. It happens every year.

So it's best not to read too far into the fact that Pettine and Farmer have no interest in attending pro days or conducting brief scouting combine meetings with the four quarterbacks. "Reading too far into" might, in fact, be the cardinal sin of the predraft period. Everything that is being said is just as orchestrated as the pro days that Farmer dismissed as valueless. 

The Browns are still very much in the quarterback market. Occam's razor dictates that "the simplest explanation is usually the right one." We're the ones letting the question of the Browns' first-round draft plans get complicated, and Pettine and Farmer are spearheading that confusion, for tactical reasons.

But remove the noise, and one thing remains: The Browns need to add a quarterback and have a great opportunity to do just that, having in their possession the fourth overall pick in the draft. It doesn't take much work to connect the dots, and regardless of we've heard over the past few days, nothing has emerged to disconnect them.


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