The Cleveland Browns are once again set up in the NFL draft with a bunch of picks this year, and a bunch more next year. But are they set up for failure again?
ESPN’s Adam Schefter had back-to-back reports Tuesday night that were eye-openers as the Browns prepare to make the first pick in the 2017 NFL draft, followed by many more:
Just had an NFL exec tell me, "Don't be surprised if Myles Garrett isn't the No. 1 pick." Exec convinced a QB is in discussion at No. 1.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 12, 2017
Cleveland has not made up its mind at No. 1, per source. Split opinions. Some like Myles Garrett, some like Mitchell Trubisky. We will see.
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) April 12, 2017
Those tweets were about seven minutes apart. Just enough time — we suspect — for someone in the Browns organization (they all follow Schefter) to read it, text him some context and for Schefter to tweet out the follow-up.
And so it cast one of two possible views of the Browns: Either they’re trying to trade the top pick or they’re a team that’s in true gridlock almost two weeks prior to the draft. There’s a lot to unpack here to try to figure out which it might be.
First, let’s start with what Browns head coach Hue Jackson said at the NFL owners meetings. Flat out he said the Browns were not trading the first pick. Jackson said the Browns would do “anything and everything” to add a quality quarterback to the roster — anything and everything short of dealing No. 1, that is. Let’s work under the assumption that’s true — for the moment.
If so, they’re at true loggerheads over Myles Garrett and Mitchell Trubisky, Shutdown Corner’s No. 16 overall prospect in the draft. (We have yet to roll out the Garrett draft profile, but here’s a teaser: He’s ranked first overall.)
Although it’s probably not a great sign they’re split on this by this point, there is a solution: Draft both. They easily can pull it off. The San Francisco 49ers certainly want to move down from the No. 2 overall pick and might be willing to go all the way to No. 12, the Browns’ next selection, if there’s enough else in return. The 49ers are building back up from scratch and they don’t appear to love the offerings at 2.
Maybe there’s another team — the Tennessee Titans at 5, perhaps — who might want to deal. The Titans and Browns got together on a trade on Draft Day last year involving the 8th and 16th picks, respectively, and this might require a similar return on a 5-to-12 deal.
The Browns have the picks. They own five of the first 65 picks this year, plus six more on Day 3. They also have a whopping 11 picks in 2018 — extra selections in Round 2 (three total second-rounders), Round 4 and Round 6. What in the heck are they waiting for, a rainy day? Use the picks to move up if you have people believing so strongly in both Garrett and Trubisky.
The Browns can’t afford to pass on another top quarterback, and their defense is still a hot mess. They were one of the youngest teams in the league last season, at one point with more than 20 rookies and second-year players on the 53-man roster. Do they really want to get even younger with all those picks? Trading a few of them won’t hurt.
If the Browns don’t show some kind of promise next year, it could be another nuclear franchise shift and both Jackson and the front office could be toast. Yes, environmentalists will tell you that forest fires actually are good things — but not every two or three years. At some point, you have to let the damned thing grow. Why not give it a little fertilizer, yeah?
But that leads us back to Jackson. Are he and the front office — the quite unorthodox one, we’ll remind you — in lockstep? As Bill Belichick and other successful coaches and leaders have said in the past, you don’t (and shouldn’t) have to agree on every key decision. There should be healthy debate, and filling a team with “yes men” is a big no-no. But do Jackson and the Sashi Brown/Paul DePodesta front office share a vision?
Jackson has said very strongly, without actually saying it, that he believes Garrett is worth the top pick. So we know where he stands. It would appear that this analytics-steeped group running the scouting department might be the ones that disagree, or at least that they don’t believe landing their quarterback of choice is possible at 12 or that trading up would be worth it.
There was a subtle moment at the 2017 NFL scouting combine that raised our eyebrows slightly and made us feel like the old-school Jackson and the new-school front office might not be very much in lockstep on what they seek in players. Asked about Trubisky measuring in taller than 6-foot-2, Jackson — who often is pretty guarded in front of the media — offered this interesting nugget: “I think that’s great. It’s good that he’s over 6-2. We all have a profile for what we like a quarterback to be, and I think you kind of work through that. I like a guy that’s a little taller, and he is over 6-2 so that’s great for him.”
So it’s very likely then that Jackson was not completely on board with the third-round selection of USC’s Cody Kessler, who measured in a shade taller than 6-1. In the grand scheme, does 3/4 of an inch suggest there’s an expansive divide between Jackson and the front office philosophically. No, but it does indicate they favor different things.
That’s a tricky thing to navigate, and the Browns’ growing pains have been obvious over the past year and some change. They now have the next two weeks to find a solution everyone can live with. April 27-29 will be an absolutely crucial year for setting the course of the franchise that has been adrift for most of the past three decades. Figure it out now or risk being lost at sea for another five years or more.
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