BEREA —In the span of a few minutes Thursday, Browns president Mike Holmgren discounted the chances of trading up to No. 1 to draft Oklahoma quar-terback Sam Bradford and opened the door to taking Notre Dame’s Jimmy Clausen.
But in the homestretch of what former general man-ager Phil Savage called the “silly season,” nothing can be taken at face-value. And Holmgren admitted misdirection is a staple of his playbook.
“Prior to any draft, I’ll say any number of things for any number of reasons,” he said.
The three-day NFL Draft begins Thursday night, and the Browns hold the No. 7 pick. Holmgren was hired in January to transform the franchise, and that included fixing the quarterback situation. He dumped Derek Anderson and Brady Quinn, signed Jake Delhomme and traded for Seneca Wallace.
The next step is finding a quarterback of the future.
Holmgren said he believes Bradford is by far the best quarterback in the draft, but it’s unrealistic for the Browns to give up what it will require for the St. Louis Rams to part with the first pick. The Browns would likely have to trade at least the seventh pick, their second-rounder (No. 38) and a first-rounder in 2011.
“So the fans don’t get … I don’t want everyone to … then pull the rug out from everybody in our first draft,” Holmgren said at a predraft news conference. “He’s a coveted young man. To be able to go up and change somebody’s mind ahead of us, you’d have to mortgage the ranch.
“Absolutely we love the player as do a lot of people. But in the real world, we’re probably going to go in a different direction there.”
General manager Tom Heckert said he’s been in contact with the Rams —and played “a little phone tag” — but nothing more than preliminary talks.
When Florida’s Tim Tebow and Texas’ Colt McCoy are added to the mix, this draft holds many big-name options at quarterback. Holmgren said Bradford is the clear No. 1.
“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but from my point of view, he’s the whole package and whoever gets him is going to be a lucky team,” he said.
Clausen is widely considered the second-best quarterback, but opinions vary greatly. Some believe he’s worthy of a top-10 pick, others give him a second-round grade. Holmgren made headlines last month at the owners meetings when he said, “I wish I liked him better.”
He backtracked Thurs-day.
“I would not read too much into that statement,” Holmgren said. “It won’t be the last time or the last draft when I say something. I have my reasons and I have to leave it at that.”
When Clausen visited Berea recently —Bradford was the only one of the top four who didn’t, because of scheduling conflicts —Holmgren explained it to him.
“It was important that he and I talk about that in case he misunderstood or in case he wanted to know exactly what I was trying to do,” he said. “We had a very good conversation. He’s a fine young guy, and he’s a good football player.”
Holmgren said Clausen fits everything he’s looking for in a quarterback: the physical ability to throw the ball, football intelligence, coachability, movement.
“He can play the position,” Holmgren said. “As we found out, he was playing hurt (toe) a good portion of the year. That tells you a lot about a player. He’s impressive.
“He is what he is, what you see on film. He’s a good player.”
Clausen has taken a hit with some NFL scouts for his personality. His leadership, attitude and maturity have been questioned, but Holmgren said he liked him.
“There’s stuff being said about all these guys,” Heckert said. “You just have to find out for yourself what you believe, talk to the kid and talk to coaches and other players and make your own decision.”
Holmgren likes to take a quarterback in just about every draft. In 17 years as a coach, his team drafted a quarterback 11 times, but none before the third round. Holmgren said he wants to pick one this year, but it might not be in the cards.
“There are no guarantees that way in this draft,” he said. “I’m not sure it’s going to happen, quite honestly.
“There are some people we like very much, but I don’t think we’ll be in position to get ‘em. I think they’re going to be gone. You couple that with the fact that there are other needs on the football team. I don’t think we’re in panic mode at the quarterback position this year. I think we can play the game. We have to be smart how we do it. The quarterback situa-tion is going to be very interesting in this draft.”
Heckert, Holmgren and coach Eric Mangini are working together on a draft for the first time. Heckert said moving up to take Bradford won’t make or break the draft.
“It’s not like if we don’t do that it would make our draft any less productive,” he said. “We’re going to get a good football player. There is no doubt about that.
“We could move up for somebody else. We could go back. There are a zillion different scenarios we talk about all the time.”
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