BEREA — CEO Joe Banner has said the Browns will give quarterback Brandon Weeden the opportunity to succeed in 2013. Coach Rob Chudzinski said Weeden impressed him in this week’s three-day minicamp with his intelligence, desire and work ethic.
Yet the Browns will work out Florida State quarterback EJ Manuel on Saturday and have already worked out the other top quarterbacks available in the NFL Draft that begins Thursday night. Why are they spending so much time and money evaluating the quarterbacks if they already have a starter?
“You have to prepare yourself for any possibility,” Banner said Thursday during a predraft news conference with general manager Michael Lombardi. “You don’t want to under-evaluate probably what everybody would agree is the most important position on the field. We are just trying to be very thorough about everything.
“There are quarterbacks in this draft who are intriguing and we will have make an evaluation between now and next Thursday just how intriguing. Other teams will be doing the same thing, so you will see what’s available where. But we are not going in it with a focus other than to continue to build the team, especially at the key positions that we think really good teams are strong at.”
Banner said at the scouting combine that quarterback wasn’t the focus at No. 6.
Banner and Lombardi met with the media for about 28 minutes. No secrets were divulged and Lombardi was brief and looked disinterested.
Besides quarterback, the possibility of a trade down from the No. 6 pick was the most popular topic. Banner said at the combine he’d like to pick up a second-round draft choice after the Browns used theirs to take receiver Josh Gordon in the supplemental draft in July.
“If we think trading back or up produces better value, we have to do it,” Banner said. “If you made the priority filling in a hole that existed, you might not get the fair-market value you’re looking for in a trade.”
Banner said the Browns will talk to most, if not all, teams before the draft to gauge trade interest. Discussions have started without specifics, but he said it’s “highly likely” a deal wouldn’t be done until a team’s on the clock to pick.
“We’ve had those kind of feel-each-other-out type of conversations,” Banner said. “I think there are teams interested in moving up, but there are also teams interested in moving down. So how that fits together, I know it’s only a week away, but it’s too early to have any idea of that. But I think there are teams in both directions interested in possibly moving depending on what players are there.”
Banner said the team has a first-round grade on 18-20 players and they would be able to get one at any point in the first round, so there might not be a limit to how far they would trade down. Banner said he wouldn’t be disappointed if he wasn’t able to move down.
“I’d only be disappointed if we made a pick that we didn’t all feel really great about and I don’t view that as even a possibility the way our board sets up,” he said.
In order for the Browns to find a trade partner who wants No. 6, the other team must covet a player. Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner and West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith are the most likely targets to be available and spark a deal.
Smith has also been connected to the Browns by many members of the national media, who have predicted the Browns will take Smith at No. 6 or at 11 after a trade with San Diego.
Lombardi was asked if any quarterback in the draft is worth the sixth pick. There doesn’t appear to be a can’t-miss prospect like Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III seemed to be last year.
“I think in every draft there are questions with every player,” Lombardi said. “Even last year, everybody looks back on it now, everybody had questions. You just try to process and make the right determination based on your grading system.”
Lombardi was critical of Weeden last season as an analyst for NFL Network. He didn’t comment on Weeden during his introductory news conference in January and was asked Thursday for his opinion of Weeden’s minicamp performance.
“I’ve been really busy,” he said. “I’m really studying on the draft at this point and watching the tape of the practice.”
Lombardi echoed Banner’s belief that quarterbacks always must be studied before a draft.
“It’s the draft, you have to know all the quarterbacks,” Lombardi said. “I think you have to work out every player in the draft. You better know ’em, because they’re all available.”
Banner said he, Lombardi, assistant GM Ray Farmer and Chudzinski will be the four main decision-makers, with owner Jimmy Haslam also in the room. Banner and Lombardi continue to insist they will find consensus rather than someone having final say on a pick.
“If we had a player that four of us were evaluating and two of us liked him and two of us didn’t, there’s going to be some other players that three or four of us like,” he said. “As opposed to someone breaking the tie, we’re likely to move to the player that all of us like as opposed to picking someone we’re somewhat ambivalent about. That’s why we’re pushing this collaborative thing.”
Milliner and Oregon outside linebacker Dion Jordan had surgery to repair torn labrums after the combine. Both are in play at No. 6.
“As long as the doctors are telling us it’s going to be fine, it won’t be a factor,” Banner said.
Despite signing free-agent outside linebacker Paul Kruger and Quentin Groves, the Browns remain in the market for a pass rusher.
“I think it’s a really good draft for edge rushers,” Lombardi said. “Like in most drafts, there’s always guys that can rush the passer and I think this draft has several guys that can do that.”