This was supposed to be a thrilling weekend for Jimmy Haslam. He would sit in the draft room for the first time as owner, then hand the first-round pick a jersey and introduce him as the newest Cleveland Brown.
Haslam is still expected to be at Browns headquarters tonight, but he likely won’t set foot in front of the cameras and his mood can’t possibly be the same. His family company, Pilot Flying J, is under investigation from the FBI and IRS and Haslam has spent the past week hearing about an alleged fraud scheme and getting yelled at by trucking company customers.
He can’t help but be distracted.
But the NFL doesn’t stop for anyone. The draft begins tonight at 8 and the Browns are scheduled to be on the clock about an hour later with the No. 6 pick.
Whom they will take is a matter of much conjecture – and could even be a quarterback to replace Brandon Weeden. A trade is possible up or down, and drama seems a sure thing.
Much of the uncertainty comes from the unknown that is the new front office.
CEO Joe Banner will run a draft room for the first time, and general manager Michael Lombardi is the head of the personnel department after five years at NFL Network. They will be joined at the head table by Haslam, assistant GM Ray Farmer and first-year coach Rob Chudzinski.
This group has never worked together for something as volatile and pivotal as the draft. Yet everyone insists a consensus will be reached before making the selections.
“I think we’ve been clear about the collaborative effort,” Lombardi said. “In most instances in most every situation that’s the best way to handle it because it takes more than one person to make a decision.”
The philosophy will be tested early.
The Browns would seem to desire a trade down from No. 6 to acquire extra picks, including the second-rounder spent on receiver Josh Gordon in last year’s supplemental draft. Their ability to find a trade partner will be dependent on a team coveting a player enough to move up and willing to part with the picks the Browns want.
If Oklahoma left tackle Lane Johnson is still available, San Diego (No. 11) or Miami (No. 12) could make a play to jump ahead of Arizona at No. 7. Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner could draw similar interest.
If the Browns remain at six, things get messier. Nothing’s been uglier than the quarterback carousel in Cleveland.
Would the new regime give it another spin by taking West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, who some analysts say doesn’t belong in the first round? Chudzinski and coordinator Norv Turner like Weeden, but Lombardi criticized him on TV last season.
The pick of Smith would likely be followed by a trade of Weeden for a low-round pick after only one season as the starter. Smith has been linked to the Browns in league circles, and the Browns spent a lot of time and money working out Smith and the other top quarterbacks in recent weeks.
“You don’t want to under-evaluate probably what everybody would agree is the most important position on the field,” Banner said. “We are just trying to be very thorough about everything.”
NFL Network’s Mike Mayock has the Browns picking Smith at No. 6 in his mock draft.
“When I look at Geno, I see a kid who’s got everything you want to see in a franchise quarterback, but there’s just too much bad tape,” Mayock said. “I would not take him this early; I would go for an edge (rusher) or a corner. However, I really think Joe Banner might pull the trigger on the quarterback from West Virginia.”
The larger holes appear to be on defense, where the Browns could use a starting cornerback, safety and another pass-rushing outside linebacker. Milliner is considered the top corner, with Oregon’s Dion Jordan, BYU’s Ezekiel Ansah, LSU’s Barkevious Mingo and Georgia’s Jarvis Jones options at outside linebacker in the first round.
Lombardi was asked if he values cornerback or pass rusher more.
“Can I say both?” he said.
A pass rusher could lead to a trade of Jabaal Sheard, who has 15.5 sacks in two seasons but is being asked to move from 4-3 defensive end to 3-4 outside linebacker for the first time in his life.
The scenarios are endless for the Browns over the next three days. The first round is tonight, the second and third round Friday night and the final four Saturday.
The Browns hold seven picks – none in the second but two in the fifth. They know they can’t address every weakness, but will also consider a tight end, receiver and depth on the offensive line.
For Lombardi, it’s his reintroduction into the NFL. He will team with Banner to improve a roster that’s been under reconstruction since 2009. The Browns haven’t won more than five games in a season since 2007.
“It’s about taking a good player and making sure we do that,” Lombardi said.
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