INDIANAPOLIS — The background check on Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel isn’t clean.
And that’s just the way Browns general manager Ray Farmer likes it.
“It’s hard to think you’re going to win football games and somebody is not going to have a little bit of dirt underneath their fingernails,” Farmer said Thursday at the scouting combine. “They’re all not going to be the best people from a lot of perspectives. But we’re looking for the combination of people and talent.”
Farmer is a first-time general manager and has been on the job for less than two weeks. Each time he speaks to the media provides a glimpse into how he will build the Browns.
He spent a lot of time Thursday discussing quarterbacks and the importance of character across the roster. He said the No. 1 objective of the combine is to “truly get to the core character of the kid.”
“They all need to be as good a people as they can (be),” Farmer said. “We all have to experience some negatives and you have to turn some of those negatives into positives.
“If you think a guy has gone through life and has no blemishes, no issues, that’s a little far-fetched for me. I think the guy that has made mistakes and learned how to grow from those are really guys we should be talking with.”
Farmer wasn’t talking only about Manziel. But he’s arguably the most interesting player in the draft and is in the mix to be selected by Houston at No. 1, Jacksonville at No. 3 and the Browns at No. 4.
The assumption for months has been the Browns will draft a quarterback early. They could take whoever’s left of Manziel, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Central Florida’s Blake Bortles at No. 4 or try to trade up to secure the one they covet.
“It may not be what everybody thinks it’s going to be,” Farmer said. “There is an opportunity for some curveballs.”
The Browns have been searching for a franchise quarterback since they returned in 1999. They’ve tried a number of avenues, but haven’t drafted one in the top 20 since Tim Couch with the first pick of the expansion era. This seems like a good year to try again, but Farmer disagrees with the notion that the ideal place to find a quarterback is in the top five.
“I can’t say that’s true,” he said. “You can talk to Joe Montana, you can talk to Tom Brady, you can talk to a number of guys that were not high picks. Inevitably, you have to find one that displays the characteristics you’re looking for and then give him an opportunity to grow into that role.”
Farmer said good things about incumbent Brian Hoyer but wants to add competition. He didn’t say where that will come from, but explained what he wants in a quarterback.
“First and foremost, I’m looking for a winner,” Farmer said. “I’m looking for a guy who can help translate what we’re trying to do offensively to the field. Smarts is an interesting part of it because we all talk about guys being smart. I think it’s the ability and the quickness in which your guy can process that information.
“There’s a lot of intangibles and little nuances we look for in a guy’s performance. People will talk about arm strength, about different athletic aspects, can he move in the pocket, etc. But I truly believe that a guy being able to accurately throw the football, make quick decisions and process and throw from a crowded pocket, guys who can play in those instances are critical factors.”
NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Tuesday that Manziel got frustrated against LSU and Missouri when he was confined to the pocket and lost accuracy. Farmer was asked to evaluate Manziel (6-foot, 210 pounds) as a thrower.
“I think there are no exacts,” he said. “Everybody does it a little differently, and so regardless of the traditionalist aspects of, ‘Hey, does he stand in the pocket and do things this way?’ the guy’s had a lot of success.
“When a guy generates results, we’ve got to take that into consideration and obviously his results have spoken highly. So I think he’s well within the means that he’s going to perform in this league.”
Farmer wouldn’t say if the Browns will meet with Manziel at the combine, but he has the questions ready for when they do get together.
“What’s the first thing I will ask him? ‘How big are your feet?’” Farmer said. “Reality is I really want to find out from any player who he is, how would he define himself. What would he say is his core character makeup? What does he think of his opportunity to play in the National Football League? Is it a privilege, is it an honor, is it a right? And how does he impact his teammates and what does he bring to the table that is going to demonstrate the other guys around him can have success?”
Manziel was arrested last summer after a bar fight and charged with disorderly conduct, possession of a fake ID and failure to identify himself to police. He was suspended for half a game for signing autographs for memorabilia dealers and was also criticized for living a star’s life that included trips to Las Vegas and the NBA Finals and earned him time on TMZ.
But left tackle Jake Matthews, also expected to be a top-10 pick, defended his former Aggies teammate who said last week he’s committed to learning from his mistakes.
“I don’t consider him a me-first guy,” Matthews said of Manziel. “My whole experience with him as the quarterback was nothing but good things. He was always there for practice, always came in and worked hard. I never really had any issues with him.”
The draft is more than two months away. In that time, Farmer will attempt to get to know the real Manziel and determine whether he can be trusted with Farmer’s team.
“We spend a lot of time and a lot of resources in trying to figure out the person,” Farmer said.
Farmer touched on a number of other topics:
l He said the organization has discussed using the franchise tag on safety T.J. Ward or center Alex Mack — they’re scheduled to become free agents March 11 — but wouldn’t comment further. Farmer also wouldn’t discuss any negotiations.
l Farmer sounded more inclined to trade down than up in the draft.
“I want to keep our resources at a premium,” he said. “The No. 1 thing we want to do is improve our batting average and give ourselves more opportunities to go to bat.”
l Farmer also declined to talk about troubled receiver Davone Bess. A recent report on profootballtalk.com said the Browns plan to take the position that Bess’ guaranteed salary for 2014 was voided after he left the team for personal reasons with two games left last season and was arrested last month. Bess is scheduled to earn $3.067 million in 2014.
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