EDITOR’S NOTE: Our man Ryan in Columbus is doing fantastic work on the Browns’ offseason, and we saw no reason to get in his way at this point. We’re working on his own platform. Till then, however…ENJOY:
I love the NFL off-season. I hate the NFL off-season. It is the best of times. It is the worst of times. There is excitement and intrigue and there are rumors. There is misdirection and deception and there are more rumors. It is the time of year where hope springs eternal and every team has a clean slate, a fresh start and where fans of the bad teams know that help is on the way via Free Agency and the Draft. It is also a time when there is no football and unless you like the NBA, March Madness or get into MLB Spring Training, it’s really somewhat of a down time of year. But there is one constant no matter whether you are a casual fan or lurk knee-deep in ‘The Sickness’… The NFL offseason, appropriately named ‘The Silly Season’, is a time for rumors and meticulous planning. The latest rumors come on the heels of the NFL Scouting Combine where an impressive performance was had by Quarterback Robert Griffin III out of Baylor. If you’ve followed Robert of “RG3” at all over the last few months, you shouldn’t have been too surprised to see him practically run through the wall and jump through the roof of Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. However, I understand that seeing is believing, and for many, it was the sight of the 4.41 in the 40 yard dash or the way he carries himself that has many fans, and presumably, many NFL front office executives, practically foaming at the mouth.
The Scouting Combine has become much more than just a way for NFL teams to get a look at future prospects over the last decade. Not only are teams and scouts recording ‘measurables’ such as 40 times, broad jumps, 3 cone drills and a players’ height and weight, they are networking. The Combine is the one place where all 32 teams are present and accounted for at the same time for five days right before the start of the new league year. Add in the player agents trying to get their hands on the new crop of prospects while seeking to work out deals for current players, and you have a full scale “trade show” as ex-Indianapolis Colts General Manager, Bill Polian opined on SiriusXM NFL Radio. And even though the new league year doesn’t start until March 13, you can only imagine the amount of informal conversations that are being had over potential free agents, future trades, and contract negotiations. Of course, until that date, such talk is ‘illegal’ and could be considered tampering according to NFL bylaws, but as they say, “if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying”. Besides, all the cool kids are doing it.
It should be no surprise that the Combine is the perfect place for teams to start planting seeds for what will soon transpire over the coming months. And in this day in age, with 24/7 media coverage and Twitter, the rumor mill out of the combine is spinning faster than ever. On Saturday evening, the night before RG3’s spectacular Combine showing, word started to leak on Twitter that the Redskins were speaking to the Rams or having “exploratory talks” about trading up for their #2 draft choice. In fact, if you ask anyone around the league, there isn’t a doubt out there that RG3 will go right after the Indianapolis Colts select QB Andrew Luck out of Stanford with the first pick in the draft. With the availability of starting caliber QBs around the league relatively low and the demand of teams who need a QB always high, simple economics tells you that RG3 will be in high demand and it is a foregone conclusion that a team will trade up to the number 2 spot to get him. The only question left to answer is, which one? Enter the Redskins and your very own Cleveland Browns.
After RG3 made people around the country do a spit take of their Sunday morning coffee with his 40 yard dash, another rumor started to trickle across the web from a tweet by NBC Philadelphia reporter Howard Eskin. Per Eskin’s twitter feed, “I’m told by people within Redskins they are prepared to offer picks 1,2 and 3 this year, at least a 1 next year to move up to get RG3 at 2.” Naturally, this “report” sent shockwaves around the league and automatically made Browns fans, hoping that the Brown & Orange would finally get their franchise QB, take a long pause at the thought of having to match such an exorbitant price tag just to move up two spots from #4 to #2. I find it necessary to remind people that this is the “silly season” and even Mike Holmgren himself said back in April of 2010 “”Prior to any draft, I say any number of things for any number of reasons”. It’s called misdirection and intentional deception. Before getting too bent out of shape, ask yourself why the Redskins would allow such information to get out now with just under two months before the draft. I used the example on Twitter earlier, if you’re going to buy a car that is listed at $20,000, why come out and announce to the dealer before you even enter the showroom that you’re willing to pay $25,000? It’s possible that this report could be true and the Redskins are just trying to set the bar high enough to scare other potential bidders away, but it doesn’t seem to make much business sense. Then again, Redskins owner Dan Snyder has never been one to adhere to conventional wisdom when it comes to making smart business moves in the NFL offseason. Yet, from speaking to a couple of Redskins fans via Twitter, it seems Snyder has taken more of a backseat approach with the hiring of General Manager Bruce Allen. The fact that they didn’t make their usual mad splash into the free agent market last season is a testament to this. And I needn’t remind you that Snyder is a billionaire. Rarely do people reach such lofty status by making bad life decisions.
Another report has now surfaced from Fox Sports reporter John Czarnecki, who claims that the Rams have been receiving “weird, and uninterested signals” from the Browns and their desire to move up for RG3. Welcome to the world of high-stakes poker. Again, if you’re a Browns fan who really wants RG3, why would you announce to the world what you’re willing to give up? Using the example I gave before, if you’re going to buy a car that is listed at $20,000, why NOT slow-play your hand, act disinterested and pretend you have other options? Eventually, if the dealer (Rams) wants your business, they will meet you somewhere in the middle. It makes absolutely no business sense for the Browns to jump head first into a bidding war with Washington if they are indeed willing to sell the farm for their franchise QB. There is absolutely no pressure to make a decision now, so why succumb to perceived pressure that is being floated around the league by the media? Chances are, much of this talk is from the Redskins trying to get the Browns to show their cards prematurely and the Rams who are hoping to get Washington and Cleveland into a bidding war so that they can receive maximum value for their pick. It is extremely smart of Cleveland not to take the bait. Whether they do eventually remains to be seen.
Now that we’ve waded through the muddy waters of Rumor Central, let’s take a look at what sort of conundrum the Browns may find themselves in with this whole RG3 decision. Over the past few months, one thing has been made absolutely clear through my conversations; Browns fans are going to be upset no matter what happens on April 26th aka “Draft Day”. In fact, I can’t remember a time when there has been more disagreement or dissention amongst Browns fans as to which direction the team should go in the upcoming draft. As it stands, the Browns currently hold the #4 pick and will have a chance to select an elite player with which to fill one of the many holes on its roster. The dilemma lies with the fact that RG3 may or may not be had at the #2 pick for the right price. It is no secret that the Browns have been badly in need of a franchise quarterback since the days of Bernie Kosar. But at what price? This is the argument that pervades much of the fan base.
On one hand, the Browns could refuse to get sucked into a bidding war with Washington (and perhaps a handful of other teams) and stay at the 4th pick. There, they can surely select an elite player and plug that guy in to start from Day One. Perhaps, another team will come calling for that #4 pick in order to select one of those elite players and the Browns can add to their bounty by trading down for more picks as they’ve been more than happy to do in the past. Whether they stay at 4 or move down, the hope would obviously be to build a stockpile of weapons around Colt McCoy so that he can finally prove whether he is worthy of being a NFL starter or not. The Browns could also choose to get a Quarterback elsewhere through either Free Agency or later on in the draft. Names such as Free Agent QB Matt Flynn or Texas A&M QB Ryan Tannehill have been linked to the Browns as possible suitors to run their coveted West Coast Offense. In fact, some believe that Flynn and/or Tannehill may be even more ready than RG3 to step in early and win that starting job since both QBs have some experience in our type of offense while Griffin does not. In the case of Flynn, if he is signed through Free Agency, the contract we’d have to sign him to would all but guarantee he is being brought in to be the starter. The Browns are not financially invested in Colt McCoy the way they would be with someone like Matt Flynn. If the choice is Tannehill, he would likely compete with Colt for the starting job. Being that he has only played quarterback for a season and a half in college, he is seen as much more “raw” of a prospect and would likely need time to develop before fulfilling his potential. The Browns could have Colt and Tannehill compete and, even if Colt wins the job initially, it would likely only be temporarily until Tannehill is ready to take the reins.
Meanwhile, on the periphery of all of this would be RG3. Say the Browns do let Washington trade up for him. And say he is every bit the player people are projecting him to be. And say whoever the Browns end up with at quarterback meanders down the same road so many others before him did. The thought that will undoubtedly haunt Browns fans for a generation is ‘We coulda had RG3!!’ Don’t think so? Do the names Rey Maualuga, Clay Matthews, Mike Wallace, and Desean Jackson ring a bell? These are all players that were taken in the same draft that the Browns drafted Brian Robiskie, Mohammed Massaquoi and David Veikune. DAVID VEIKUNE!! In fact, you can go back through any draft (as many ‘fans’ seemingly enjoy to do) and point out a number of players the Browns “coulda” had instead of the guy they picked. (BREAKING NEWS: Hindsight is 20/20.) Personally, I don’t see much of a point in such an exercise unless you really enjoy being completely miserable. But Browns fans are a fickle bunch. With that said, I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure I could stand the thought of being so close to RG3 and then letting him go on to potentially be the most exciting player in the NFL for the next decade… for another team. Now, I do understand that it is a fool’s errand to operate on such contingencies. You do the best thing you can do for your club and you don’t worry about what MIGHT happen down the road if you let a certain player go elsewhere. Obviously, the opportunity cost of moving up to take RG3 at #2 and coincidentally outbidding another team to do so would be extremely high. But the Browns front office must make this decision very carefully. On one hand, you could give up an awful lot and HOPE that RG3 pans out. If he does, then it’s well worth it. We would finally have the franchise quarterback to take us to the Promised Land. On the other hand, you could stand pat and continue to build your roster around Colt McCoy or another QB and hope one of them someday fulfill the same potential.
The risk is great no matter how you slice it. And it’s natural for downtrodden Browns fans to assume the worst case scenario will fall in our way no matter which path we choose. But it’s times like this where we are beholden to the front office. We have to go out on a limb a little bit further than we’re comfortable with and trust that they will make the best decision for our team going forward. If they take RG3 and give up multiple draft picks to do so, we have to have faith that they see what so many others do and that the price was worth it. If they opt not to go after RG3, we have to believe it wasn’t worth what we’d have to give up for one position and that we will address that position when the time is right. Either way, the fan base has to blindly place trust in a body that hasn’t done much to deserve it and that, rightfully, makes us uneasy. But rest assured knowing that your decision to either trust the front office or not is nothing compared to the decision they face as the draft inches closer and closer with each passing day.