Recap: What We Learned from the Browns at the NFL League Meetings

We provide a reader's digest of ten things we learned about the Browns from the 2014 NFL owners meetings.

The 2014 NFL owners meetings concluded on Wednesday, and during the four-day event, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, general manager Ray Farmer, and head coach Mike Pettine made themselves plenty available to the media to discuss a variety of topics. Here is a reader's digest version of the top ten things (in no particular order) you might have missed:

10 Things About the Browns from the NFL Owners Meetings

1. The Johnny Football watch is on: The Browns confirmed at the meetings that they would not be attending the Pro Day for QB Johnny Manziel. Sure enough, at Manziel's Pro Day on Thursday, the Browns and the Bears were the only two teams who did not have a single representative in attendance at Texas A&M's Pro Day. Pettine explained why he hasn't been going to see quarterbacks at their Pro Days:

"We’ve always felt – I felt this way coming in and Ray (Farmer) has to – that you get a lot more out of a private workout when it’s a little less scripted or it’s scripted the way you want it scripted, where you can kind of throw some curveballs at a player and see how they react to it. It’s like the difference between a guy hitting home runs at batting practice vs. live pitching. I think it’s important you get that concentrated view of a player instead of something that’s borderline artificial. We certainly get the video of the pro days and see them, so you kind of get the best of both worlds.

Also I feel that I thought it was more important for the staff to be together in the spring for as many days as possible. If you’re a team sending a lot of coaches to pro days, it’s hard to get a lot of work done. You end up doing a lot of things individually and I think it’s important for the staffs, especially on offense because they’re new, to get as many days as possible, full work days together."

Farmer shared a similar sentiment:

"A Pro Day of orchestrated throws, I don't know what that tells you," Farmer said. "It's a piece of it that people blow up into this great thing. I went to a lot of games and practices this fall. I've seen them throw the ball."

Pettine explained that the team planned on conducting private workouts with the top three quarterbacks in the draft (Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater, and Blake Bortles), among others. Pettine, Kyle Shanahan, and Dowell Loggains (quarterbacks coach) will all be heavily involved in the process.

Some people have had the opinion of, "come on, all of the other teams went to the Pro Days, you're telling me the Browns can't send a guy?" Personally, I don't care -- they will get to see the same thing everybody else did via video, and still get to conduct their private workout.

2. We will do everything at quarterback: Pettine talked a lot about the quarterback position at the league meetings, but he pretty much covered every scenario possible, which means he really didn't say anything at all conclusive about the team's intentions. To summarize, Pettine said that...

  • He felt good about the team having Brian Hoyer and Alex Tanney, but that the quarterback position needed to be addressed. Pettine said that addressing the position in the draft doesn't mean they are locked in to "drafting a starter," though.

  • They don't want to force the issue of taking a quarterback, but he said, "We’re doing our homework on all these guys and we’re gonna log a lot of miles here in the next couple weeks and hopefully we can find that quarterback that’s gonna best serve the Cleveland Browns."

  • The Browns wouldn't rule out drafting two quarterbacks, alas the Redskins a few years ago: "I think that also falls into the best player available. If we get down to a certain point of the draft – it’s funny how draft boards go sometimes, it really ends up running itself. If you know you’re getting great value, I don’t think we’d hesitate to add that player, whether it’s a second quarterback if we’ve already taken one. I don’t think Ray (Farmer) would be against that at all."

  • Bringing in a veteran backup quarterback is an option too, but something they don't really need to worry about until the season gets closer.

Following up on that, Farmer said that he would be comfortable with Hoyer as the starter entering the season, citing that starters can come from everywhere: Matt Schaub had one start for the Falcons before the Texans decided he was going to be their starter. He then explained the great position the Browns are in by being able to keep teams guessing about their intentions:

"No one really knows what we're doing," Farmer said. "Keeping everybody guessing is a positive. There's this notion that we have to take a quarterback, that we have to do certain things. I would say be careful of the have-tos."

3. Trade talks in the draft have commenced: Farmer confirmed to reporters that potential trades involving draft picks have already begun, which is pretty standard for any NFL team. Farmer had an interesting take on the value of a draft pick, though, which differs from your typical draft chart that assigns point values:

"I look at the draft as currency," Farmer said. "A first-round pick, be it early, be it late, is probably worth five years of a good player at a relative number and same thing down the line. If you can package picks to get a better pick or a better player or somebody that you're targeting, those things should always be considered. I do think there's opportunities to move both up and back in the draft.

4. Long-term deal still desired for Alex Mack: When asked about the Browns not making an offer to SS T.J. Ward, Farmer did not deny it. He said the team still desires to sign Mack to a long-term deal, though, and that his agent's tactics in free agency has not bothered them. Pettine deferred questions about Mack to Farmer, but said the team has done their due diligence and discussed fallback options in the off chance Mack wasn't a member of the team this year.

Haslam also spoke about the trip the Browns took to California before free agency, and how seven people from the organization flew out to meet him.

"Alex Mack is a quality person and quality player, and he's the kind of person we want to play with the Cleveland Browns for a long time. I personally like Alex a lot besides him being a good player. We were very frank. We want him to finish his career with the Cleveland Browns. Alex has some choices to make. At the end of the day, I think that's what he'll decide. But that's obviously his decision. But when you think of who all went out there and spent time with him -- it was Ray (Farmer), Mike (Pettine), Sashi (Brown), Alex (Scheiner), myself, Andy Moeller and Kyle Shanahan, and that was not by accident,'' Haslam said. "It was to show 'you are very important to us going forward.'''

5. Extension still coming for Joe Haden: A few days ago, CB Joe Haden posted an unusual tweet that said, "it's a crazy business," which he quickly deleted. Nonetheless, it caught enough fire for Farmer to be asked about it, and the Browns' general manager confirmed that the team has no interest in trading Haden, and that an extension is still in-the-works:

"We have no interest in getting rid of Joe Haden. That’ll make it simple. We have no interest in that at all. We’re excited to try to keep Joe here for longer than today and tomorrow, but extended into the future."

6. Changing the losing culture in replacing Ward & Jackson: Although Pettine made it clear that SS T.J. Ward and ILB D'Qwell Jackson were not viewed as negatives for the Browns, part of the reason the team replaced both of them with two other veterans was because they saw an opportunity to bring in guys who had the leadership qualities, but could also bring a winning culture.

"When we evaluated those two players – Dansby was a guy that I was a big part of trying to recruit to go to Buffalo a year ago, and I think he and I hit it off real well during the visit, so he was a target for me. I knew we had a chance to get him to come to Cleveland. The same with Whitner, a guy personally I’ve had an eye on for a while and Jim O’Neil (DC) coached the safeties in NY and always spoke highly of him. We wanted to add toughness up the middle of the defense – that’s not to say that TJ and D’Qwell weren’t tough – but we wanted to add just some fresh juice there too, some guys that had a chip on their shoulder. To me, it gave me chills to hear Donte talk about being a Cleveland kid and not only was it important for him to be successful for the Browns but for the city of Cleveland. I think when you have guys that have unique circumstances like that, that have a little something extra to play for, those are certainly options that you look for."

Speaking more on bringing a winning culture, Pettine said Dansby and Whitner will help freshen the locker room in a positive way:

"You look at last year’s roster, there were two players who’d been a part of a playoff team – Paul Kruger and Brian Hoyer. That was it. When you can bring in guys that’s been part of winning teams, there’s a lot to be said for that. Coaches can only take you so far. But when you have guys that have done it and say this is what it takes – Donte played in last 2 NFC championship games, played in a Super Bowl, Karlos had a big season last year in Arizona and had some good years in Miami, also a guy like Ben Tate, in previous years."

7. Securing their top free agent targets: Pettine was pleased with the Browns' free agency acquisitions, citing they got the top inside linebacker and safety on their board, as well as the top running back:

"It's still an ongoing process, but we're thrilled with the guys we were able to bring in. Karlos was our top target at inside linebacker, Donte was our top target at safety, the ability to add a Ben Tate, who a lot of people considered to be the top free agent running back available and then to add a piece like an Isaiah Trufant who I was familiar with from our time in New York. It is an ongoing process but we feel we've really been able to kind of stabilize the ship with free agency. That way we go into the draft, with as deep a draft as this is, with 10 draft picks, seven in the first four rounds, that we feel we can make a real big impact on this roster early on."

Pettine also spoke to the benefit of adding OG Paul McQuistan for his versatility. When you hear the word "versatility" associated with an offensive lineman, that just screams of a guy who will enter camp as a backup:

"I think that's his strength. He can fit in multiple spots. He can play right tackle, he can play either guard, he can play either tackle and I think you have to have guys like that and he's bounced around a couple of places but he was just with the Super Bowl champs, so I think anytime you can add a guy, that was kind of an easy thing for us, just the interest there, because he can play multiple positions, and here's another guy from a winning organization."

8. Haslam admits to seeking advice from Bill Parcells: Haslam made it clear that he has sought advice from Bill Parcells -- before Rob Chudzinski was fired last year -- but that there were never plans to hire Parcells as part of the organization.

"Yeah, but Bill’s not going to come work for us, OK? I know that’s what everyone’s angling at, but there’s other people that we talk to, too, who are knowledgeable in football that will share that, too. Somehow the Parcells information just happened to hit the radar screen."

"I’m intellectually curious and when you have the opportunity to spend time with people who are very knowledgeable in a field, I think it behooves me as the owner of the Browns to learn from those individuals. ... Bill is a very smart, very competent guy, and he likes to talk about football. So to spend time talking to him about football, I think is, one, it’s interesting, two, it’s fun. It can’t hurt the Browns. But it’s no more than he’s nice enough to spend time with me talking about football."

9. Mitchell Schwartz and the ability to move him: Pettine discussed that the team is happy with the right tackle position right now, but that if they draft a right tackle, they feel they can move pieces around between tackle and guard to find a good fit:

"I just got a chance to meet Schwartz the other day in the weight room. He’s a guy that our coaches when they evaluated the tape felt real good about him, kind of where he was. We feel pretty confident about where we are with the right tackle spot. But he’s a guy that we’re looking forward to coaching. I think there’ll be some transition for the offensive linemen with the new system. They did a decent amount of the zone scheme stuff last year but didn’t major in it, which I think we will be more in that mode. But our guys think that he’s very capable of transitioning."

"I think we have to wait till the draft plays out [on possibly moving a player to guard]. But I think once the dust settles from the draft, [we’ll know]. We always want to be in the position of putting our best 11 on the field. So let’s say we’ve taken a tackle and we decide, ‘Hey listen, these are the five guys that need to be out there. Let’s make that work whether it’s taking a tackle we drafted and putting him at guard or vice versa. I think anytime you have versatile linemen, that helps. A guy like [Paul] McQuistan can play both. I think the system lends itself to that, too. It’s similar techniques at guard and at tackle."

10. Last, but not least: do the Browns need a 'traditional' fullback? This is the most important question of all, right Browns fans? Pettine discussed whether the team needs a traditional fullback:

"I don’t know if he has to be traditional. I think that position, as we all know, is a bit of a dying breed. So it’s a position that’s sometimes hard to find now. Especially coming out of college football, there aren’t a lot of college fullbacks. Sometimes you’ll have to convert guys whether you find a linebacker whether it’s maybe a little bit of a shorter tight end that has traditionally worked out of two-back sets."

Staying with the backfield, Pettine said that he believes RB Ben Tate can be a featured back for the Browns:

"Absolutely. I don't have any issues with his durability. He had a couple of things. Here's a guy that had four broken ribs and played through it. It wasn't until he had the fifth one broken that he couldn't go anymore. He broke an ankle. To me, that more of a freak thing than anything else, but it's not like there are just chronic injuries there and anytime you bring in a guy that's got a chip on his shoulder, that's going to be in your favor. When there's a little bit of extra motivation to play and I think we've done that with a lot of the guys that we've added. I'd like to think that I've done that with the coaching staff as well. Anytime that you have a player or coach that has some extra movitation, I think that helps separate you from the pack."

Sources: ABJ (1), ABJ (2), PD

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