2012 NFL Draft: The One Where the Cleveland Browns Play a Crazy Game of Poker

Robert Griffin III put a dent in Twitter after running an unofficial 4.38 time in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine last weekend.

Back on January 11, we said that the Browns and Griffin were to be the crux of the draft, and seven weeks later it’s still true.

But the Combine is a definite unofficial science, if that makes any sense. Prospects have their hands measured and run around in tights, things that can only provide clues as to how they’ll perform on Sundays. Not only that, but teams and agents use it as the first unofficial offseason meeting to start messing with each other. It’s like a giant game of poker, only everyone knows what cards the other players have.

And in this crazy game of poker, the Browns are showing two aces right away  - the No. 4 and No. 22 overall picks in the first round. It’s the best hand at the table and everyone knows it.

The St. Louis Rams are in the driver’s seat with the No. 2 overall pick and Griffin making it crystal clear that this is a two-man draft. So they announce as loud as possible (what we’ve been hearing for a while now) that their pick is up for auction. And in order for an auction to work best, you need as many players bidding as possible, so this makes strategic sense. ESPN’s Adam Shefter obliges with this Combine kick-off-tweet at 3:07 p.m. last Thursday afternoon:

@AdamSchefter
Rams already have had preliminary discussions about trading the No. 2 overall pick. http://bit.ly/xra2EG

The Browns counterpunch the Rams’ auction announcement by leaking a report about how interested they are in signing free agent quarterback Matt Flynn on Friday, via the Canton Repository.

The Washington Redskins, sitting at pick No. 6, supposedly have the best shot of pulling this trade with St. Louis off, but they know at the end of the day they’ll have to outbid the Browns.

So they try to scare Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert out of the game by pushing a ton of chips into the middle of the table right away.

Howard Eskin of NBC Philadelphia reports they would be willing to part with their first, second and third-round picks this year, as well as their first-round pick next year, in order to move up. This report comes out because the Redskins want the Browns to hear it.

The Browns then counter the Redskins’ leaked draft pick package by “acting weird and uninterested with the Rams,” via Fox Sports on Monday.

Post-weekend sources have included the Browns as having “preliminary talks with the Rams,” but the Rams are probably the source.

If the Browns are being smart, they’re still acting weird and uninterested on purpose, making it harder for the Rams to play them against the Redskins. With the 2012 NFL Draft still seven weeks away, the more time there is to go back and forth comparing offers, the higher St. Luois can drive up the price. The Browns are just trying to keep their options open.

And Robert Griffin III will create another tidal wave during his pro day workout and more rumors and misdirection bids will surface as teams in need of the most important position in pro sports try to gain pole position on one another. Then it will happen again during free agency.

Let’s hope Holmgren and Heckert have been practicing their poker faces.

Some other thoughts:

  • Quarterback stock always rises in the offseason. Just a few weeks ago everyone thought Robert Griffin III would be there for the Browns at No. 4, and now the Rams have jumped out from behind a corner with a knife. It’s only going to get worse. Two years ago, Sam Bradford missed the majority of his junior season at Oklahoma after separating his shoulder, yet his stock still climbed after the Combine, high enough for the Rams to make him the No. 1 overall pick. Point is, nothing is going to happen from now until the draft to make Griffin less attractive.
  • The report of the Redskins offering their first, second, and third-round picks is more bark than bite. It’s meant to come off as, “We’re willing to trade our entire draft for this guy,” when in reality that third-round pick is meaningless. Based on the ever-popular draft pick value chart, the Browns’ two first-rounders equal 2,580 points combined, while the Redskins’ first, second and third-rounders equals 2,190. That’s a difference of 390 points, or five third-round picks, or something like asking for a billion-kajillion dollars.
  • The Howard Eskin report also included mention of next year’s first-round pick, which definitely sweetens the Redskins deal, but it’s impossible to quantify exactly how much because we don’t where they’ll be drafting next year. In fact, you could make the argument that if Griffin is as good as everyone is assuming, he’ll make the Redskins better and push that pick later into the first round. Trading next year’s first-round pick has long been considered the standard price for moving up for a quarterback, but all things considered, the Browns can offer more known value than the Redskins can.
  • However, as NFL.com’s Mike Lombardi points out, this chart was created in the days of unrestricted rookie contracts, and may need to be reinvented.
  • The Browns have to be punching kittens behind closed doors on this one. Not only are the Rams blackmailing them, but they’ve had some public relations issues of late which makes this a bad time to lay low and act weird. It’s their only play, but the fans are hysterical and the Cleveland media likes to get after it. Just saying, if they pass on Griffin, they better be right.
  • And above all this, are the Rams really the savvy brokers we’re making them out to be? They hired their head coach BEFORE they hired their general manager, which in my book, titled, How to Destroy an NFL Team, by Eric Mangini and George Kokinis, makes me believe the established Heckert can outfox them.
  • The Rams’ position here is also fairly obvious. They drafted Sam Bradford No. 1 overall in 2010, and their left tackle Jason Smith No. 2 overall in 2009. The consensus top players on the board for them this year after Andrew Luck is gone are a quarterback and left tackle, Robert Griffin III or USC’s Matt Kalil. They are not taking these players, so shouldn’t this make them more desperate to trade the pick, thus driving the price down? Apparently not, at least for now.
  • Justin Blackmon, wide receiver from Oklahoma State, has long been the final guy in the top four of everyone’s mock drafts, after Griffin, Kalil and Luck. But he measured short for a receiver and did not run at the Combine which might have hurt his draft stock, not that teams were seriously considering him that high anyway. But let’s pretend they were, and if the Rams had eyes for him, that was another advantage the Browns had in this derby at No. 4. However, without Blackmon the Rams might not see much of a difference between the Browns’ and Redskins’ picks.
  • The link in Shefter’s tweet to Griffin’s Rotoword page is a great source for gossip on this issue. Check it regularly. Why, just scroll down to catch this agonizing quote from Sport’s Illustrated’s Peter King:

“This could be an all-time NFL trade,” King said. “The absolute bottom line is two (first-round picks) and something. … If Cleveland’s gonna move up, it’s not only gonna be Nos. 4 and 22. It’s gonna be 4 and 22, and a (second-round pick) and maybe a (fifth-round pick). Everyone in Cleveland’s gonna gag.” Feb 27 – 1:10 PM

  • This entire thing could go quietly if the Browns really have no interest in Griffin at all, as was theorized on ESPN’s Bill Simmons podcast three weeks ago. I would agree after watching the way the Browns tried to force Colt McCoy into their system last year. But, it’s also not like they’ve never worked with a mobile quarterback before, either.  Pat Shurmur was Donovan McNabb’s quarterbacks coach for six years, and new offensive coordinator Brad Childress traded up to draft Tarvaris Jackson once-upon-a-time.
  • Lastly, the Rams were horrible last year, and their fans are looking for the payoff. The team is under tremendous pressure to receive the maximum perceived value for this pick, to make this trade as bloody as possible. It sounds like anything less than a gouging for the record books will be seen as a failure. Maybe the Browns would be better off staying out of this mess, as opposed to becoming a permanent footnote in draft history.

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Tags: 2012 NFL Draft Cleveland Browns Robert Griffin III Washington Redskins

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