Ray Farmer: A True Evaluation
The Cleveland Browns have been around forever. The newest version of the Browns has been around for awhile. Because of that it is easy to see why and how fans get upset so much at the team they love. To fans, the team is old. It has made mistakes, it has broken their hearts and it should have learned from them.
In fact, the current Browns are a toddler. Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine are going into their second seasons in charge of the team. Unlike the adult aged version of other teams who have had their staffs in place for years or their “way,” Steelers, Patriots, etc, the Browns are looking to build that.
That falls on Farmer and Pettine to create that culture, create what it means to be the Cleveland Browns. For far too long the only thing that has identified the team has been change. Change in coaches, change in leadership on the football side of things and even change in ownership. The Browns have not been able to create a culture or a “way” because no one has had time to create that.
Odds are that at some point in time Farmer and/or Pettine will no longer be with the Browns. Some think that will happen at the end of this season. We hope that it is far down the road when the identity of the Browns is established. If the latter happens, the Browns can look for a replacement that fits that culture, fits that “way” much like how the Steelers replaced Bill Cowher with Mike Tomlin.
So we hope that Ray Farmer is the GM of the Cleveland Browns for years to come but we know we can only judge him based on his one plus years of decisions. While this year’s free agency is not over, it seems that the Browns are going to sit out most of the big names, high dollar guys. They are likely to sign a couple players but the name value won’t spark most fans interest. So even though it has not ended, we feel we can make some evaluative statements about this year’s free agency.
Since we are optimistic in general we will start with the positives. Instead of giving letter grades, we will lump decisions into one of four categories: Great, Good, Bad and To Be Determined.
Signing Andrew Hawkins – Farmer used restricted free agency to pry away the under utilized Hawkins from the rival Bengals. The Bengals with A.J. Green, multiple young receivers and two tight ends barely used Hawkins and gave him a low tender in restricted free agency. Farmer’s contract offer was not over the top, 4 years, 13.6 million dollars, but was enough to scare off the Bengals. Hawk is a perfect slot guy who led the Browns paltry receiving corp with 63 catches and 824 yards. A great signing by Farmer.
Drafting Joel Bitonio – After the Browns were the hit of the first day of the NFL Draft, the sledgehammer news about Josh Gordon‘s suspension hit on Day 2. Going into the Draft that day at Radio City Music Hall, most Browns fans just “knew” the team would draft a receiver in the 2nd round. Nope. Instead Farmer drafted Bitonio, a college tackle from Nevada, and upset many fans. Bitonio went on to be considered one of, if not the, best guard on the NFL last year. While fans may still wish they drafted a receiver, Bitonio will be the foundational piece for years to come. Great pick by Farmer.
Trading Down with the Buffalo Bills – May have lost a few of you here. First, we are taking all decisions into account separately. The decision to trade the #4 pick for the 9th pick and a 1st and 4th in the 2015 NFL Draft is widely considered a steal. Even with the season that Sammy Watkins had, no analysts believe that Farmer should have made another decision. To move up 5 spots for a non-quarterback usually involves a second round pick or a combination of picks. Farmer got another 1st and 4th rounder in a steal of a deal. A great trade by Farmer.
Undrafted Free Agency – After the NFL Draft, Ray Farmer signed a number of undrafted free agents including Isaiah Crowell, K’Waun Williams and Taylor Gabriel. All three provided starting level production at dirt cheap prices. Crowell looks like a standout running back on a team who wants to run the ball a lot. Williams will help makeup for the loss of Buster Skrine and will be at worst the Browns 3rd corner for the next few years. Gabriel showed that he has great skill to play outside the numbers with his crisp route running and hands. He may also provide the Browns a great punt returner as well.
Signing Donte Whitner and Karlos Dansby – Farmer was aggressive early in free agency looking to upgrade the Browns defense for Mike Pettine. Whitner and Dansby were perfect additions for the team. They provided talent on the field first. Dansby was strong against the run and pass while Whitner was a a heavy hitter in the secondary. Off the field, their leadership helped bring together a defense and get players on the same page.
Drafting Christian Kirksey and Terrance West – Much like Bitonio, when Kirksey and West were selected Browns fans were upset that there was no receiver brought on board. Kirksey proved to be a great addition to the linebacking corp and has a huge future with his speed and quickness helping him in both pass coverage and run defense. West partnered with Crowell to give the team a tandem of young backs for a run first team.
Transition Tagged Alex Mack – The Browns had a decision to make with T.J. Ward and Alex Mack. Farmer let Ward walk, ending up signing a big deal with the Broncos, but put the Transition Tag on Mack. While Mack signed a tender sheet with the Jacksonville Jaguars, Farmer matched that offer and brought Mack back. Mack’s value became clear when he was lost for the season and the offense went down hill quickly.
Extended Joe Haden – Haden is an elite cornerback in a passing league. Farmer was able to lock him up with a 5 year, 67 million dollar deal, with $22 million guaranteed, to keep him around for years to come. Haden won’t be able to leave the Browns until 2020 at the earliest. At 25, Haden has years and years ahead of him. In comparison, the 29 year old Darrelle Revis just signed for 5 years, $70 million with $39 guaranteed. Keeping Haden, for the price he did, was a good decision by Farmer.
Drafted Johnny Manziel – After a small trade up, Farmer drafted Manziel with the 22nd pick in the 1st round of the NFL Draft. So far, nothing good has come from that. Not only has Manziel struggled off the field and is now in rehab but he didn’t show anything on the field that makes it seem like he can be a starting level QB in the NFL. Drafting Johnny Manziel in the 1st round was a bad decision by Farmer.
Signed Ben Tate – Tate was seen as a big signing for Farmer after negotiating a 2 year, $6 million deal in the off-season. Tate was expected to step out from the shadow of Arian Foster to become a feature running back. Instead Tate struggled and was cut after only 8 games. He totaled 333 yards with the Browns. Over 200 yards were gained in two games before the Browns cut him. Signing Tate was a bad decision Farmer.
Inactivity in 2015 Free Agency – So far the Browns have done nothing outside of signing Josh McCown and Brian Hartline. While McCown may start and provide an upgrade to the other options, he isn’t the long term answer. Hartline will be a good 3rd receiver along with Hawkins. Yet the Browns haven’t added any other free agents, even though some have signed under market deals. Farmer has stayed true to his values but not signing anyone seems problematic and like a bad decision so far.
To Be Determined
Drafting Justin Gilbert – While Gilbert, like Manziel, had off the field issues, including effort problems, his talent level isn’t as questioned. Whether he can turn his physical talent into on the field success will fully depend on Gilbert learning from his past mistakes. He has been working out with Haden some this off-season which should help. Should Gilbert turn things around, Farmer’s first draft will look pretty good.
Drafting Pierre Desir – Desir was given a redshirt year with the Browns. He played in a few games and looked like he had some talent but he wasn’t given a chance to really show what he could. With Buster Skrine leaving in free agency, the Browns hope that Desir is capable of providing the kind of depth that the team needs. He could also fill the 3rd safety role that Jim Leonhard played last season. The next two years will be decisive for whether drafting Desir was a good or bad decision for Farmer.
2015 Free Agency – While Farmer has been inactive in Free Agency it is possible that the decision will be best for the Browns long term. They still could sign a few players and if their young players develop with time on the field. If the Browns can be competitive this season with their young players than the future looks bright for the years to come. If the foundation of the Browns is built on the players that Farmer has drafted the team is in good shape. If not, his decisions in 2015 Free Agency could come back to haunt him.
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There you have it. Some great, some good, some bad and some to be determined. Ray Farmer as general manager has had an interesting year plus on the job. While many are down on him because of free agency and the 1st round of the draft last year, he has also made a bunch of positive decisions as well.
Tell us what you agree or disagree with in how we have evaluated all of the big decisions by Ray Farmer in his time as the Cleveland Browns General Manager.
We are looking forward to the discussion.