Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer has the opportunity to significantly shift the fortunes of the franchise during the first round of tonight’s 2015 NFL Draft.
It all comes down to just how much of a price he is willing to pay.
For more than a year now the Browns have been linked to Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota in a way that we can’t remember happening here in a long time.
Farmer’s comment prior to last year’s draft that he liked Mariota started the speculation. It heated up after the Browns swung a deal with Buffalo to add a second first-round pick in this year’s draft. And it boiled over during the 2014 season as quarterback Brian Hoyer struggled to close out a once-promising season, and quarterback Johnny Manziel looked completely over-whelmed once he took the field.
Which brings us to tonight with Farmer holding the capital the Browns need to make a move for Mariota. The Tennessee Titans hold the second overall pick in the first round and, having even more holes to fill on their roster than the Browns, are widely rumored to be interested in trading out of the spot.
The question now is: how much should the Browns be willing to pay?
There is so much to like about Mariota, both on and off the field. We would like to think that the Browns should only be concerned about Mariota the player, but after what the team has gone through the past two seasons with Manziel and wide receiver Josh Gordon, the reality is they need to look at Mariota the person as well.
We’ve all seen what Mariota can do on the field, but as a refresher here are some of the highlights from his nfl.com draft profile:
- Rare straight-line speed for the position (meaning) defenses must account for ability outside the pocket.
- Asked to handle more each season by Ducks coaches and delivered consistent production. Keen sense of where trouble lurks and almost never gets baited into a dangerous throw.
- Threw multiple interceptions in a game just three times over 41 career starts.
- Can uncork throws quickly and without resetting feet when necessary.
- Can climb the pocket and deliver strikes when he trusts the edges of his protection.
- Silky smooth when asked to roll out and delivers on time with sound mechanics.
- Has balance and feet to escape collapsing pocket and will look to strike through the air rather than just bolting as a runner.
- Considered extremely coachable by scouts, who also love his willingness to play hurt. Very humble and leads by example. Family and heritage are extremely important to him.
We’ve also heard about all the things that Mariota didn’t do at Oregon: he hasn’t called a play from a huddle since high school, he rarely takes a snap from under center, he wasn’t asked to make complicated defensive reads, he only threw to receivers who were wide open. (Funny, we thought that was sort of the point.)
The one thing we haven’t heard, and it is the important aspect that NFL teams will have to figure about Mariota, is this:
Just because Mariota wasn’t asked to do those things, does that mean he can’t do those and more?
“Mariota also could represent the best decision for the Browns. Farmer is a fan of Mariota and has been since the 2013 college football season. Kevin O’Connell, Mariota’s private tutor this offseason, is in place as quarterbacks coach. John DeFilippo, the Browns’ new offensive coordinator, will employ a system with West Coast roots, and during an interview last week on The Rich Eisen Show, Stanford coach David Shaw said Oregon’s offense uses several West Coast concepts, even though it’s more fast-paced and the quarterback isn’t under center.”
Sure, if the Browns were to draft Mariota they might have to change the way they go about calling plays, among other things. But is that really a deal breaker when it comes to drafting Mariota? And isn’t the hallmark of a successful coach being able to adapt your system to the players you have, rather than the other way around?
While we know that every draft prospect spends months in training, we still like this quote about Mariota’s work ethic from a recent article at SI.com:
“Marcus is as hard of a worker as I’ve been around and he does not shy away, he actually asks for it,” says Ryan Flaherty, owner of Prolific Athletes in San Diego and someone who has trained countless athletes in preparation for the NFL. “I think one thing that’s going to separate him from the rest is that his work ethic matches his talent.”
So let’s return to our original question: should the Browns make a move to draft Mariota?
We say yes — but only at a certain price.
If Farmer can swing a trade for Mariota with just Cleveland’s pair of first-round picks he has to go for it. If Mariota turns out to be a franchise-changing quarterback, it is a fair price to pay. (And it is not as if the Browns are giving up two first-round picks, really; they are getting a pick in return to use on Mariota.)
But if the Titans, or whichever team the Browns look to make a deal with, asks for more (and are not willing to take Manziel as the “and more” portion) then Farmer needs to walk away from the deal.
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Most importantly, Farmer and the Browns need to have a set price that they are willing to pay for Mariota and stick to it. They’ve done their homework and now they need to trust their work and not let emotions get the way once the actual draft starts. The worst thing they can do is panic, the way Bill Belichick did at the 1995 NFL Draft, when he turned the No. 10 overall pick into the 30th pick and Craig Powell.
While we’re on the subject of bad ideas, even worse than overpaying for Mariota would be using a first-round draft pick in a trade with Philadelphia for quarterback Sam Bradford.
We’ve never been able to wrap our heads around the reported infatuation from the Browns for Bradford, who has a history of major injuries; has only completed 58.6 percent of his passes in his career, by comparison, last season Josh McCown was at 56.3 percent and Hoyer was at 55.3 percent; and has a career passer rating of 79.3, which, returning to last year, puts him in the company of McCown, Hoyer, Geno Smith and Drew Stanton.
Oh, and did we mention Bradford has torn the ACL in his left knee not once but twice? And that he is in the last year of his contract and reportedly has no intention of signing a new contract to stay in our fair city after 2015?
We believe in head coach Mike Pettine’s power to influence his players, but persuading Bradford to stay in Cleveland may be beyond even Pettine’s ability.
Ask yourself: if you are going to take a chance on a quarterback, do you take it on Bradford with injury history and poor stats? Or do you take it on Mariota with more upside?
The Browns hold 10 picks in this year’s draft, including four among the first 77 selections. They have the assets to continue rebuilding the team or make a trade for a player who could potentially transform the franchise.
How Farmer chooses to go over the next three days will determine not only the team’s fate, but quite possibly Farmer’s as well.
Do you think the Browns should make a move for Marcus Mariota? How much is too much to pay?