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A theory on why the Browns are working out quarterbacks prior to the draft

Apr 11, 2013 -- 6:00am

By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com

 

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The Morning Kickoff …

The Browns’ read option: Deception is the key to the read option offense sweeping the NFL. The quarterback either hands off or fakes a handoff, and then runs or throws, based on the read of the defensive end.

Deception might also be the key to the Browns’ draft.

Case in point: The Browns are working out and visiting with college quarterbacks as if they intend to draft one.

They’ve worked out Ryan Nassib of Syracuse and visited with USC’s Matt Barkley and Arizona’s Matt Scott. Also on their schedule are workouts with West Virginia’s Geno Smith and Florida State’s E.J. Manuel.

Why are they expending so much energy on the QB position after the old regime drafted a quarterback in the first round in 2012 (Brandon Weeden) and the new regime signed one in free agency in 2013 (Jason Campbell)?

You can argue that Weeden was not the choice of the current regime and that Weeden has not instilled confidence in anyone that he can be the quarterback to take the Browns to the Super Bowl.

I would argue that none of the quarterbacks in the 2013 draft is a surer bet than Weeden, and that the actions of the Browns constitute nothing more than an elaborate smokescreen designed for one end – drumming up interest in the Browns’ No. 6 overall pick.

Tom Heckert’s legacy: I believe history will judge the best pick made by former GM Tom Heckert to be receiver Josh Gordon. He has greater physical attributes – and now more accomplishments -- than any receiver in this year’s draft. But the fact that Gordon cost the Browns their No. 2 pick in this year’s draft is a stone in the shoe of CEO Joe Banner.

The Browns’ tepid performance in free agency left them with several more holes to fill on their roster – cornerback, free safety, inside linebacker, pass rusher, guard, fullback, kicker, punter. They have seven draft picks, but have to wait 62 selections between their first pick at No. 6 and their second one at No. 68.

So Banner would like to acquire a pick in the second round. And the way to do that is to trade down five or six notches from No. 6 in exchange for an extra pick in the second round.

“My history has been a lot more in the area of trading down, or staying, than trading up,” Banner said at the NFL combine in February. “Historically I’ve either stayed or traded back. I think accumulating picks over the course of the draft is a good strategy, generally.”

In Banner’s 15-plus years as a senior executive with the Philadelphia Eagles, his team made seven trades in the first round. In fact, four were to move up and three were to move down.

The Eagles moved down in 1997 (three spots), 2007 (10 spots) and 2008 (24 spots).

The Eagles moved up in 2003 (15 spots), 2004 (12 spots), 2009 (two spots) and 2010 (11 spots).

Moving down: Every year, teams in the top 10 aspire to move down. This was more prevalent in the past because of the great cost that top 10 picks commanded.

The new league rookie wage scale implemented in 2011 greatly reduced the cost of high draft picks. But trade-downs are still popular for teams trying to add picks, which is want the Browns want.

The problem is finding a team wanting to move up. It takes a player worthy of justifying the expense to move up.

No position compels a team to move up more than a quarterback. So if a team below the Browns (Buffalo at No. 8?) believes the Browns might take the quarterback of their choice, they might be moved enough to offer a second-round pick to move up.

But in this draft, the position that might be more desirable for a trade-up offer is not quarterback but offensive tackle. San Diego (at No. 11) and Miami (at No. 12) each has a need for an offensive tackle.

And if the top two choices are off the board early – Texas A&M’s Luke Joekel and Central Michigan’s Eric Fisher – No. 3 tackle Lane Johnson of Oklahoma could appeal to the Chargers and Dolphins. And to get Johnson, they would have to leapfrog Arizona at No. 7, which has the same need for a tackle as the others.

The dilemma for the Browns is that with Joe Thomas and Mitchell Schwartz embedded as their tackles, they can’t even feign a desire for Johnson.

But they can try to play the quarterback game and hope some team bites on it.

Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com.

He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to tgrossi@espncleveland.com

Follow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi

 

 

 

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