By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Back to the future: Ray Farmer is about to embark on his first NFL draft as a general manager. He has no past performance chart. The immediate future of the Browns is in his hands. His boss, Jimmy Haslam, has called this “THE crucial offseason for the Cleveland Browns.”
How will Farmer do?
If he could do as well as Ozzie Newsome did in his very first draft, the Browns will soon be in the Super Bowl.
The similarities, parallels, coincidences – call them what you will – between Farmer and Newsome and the teams they represent are eerie.
The obvious is both are African-American GMs who also played in the NFL.
Newsome was promoted to the GM job of the Baltimore Ravens in 1996 after a seismic shakeup. Art Modell moved the former Browns to Baltimore, and fired coach Bill Belichick and his top personnel aide, Mike Lombardi.
Farmer was promoted to the GM job of the Browns in 2014 after a seismic shakeup. Haslam fired coach Rob Chudzinski, and then fired CEO Joe Banner and – there’s that guy again – Lombardi.
In the year before Newsome took over, the (former) Browns acquired a first-round draft pick from the San Francisco 49ers.
In the year before Farmer took over, the Browns acquired a first-round draft pick from the Indianapolis Colts.
Newsome went into his first draft as GM with picks No. 4 and No. 26 in the first round.
Farmer goes into his first draft as GM with picks No. 4 and No. 26 in the first round.
What would Ozzie do?: Heading into the 1996 draft, the Baltimore Ravens had a lot of needs coming off a 5-11 season, but running back stood out as No. 1.
Lawrence Phillips, a player with character issues, was the top running back in the 1996 draft.
“We had brought Lawrence Phillips to Baltimore,” Newsome told me. “He, (coach) Ted (Marchibroda) and our running backs coach and I and Mr. Modell went to dinner. We came away thinking, ‘You know what? Despite some of the issues, he could be a good player for us.’”
On draft day, the Jets held the first pick and took USC receiver Keyshawn Johnson. The Jaguars went second and took Illinois linebacker Kevin Hardy. Arizona held the third pick.
“They were holding, waiting,” Newsome said. “As a matter of fact, they wrote ‘Lawrence Philips’ on their card to try to get us to trade up to take him. But we stood firm and when we got to our pick, I told Art, ‘The highest-rated guy is Jonathan Ogden.”
Ogden was a mammoth, athletic freak of an offensive tackle from UCLA. However, the strongest unit on the Ravens was offensive line.
“Art said, ‘I thought we need a running back?’ Ted was saying, ‘We need a running back.’ But (Ogden) was the highest-ranked guy,” Newsome said. “So why do all the work, and go against what you’ve done? That means all the work you do is for naught.”
At No. 26, Newsome said he was comfortable drafting for need. The highest linebacker on the Ravens’ draft board after Hardy was Reggie Brown, who went No. 17 to Detroit.
After Brown, the next linebacker on Newsome’s board was Ray Lewis of University of Miami.
“(Linebackers coach) Maxsie Baughn had worked out Ray and just raved about the workout,” Newsome said. “Even though Ray did not fit the height/weight/speed, he was a ‘football player.’ It was a need and at that point he was our highest-rated guy, so we took him.”
Because of the Ravens’ strength at offensive tackle, Ogden played left guard as a rookie, and then had 11 consecutive Pro Bowl berths at left tackle. In 2013, Ogden was voted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Lewis played 17 seasons at inside linebacker, making the Pro Bowl 13 times and earning NFL defensive player of the year honors on two occasions. He retired after the 2012 season and will be eligibile for the Hall of Fame in 2017.
The Ravens won the Super Bowl following the 2000 and 2012 seasons. Newsome said that 1996 draft was responsible for both championships. It is also why over the next 18 years, Newsome never strayed from selecting the top player on his draft board when his turn came up.
“Exactly,” he said. “It’s one of the reasons I still have a job today. Once you set your board, all you’re doing at that point is picking the highest player on your board. It’s all a matter of doing your work. So when you get in the heat of battle, why change? Why let emotions get in the decision?”
Learn as you go: Newsome said that nobody knew how he would do as GM when Modell gave him the job. He was the ultimate on-the-job trainee.
“I had been in draft rooms for five previous years,” Newsome said. “I had gotten an understanding of the mechanics of the draft by watching and listening.”
But nothing prepared him for the crazy things that can happen on draft day.
“As much as those picks worked out, it’s what I did in the second round that was more beneficial to me, because I made a mistake,” Newsome said. “I made a trade to move up in second round to get a tight end. The player (Jason Dunn) got picked the spot before us.”
Ever since, Newsome’s trades were contingent on the player he wanted being there for his selection.
Another lesson: “I took a cornerback (DeRon Jenkins) who wasn’t a very good tackler with that pick. Now, 18 drafts later, don’t even talk to me about a cornerback that can’t tackle.”
So Newsome made two all-time great picks in his first draft, and learned a couple valuable lessons, too.
Farmer should be so lucky. The Browns should be so lucky. We all should be so lucky.
|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. Use the hashtage #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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