As the Cleveland Browns mercifully trot toward the finish line of their 3-12 season, rumors are running rampant that a change could be on the horizon for the organization. According to a report from Jason Cole of Bleacher Report, the Browns are ready to place the failure of the team squarely on the shoulders of general manager Ray Farmer and move on from him in the offseason.
The quote, as transcribed by CBS Sports from Cole stated, “Sources within the Browns organization say they expect coach Mike Pettine will survive this season despite the failure of the team,” Cole said. “Those sources indicate the bigger problem within the organization is not Pettine but is actually General Manager Ray Farmer and the selections Farmer has made throughout his tenure and even before that when he was under Joe Banner.”
Placing the blame on Farmer is not that much of a surprise, given two years of questionable draft choices and free agent decisions that have not panned out thus far. Any other general manager in the league would likely welcome the chance to select four game changers in two seasons in the first-round, instead it seems as if Farmer has botched all four first-round selections he owned between the 2014 and 2015 seasons—and they could be the downfall of his tenure in Cleveland.
Let’s take a little trip down memory lane, starting with the 2014 NFL Draft. Farmer chose to move down from the No. 4 spot (passing on the likes of Sammy Watkins, Khalil Mack and Mike Evans) to acquire another first-round pick in 2015 from the Buffalo Bills. After moving down to pick No. 9, he ended up moving back up a spot to No. 8 to secure Oklahoma State cornerback, Justin Gilbert, despite already having a top tier corner on the roster in Joe Haden. Hindsight is obviously 20/20, but he passed on the likes of Anthony Barr, Aaron Donald and Odell Beckham Jr. in the process—all standout players at extreme positions of need for this team at the time.
Next up in the 2014 NFL Draft was the No. 26 selection at the time, which the Browns ended up trading up to No. 22. The obvious need for the organization was quarterback, and three in the first round discussion (to some) were still on the board as Blake Bortles was taken No. 3 overall. Those three quarterbacks were Teddy Bridgewater, Derek Carr and Johnny Manziel. Despite talk and evaluations that Bridgewater and Carr were night and day better than Manziel (who also was the proud owner of off-the-field problems), Farmer and the organization traded up to select Manziel—who was ready to “wreck this league” according to a reported text message sent to Browns coaches.
Neither player spent much time on the field in 2014, as Manziel came in unprepared and way behind the curve in playbook knowledge (he had never had one according to reports). He did not do much in year one to prove he was ready to be a starting quarterback, and even ended the season inactive due to missing a walk-through and treatment following an injury. The organization had to send security to locate him due to a rumored party that was held. His entire rookie season was tied together with a nice bow when after the season in the 2015 offseason he enrolled in rehab in an attempt to get his life together. Manziel has started half of the season for the Browns in 2015 with mixed results, improving in areas but not closing the door on an early-round QB for the Browns next season either.
On the other side of the ball, Gilbert’s raw technique outweighed his physical attributes when it came to playing in the NFL in year one, as he struggled to beat out well-known slot corner Buster Skrine for the No. 2 corner job in year one. In fact as the season went on, mid-round picks and undrafted corners were playing over him. That lack of playing extended into year two, as he has barely seen the field in any capacity this year, as rumors have leaked out he is dealing with “personal issues” and has a personality that is not very well-liked in the organization.
In 2015, with an opportunity to make up for his mistakes in 2014, Farmer opted to go “safe” with his picks. At No. 12 he selected a massive defensive lineman from Washington, Danny Shelton, in an attempt to shore up the team’s run defense struggles. At No. 19, in a shocking move to this writer, he bypassed pass rushers and other skill position to take an offensive lineman, Cam Erving, from Florida State who was touted as being the most versatile in the draft and a future stud at center. For a team that lost Alex Mack due to injury the previous season and expected him to opt out after 2015, adding a center made sense—but not at this stage of the draft to many.
As you can imagine, neither player has stood out at all this season. Shelton has shown a flash or two of the dominant force he was supposed to be coming out, but for the most part has been underwhelming and earned the moniker of an expert “pile jumper” from many who watch the team on a week to week basis. In a reserve role, Erving has put more negative than positive on tape—and has not looked like the “versatile” pick he was supposed to be.
Obviously there are other misses we can talk about, but you get the picture. In the NFL, you cannot miss badly on four first-round picks in two seasons and keep your job very long. It appears this could be the fact with Farmer, and it would not be shocking if the team moves on from him as soon as “Black Monday” following their final game of the season.
When/if the team does decide to move on from Farmer, there have already been a number of names rumored to be connected to the job. Eliot Wolf (Green Bay Director of Player Personnel) and Duke Tobin (Cincinnati Director of Player Personnel) have been the two names most are pounding the table for, however, there is another name Browns fans should be hoping for—Nick Caserio of the New England Patriots.
Currently the Director of Player Personnel and second in command behind Bill Belichick, Caserio has been regarded by many as having a pretty large role as architect of the New England Patriots. Now, one would think this would lock him into not wanting to leave one of the most successful organizations in my lifetime in the NFL, but that does not seem to be the case.
Within the last few seasons he has interviewed for other openings, including the General Manager position with the Miami Dolphins. He ultimately declined, opting to sign an extension with the Patriots through 2020 around this time of the year in 2014. When Caserio signed the extension, Belichick said more to the media than he has said the last two years combined. Belichick stated, “Well, I’m glad Nick is here. He’s done a great job for us for a long time in a number of different roles,” Belichick said. “He probably continues to do as much, probably more than, any other person in his position in the National Football League. He contributes in a lot of different way and does a great job. I’m glad we have him. I need him.”
If ever there was an ultimate compliment given from Belichick over the course of his career in the NFL that may have been it. So, why would Caserio want to leave the cozy confines of New England for the turmoil and organization dysfunction in Cleveland?
For starters, the Tom Brady effect could be weighing heavily on his mind. Caserio has been with the Patriots since 2001 as a personnel assistant, so his entire career of growth in the organization has been with one of the all-time NFL great quarterbacks at the helm of his team. His ascension in the organization was a quick one, as in 2002 he was made an offensive coaching assistant. He spent one season (2003) as an area scout, before being named the Director of Pro Personnel from 2004-2006. He was then the team’s wide receivers coach in 2007, before being named Director of Player Personnel in 2008—the role he is still in today. So with Brady entering the twilight of his career, he could potentially be looking for a new situation and an opportunity to start over with “his” quarterback.
Secondly, his biography on the Patriots website has the following to say, “Caserio has been instrumental in drafting, signing and developing players who have become cornerstones of one of the most successful NFL franchises of all time. In addition to the player personnel department, Caserio returned to the field in 2007 to coach the wide receivers, a season that saw the Patriots amass an undefeated regular season record and an offense break many NFL records.”
Though many teams will offer him the opportunity to do all of the above again, Cleveland offers a potential Top 2 NFL Draft selection and a lot of early-round picks next year. Coupled with young players from recent drafts all over the roster and a ton of money available to spend in free agency, Caserio’s knowledge and talent as a personnel guy could bring about an immediate change to this organization—like the one Belichick and company instituted in New England for that organization.
Finally, as many of us do this time of year when trying to find replacements for Browns jobs—there is the obvious Ohio link with Caserio. Also from that Patriots biography, “Caserio is a native of Lyndhurst, Ohio. He was a teammate of Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels at John Carroll. He earned his degree in finance from John Carroll and later earned his Master’s of Business Administration from Saginaw Valley State. Caserio was a three-time Academic All-Conference selection at John Carroll.”
As a 40-year old, that would mean Caserio grew up in Ohio during one of the greatest eras of Cleveland Browns football. And he even admitted in this article back in 2009 on ESPN that he was a Browns fan growing up. Now, does that mean he wants to leave New England for what was probably his first football love? No, but as we all know—there is just something about being a Cleveland Browns fan no matter how terrible they are, and the allure of being “the hometown guy to turn things around” could be very, very intriguing for Caserio.
If the above was not enough to sell you on Caserio as the next head of everything regarding football for the Cleveland Browns, take a look at this article from the Boston Globe. I will leave you with one quote from the article, which pretty much sums up why Jimmy Haslam needs to open up the checkbook and give Caserio whatever he wants to leave New England for Cleveland.
“Nick doesn’t get enough credit for what happens here,” team president Jonathan Kraft said at the end of the 2014 regular season. “Nick is a unique guy. He joined us at the lowest level. He has coached, he has scouted, he has done the job of the guy running the front office, looking at the salary cap and the administrative stuff. For a guy his age, he really has a lot of NFL experience under his belt, and he and Bill have a great trust with each other. Nick is a big part of what we do here.”
If that does not get you fired up for what Caserio could bring to Cleveland, I’m not sure what will.