We are a week into the month of April, and it seems the 2015 NFL Draft rumor mill is already starting to churn for the Cleveland Browns. According to Matt Miller of Bleacher Report, the Browns may be looking to move up in the first round for Oregon quarterback, Marcus Mariota.
In Miller’s latest “Scouting Notebook” on April 3rd, he stated, “One team that may be interested in a move up is the Cleveland Browns. I’m told by a source within Cleveland that they love quarterback Marcus Mariota and rank him higher than any quarterback from the 2014 draft class. My source expects the Browns to be players if the Titans shop the pick.”
Now, before we get into the rumor itself, I know some of you are skeptical when it comes to Bleacher Report’s validity and sources. Because of this, I tracked down a couple of other quotes that lean the same direction—and also want to point out this article from last year which connected Mariota to Browns GM Ray Farmer.
According to an article just a few short days ago on Pro Football Talk, “…a recent report out of Cleveland suggests that the Browns may try to move up in the draft for Marcus Mariota, or try again to acquire Sam Bradford.” The report referenced was from Cleveland.com Browns reporter Mary Kay Cabot, who stated in her mailbag,”…I think they’ll try to trade up to draft Marcus Mariota, and I also think they could make another run at Sam Bradford on draft day.”
So now that there is at least a little credibility to the rumor, let’s examine it and see if Mariota actually has a real chance of being in Cleveland next season. His potential fit and translation to the NFL will be covered in a future breakdown on the site, so make sure to keep your eyes open for that.
The first place to start in regard to the possibility of acquiring Mariota is the QBs on the roster. The old saying is “you aren’t anything until you have a QB,” and the Cleveland Browns haven’t seemingly had a viable one since the days of Bernie Kosar in the 1990s. To put it simply, that in itself says you should rule out nothing in regard to potential trade-ups in the 2015 NFL Draft for a QB.
To take it further, we should start with the disaster of a first season that was rookie year of 2014 first-round pick, Johnny Manziel. The total package of off-the-field issues, poor practice habits and an atrocious six quarters landed the Texas A&M product in rehab this season—that’s how big of a disaster it was. Okay, maybe that was harsh—his off-the-field issues are what landed him in rehab, but those clearly impacted the on-the-field product in year one. The impact was so large that veterans are questioning him in the offseason and members of the offensive staff did not even discuss him when talking about the offense for next year.
Now, I’m not a front office wizard or anything—but if your offensive staff cannot bring you up in a conversation about the potential offense for next year, that is a major problem. Add in the fact that your new QBs coach has spent all offseason with Mariota AND conducted his Pro Day, and let’s just say the Browns didn’t just add fuel to the fire—they doused it with a pump at the gas station.
After Manziel, there really isn’t much keeping the Browns from trading up for Mariota. They inked Josh McCown to a three-year deal this offseason, but at his age he is better suited for spot starts and mentor duty. They also signed veteran Thad Lewis as a camp arm, and have 2014 undrafted rookie QB Connor Shaw on the roster.
Draft Pick Situation
Thanks to a few trades in the 2014 NFL Draft, Farmer and the front office have positioned themselves very well to make a move up in the 2015 NFL Draft. A trade down from No. 4 in the first round netted them an extra first-round pick (No. 19 overall to go with their own at No. 12) and an extra fourth-round pick from the Bills. Couple those with their own picks in the first four rounds, and the Browns have six picks in the first rounds of the draft. The team also made a deal with the Ravens late in last year’s draft, which netted them an additional sixth-round pick this year. So in total, the Browns have 10 picks in this draft alone to make moves with.
Why is the number 10 important? Because when you look around the Browns young roster, it does not look like they will add 10 rookies to it.
Now, I’m not saying the Browns will not add 10 rookies—but the current roster composure has a lot of younger talent currently on it. So, trading three or even four picks to go up and secure your QB of the future would not exactly hurt the Browns this season. On top of that, having that many picks allows the team to only impact one draft when trading up to get a QB—not two or three, like the Washington Redskins did when they traded up for Robert Griffin III.
Mariota’s Potential Impact Outweighs Other Players at 12 and 19
This statement is probably going to get me in some trouble, so allow me to clarify.
Finding a franchise QB is the single most important thing the Browns need to do to take the next step. Thus, moving up to get Mariota and him developing into a franchise QB for the Browns would have a greater impact than any two players the Browns could get at 12 and 19 in this draft class.
In the same breath though, Mariota being a bust and the Browns not landing two viable starters in the first round would have a negative impact as well—but there is no guarantee the players selected at 12 and 19 are going to be long-term starters either. So herein lies the problem, do you mortgage multiple picks for one potential QB answer? Or do you go the potential safe route and add two potential starters to your roster?
The Browns went 7-9 last season and were an average QB away from making the playoffs. Led by journeyman backup, Brian Hoyer, they were able to jump out to a 7-4 record with a number of convincing wins. Down the stretch, we all saw what happened when “average” was not good enough at the QB position, as the team lost five games—not all Hoyer’s fault—and missed the playoffs.
Whether you like Mariota or not, it is not out of the question to say he is a better starting NFL QB prospect than Hoyer. Sure, you may be afraid of his projection from the Oregon system to the NFL—but he has more upsides and potential than Hoyer ever did. Add that in with the Browns stout offensive line, and you are putting the rookie in a position to grow behind one of the best lines in the league.
Many are afraid to trade multiple picks in fear of “missing out” on one of the other skill position players in a draft. But ultimately it comes down to the most important position on the field, and the Browns do not have any viable, long-term options at it on the roster.
So not only are the Mariota to the Browns rumors a major possibility, but it is something that Farmer and the front office need to be highly considering in the weeks leading up to the draft.