AFC North: Cleveland Browns

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Mel Kiper nails it for the Cleveland Browns in his latest mock draft.

While that thought might make some in Browns headquarters cringe, Kiper’s picks in his latest mock draft shouldn't make anyone cringe.

In this draft, Kiper does not predict what teams will do; he picks based on what he would do if he were running the team. It’s a draft he’d give himself a grade of “A” for doing, so he calls it his “Grade: A Mock Draft.”

Kiper picks the first three rounds in this draft and when it comes to the Browns, he makes a lot of logical and sensible selections.

In order:

Shelton makes perfect sense for the Browns, as we’ve stated already. He’s an athletic wide body who can stop the run and had impressive pass-rush numbers at Washington. Gurley does not play a position of need for the Browns, but the four top receivers are off the board in this mock draft, and Gurley would bring immense talent to the position.

The receiver position has depth in this draft, and Smith is among the more talented players in the second group. It never hurts to draft an Ohio State guy in Cleveland either.

Hundley is an interesting prospect. He’s 6-foot-3 and 224 pounds, but he ran the spread at UCLA so he’ll have an adjustment in the NFL. A third-round adjustment, though, is given more patience than a guy drafted in the first round.

Hundley started 40 games, he can run, he has a strong arm, and he went 19-8 as a starter the past two seasons. He’d be a solid addition to the quarterback group, a guy who could grow into the job over time.

There should be no complaints if the Browns' draft goes the way Kiper says it would in this “Grade: A” process.

Will it?

Last year in his “Grade: A” draft, Kiper had the Browns taking Johnny Manziel -- though he had him going fourth overall. At the 26th spot, Kiper said the Browns should take CB Jason Verrett, who ended up being picked 25th by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Kiper got both positions right when making two first-round picks.

If he’s right about Shelton, Gurley, Smith and Hundley, a lot of folks should be pleased.

News flash: There is a lot of chatter about the Cleveland Browns and Marcus Mariota.

It makes sense. But it doesn’t makes sense.

It makes sense because the Browns simply do not know their long-term future at quarterback and they have two first round picks to use to trade up.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Mariota
AP Photo/Ryan KangMarcus Mariota continues to be linked to the Browns, but will they really trade multiple picks to get in position to take him?

It does not make sense because the Browns bent over backward at the NFL meetings to say they value numbers of draft picks and left the clear impression they would not give them up for one guy — especially when the price will be extremely high.

If the Browns are to acquire Mariota at the second spot, they might have to match the trade the Redskins made when they acquired Robert Griffin III -- three first-round picks, and a second-round choice.

Is Mariota worth that haul?

He is a big, strong-armed guy who will have to go through the transition from the college spread system to an NFL offense.

But his character is impeccable. He even has turned down being in Chicago for the draft to be with his family that night, an act of humility that should not be minimized.

The Browns stressed they want to build a team through the draft and they don’t want to surrender that many picks. Though they also were careful to leave the door open.

GM Ray Farmer: “I definitely believe in resources. The more you can acquire, the better off you are.”

Coach Mike Pettine: “I roll my eyes at a lot of things. That [the chatter about the Browns trading up for Mariota] just happens to be one. I don’t get too wrapped up in it. It’s the offseason. People need material to talk about and when you have to two first-round picks that gives you options. You can trade back for more picks. You can package it and move forward. I just think that’s part of the process.”

Owner Jimmy Haslam said the Browns still believe Johnny Manziel can be a good quarterback, but added: “We’ll continue to address the quarterback until we get the kind of quarterback that can help us be a consistent winner.”

Which could be simple straight talk, or a brilliant way to say something without revealing the team's true intent. The main lasting impression was that the Browns would not trade up for Mariota, though the door was not bolted shut.

Giving up three No. 1 picks does not make a ton of sense for a team trying to build. But it does make sense when viewed that Mariota is the most logical answer for this team right now.

In a year, Manziel might have proven he’s back to the college Manziel.

Right now, he’s a question mark who just finished rehab.

Josh McCown is what he is, a 35-year-old who will hold the fort.

Mariota could be the future. Will it happen? Check in on draft night. Because there are too many moving pieces for this to be settled prior to the night of the draft. Among the possibilities to ponder:

  • Tampa Bay could wind up taking Mariota first, ahead of Jameis Winston. It’s a sound decision that makes sense that hasn’t been discussed enough. Winston brings much personal baggage from Florida State. It’s a risk to make him the face of the franchise and give him the money and stature of the first overall selection. Especially when a guy with the talent and character of a Mariota is the option.
  • Tennessee could acquire Philip Rivers and send its pick to the Chargers, who will take Mariota. Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt was Rivers’ offensive coordinator in San Diego.
  • Tennessee also could just draft Mariota.
  • If the Bucs take Winston and Tennessee passes on Mariota, the jockeying would begin, with the Browns in the most enviable position of sitting with two first-round picks and perhaps a team like Oakland willing to trade down. Bill Williamson, ESPN’s Raiders reporter, already has proposed this scenario.

These scenarios are all reasons the Browns have to be prepared on draft night.

“Those are discussions that you have, because you have to weigh it,” Pettine said. “When you talk about getting a quarterback, that certainly has to come into the discussion. That’s the one position where it becomes viable making big moves if you feel you can get your guy.”

The Mariota chatter has been taking place since the offseason began. Expect it to get louder and louder as the draft approaches.

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Cleveland guys aren’t supposed to admire or respect a Pittsburgh Steeler. It’s part of the code.

But it’s impossible not to admire or respect Troy Polamalu. He shattered that code with his unique style of play and his pursuit of spiritual peace and understanding.

Polamalu announced Thursday he would retire after 12 seasons in Pittsburgh, where his continued excellence was constant torment to the Browns. The praise and warmth for him began immediately after the announcement.

Polamalu played hard, he played fast and he played clean. He was a Hall of Fame player and a great teammate.

Off the field, his life revolved around family and spirituality rooted in a belief that a person could never truly know God except through humility.

He chased excellence in the humblest of ways.

There are a lot of people who know Polamalu a lot better than I did and spent a lot more time with him. But with a guy like Polamalu, any time spent with him left an indelible impression. You left feeling you learned something, that somehow his inner security -- he smiled and said the internal waters were turbulent -- had left a mark. He was that kind, that humble, that unique.

[+] EnlargeTroy Polamalu
AP Photo/Tom HauckTroy Polamalu made eight career interceptions against the Browns.

Browns fans know well how he made big play after big play when he saw the orange helmets. When Pittsburgh needed an interception, a sack, a fumble, it often seemed Polamalu provided it. Eight of his interceptions came against Cleveland, and he lost just three times to the Browns in 12 seasons.

But he was best defined in a couple of other moments.

The last time the Steelers were in the Super Bowl, Aaron Rodgers took advantage of the Steelers' secondary. Polamalu sat at a podium after the game and took responsibility, blaming himself because the coverage calls he made allowed the Packers to complete big passes.

After three or four minutes, the PR rep next to him said he could go. Polamalu said no, he was fine, and kept talking and taking responsibility. The PR rep again said he could go. Polamalu shook his head no. This happened two or three more times, until finally Polamalu had answered every question.

What he never said was he was playing with an Achilles tendon injury that meant any step he took could cause it to snap. Because of the injury, he played cautiously.

Polamalu missed two games with that Achilles injury, returned against the Browns in a game the Steelers needed to win and intercepted Colt McCoy on the second play of the game. Later in the game, he did his patented leap over the line to tackle McCoy as he took the snap from center. He reinjured the Achilles in that game as well, but he never once mentioned it after the Super Bowl loss.

The other moment came on a bench at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, the Steelers' idyllic training camp home. There Polamalu sat for 45 minutes and explained his spiritual journey.

How he decided he had to find a way to know his God the best way he could.

How he spent offseasons reading every book he could find about every religion in the world, from Catholicism to Buddhism to Islam.

How that led him to Orthodox Christianity, a religion he found pure because he saw it as unchanged for 1,500 years.

How that led him to make a pilgrimage to Mount Athos in Greece, an ancient home of monasteries accessible only by boat, a place National Geographic called “the essence of isolation” with ancient monasteries carved into the mountains.

Polamalu didn’t want to know about Mount Athos; he wanted to feel it. That visit and consultation with one of the Orthodox Church’s spiritual leaders led him to believe that only in humility can one be complete.

Polamalu is a pacifist who played a violent sport because it involved surrender for the greater good of the team. He saw the same surrender for the greater good in the monastic lifestyle.

He is intensely spiritual but never forces his beliefs on others, saying that causes resentment.

His random acts of kindness for people are well-known in Pittsburgh but were never publicized.

In a sense, Polamalu embodied what the Browns have lacked -- the great player intrinsically part of the community where he played.

He’ll be missed. Yes, even in Cleveland.

A Thursday night game on ESPN highlights the Cleveland Browns preseason schedule, which was released Thursday.

The Browns will play the Buffalo Bills in the second weekend. Because the Browns are planning to practice two days against Buffalo, the Thursday night game means practices in Rochester will be some combination of two days between Sunday, Aug. 16, through Tuesday, Aug. 18. The teams then would take Wednesday off before the game.

That national television game and a third week trip to Tampa Bay highlight the team’s preseason schedule.

The Browns open preseason with a home game against Washington the weekend of Aug. 13-17. They travel to Tampa Bay the weekend of Aug. 27-30 and finish in Chicago, likely the night of Sept. 3, a Thursday.

There is no game against Detroit, meaning there will be no renewal of the game originally dubbed the “Great Lakes Classic” by Carmen Policy in 1999.
Specific dates and times of the games will be released in the near future.

The NFL is expected to release the regular-season schedule this month.

The schedule:
Aug. 13-17, vs. Washington in Cleveland
Aug. 20,, 8 p.m., vs. Buffalo in Cleveland (ESPN).
Aug. 27-30, at Tampa Bay.
Sept 3-4, at Chicago.

In 28 career starts, Rob Housler has one touchdown.

In 25 career starts, Gary Barnidge has three.

Although TD catches are not the be-all and end-all about the Cleveland Browns adding Housler, who signed today, it does put in perspective the kind of free-agent tight end the Browns acquired.

The Browns needed a tight end. That the team addressed the position prior to the draft is a good thing.

How it works out remains to be seen. This isn’t like trading for Jimmy Graham -- or even retaining TE Jordan Cameron, whom the Browns lost to free agency. In consecutive offseasons the Browns have signed two former Cardinals tight ends Bruce Arians no longer wanted -- Jim Dray a year ago and Housler this offseason.

With Cameron now in Miami, it’s hard to think the Browns didn’t trade down.

Cameron led NFL tight ends with four receptions of 40 yards or more last season. Housler has not had a 40-yard reception in his four-year career. He had only nine receptions and 129 yards in 2014.

However, Housler was a third-round draft pick. In 2012, he started nine games and caught 45 passes. In 2013, it was 10 games and 39 passes.

Those numbers are acceptable production, especially given the Browns' two tight ends, Barnidge and Dray, have 44 and 50 receptions in their careers, respectively.

Barnidge and Dray played capably during the time Cameron was injured last season, and Barnidge came up with several big catches.

But losing Cameron and being outbid by Buffalo for Charles Clay meant the Browns needed a tight end. Housler was the most appealing of the options that were left -- especially in a year when the draft is not overflowing with top players at the position.

That the team signed him is a good thing.

Whether it pays off as a very good thing in the long run remains to be seen.

videoRandy Gregory might present the Cleveland Browns with one of their more interesting draft-day decisions.

Gregory is among the top two or three pass-rushers available. He also is an admitted marijuana user who tested positive at the combine.

If Gregory played for the Broncos, he could legally smoke pot. But the NFL does not allow it, which makes him a tricky pick for the Browns, a team that in 2015 will be without a suspended Josh Gordon and will have Johnny Manziel coming out of rehab.

Once thought a top-five or top-six pick, Gregory might fall, and he could fall to the Browns at the 12th spot. As ESPN’s Ashley Fox wrote in a fine story on Gregory this week: "At what point will a team determine that prodigious talent trumps the risk of selecting a player who failed a drug test at the scouting combine and has admitted to habitually smoking marijuana?" Mel Kiper’s latest mock draftInsider has him going after the Browns selection.

The Browns need a pass-rusher, and Gregory can do just that -- in two seasons at Nebraska he had 17 1/2 sacks.

That’s the good.

The main concern about him leads the Browns right back to Gordon: Gregory does not hide from the fact that he smokes a lot of marijuana.

Gordon, like Gregory, has tremendous talent, but Gordon will not play this season because he violated the alcohol agreement he agreed to with the league. Gordon was suspended 10 games last season for a positive marijuana test (which he attributed to second-hand smoke), and he tested positive for marijuana at two different colleges before he joined the NFL. Gordon also was suspended for the season finale in 2014 for missing the final Saturday walk-through.

That Gregory tested positive at the combine, when players know they will be tested, raises serious red flags. He enters the NFL in Stage 1 of the substance abuse program for a minimum of 90 days. He could be moved into Stage 2 at the discretion of the medical advisor; if he were in Stage 2, any positive test would result in four missed games.

Gregory not only tested positive at the combine, he admitted to NFL.com that he tested positive twice at Nebraska in 2014. He also attributed his positive test at the combine to the drug staying in his system since December.

If the positive tests don’t make the Browns pause, the fact that Gregory is 235 pounds should.

The Browns have one light linebacker already in Barkevious Mingo, and he weighs five pounds more than Gregory’s listed weight. Gregory's speed might offset the fact that he can be pushed around, but the size combined with the off-field issues should lead the Browns to look elsewhere if Gregory is available.

It’s tough to see the Browns wanting another high-risk player on the roster.

CLEVELAND -- Johnny Manziel is allowed to make trips as part of his treatment, and it seems one trip in particular left a hospital patient happy.

According to the account of Kiki Crist (@kikijunecrist), she posted a picture of herself with the Cleveland Browns quarterback from inside the hospital.

"Shout out to @JManziel2 for visiting me in the hospital," Crist tweeted.

Manziel, who is still in treatment as of Wednesday, has made more than one hospital visit as part of his treatment plan. Manziel also took an Easter weekend trip with family to Shreveport, Louisiana, for golfing. He checked into a facility Jan. 28.

ESPN reported last month that Manziel was expected to be released in early April.

Later Wednesday, Crist took to Twitter with a declaration: "Rt everyone, I wanna go to prom with @JManziel2."

The Cleveland Browns did not dangle Johnny Manziel when they attempted to acquire Sam Bradford from the St. Louis Rams.

Now all of a sudden they’re going to offer Manziel to the Philadelphia Eagles for the same player?

I don’t buy it; not today, not yesterday, not tomorrow.

[+] EnlargeSam Bradford
AP Photo/Matt SlocumThe Browns aren't going to flip a first-round pick to the Eagles for perhaps one year of Sam Bradford.

That didn’t stop a possible Manziel-and-picks-for-Bradford trade to catch notice in Philadelphia. That deal has been floated online on a site called ChatSports.com in a report that says the Browns offered Manziel and a draft pick for the quarterback the Eagles just acquired in a trade. The report is attributed to “a source very close to an agent involved in the talks,” and adds that both sides are motivated to complete the trade.

Never say never in the business of personnel machinations, but this just doesn’t add up. On several fronts. I’m in agreement with my colleague Phil Sheridan in Philadelphia that the proposed deal sounds like lingering smoke from a previously distant fire.

First, the Browns did not include Manziel in any offer to the Rams prior to St. Louis sending Bradford to the Eagles for Nick Foles and a second-round pick. The Browns offered the 19th pick. It’s possible, I suppose, that the Browns might have tried to get Bradford from the Eagles for a second-round pick and Manziel, but I doubt it.

The Browns all along have said they want to see what they have in Manziel when he comes out of rehab. They have not given up on him, and in fact the owner has made the point that it would be wrong and unfair to give up on him after only one season and seven quarters.

The Browns are not counting on him though, especially this season. They can’t. Because they don’t know what lingering effects his personal struggles will carry. But will they accept a healthy and able Manziel? Absolutely.

The hope clearly is that if Manziel becomes more complete off the field he will be more complete on the field. Then maybe the team can get something from last year’s second first-round pick.

Finally, there’s the little deal of Bradford’s contract, which has one year left at $12.985 million. To give up a first-round pick for him the Browns naturally would have to require that Bradford sign a contract extension.

Bradford would not do that for the Browns, but he will for the Eagles. Suddenly he’s going to change his mind about the Browns after being traded from the Eagles?

The contract refusal alone was reason enough for the Browns not to acquire him. A first-round pick for a one-year rental? Not worth it.

Then there’s the insistence by the Eagles and Chip Kelly that he did not acquire Bradford to trade him. It’s always possible that could be posturing, but Kelly has been adamant. And as Sheridan points out the Eagles have been selling Bradford jerseys since the day of the trade. It wouldn’t make sense to do that and then turn around and insult the fans who pay for the tickets by dealing Bradford so quickly.

For all these factors to suddenly shift would involve a tsunami of change.

It’s folly to give absolutes in these situations, but I don’t see the trade’s logic, nor do I see it happening.

In discussing the state of the Cleveland Browns at the NFL's annual owners meetings in Phoenix, coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer explained their thinking in bringing in a quarterback who was 1-10 a season ago as the new starter.

Josh McCown is a tremendous person, a tremendous teammate, but he's not had great success in the NFL. The list of his past struggles is lengthy. A career rating of 76.1. A record as a starter of 17-32, which even without last season's debacle in Tampa Bay is 16-22. Never a single season in 12 years of a career when he was the starter for 16 games. Four seasons between 2006 and 2012 when he threw a total of six passes.

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsEntering his 13th season, QB Josh McCown has experienced a few highs and major lows in the NFL.

McCown is basically a guy who has extended his career and earned a lot of money with five good games in Chicago in 2013. When Jay Cutler was injured, McCown (with Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery at receiver and Matt Forte at running back) completed 66.5 percent with 13 TDs and one interception, and won three-of-five starts.

Tampa Bay rewarded him with $4.75 million in guaranteed money in 2014.

After he went 1-10, the Browns rewarded him with $6.25 million in guaranteed money.

Presumably, if McCown goes winless this season he will earn more than $10 million for another team next season.

This clearly is a career and economic path that most would wish to follow.

This is the Browns' new starting quarterback.

Pettine listened to the list of numbers and said: "I think you've got to dig a little deeper than the numbers to the person."

He also added that top-five quarterbacks are not commodities that can be easily acquired. To the team, McCown calmed the quarterbacks waters.

"We wanted to stabilize it and we feel we did that with Josh," Pettine said.

Pettine said circumstances beyond McCown's control led to his struggles last season. The biggest was when offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford left the team in the preseason for a heart procedure. That left the Bucs scrambling without a true coordinator, and McCown -- because of who he is and because of his experience -- took over many of those duties.

"You've got to look at what [McCown] was dealing with -- the supporting cast, along with the offensive coordinator essentially getting sick right before the season and he essentially had to take on a lot of those circumstances himself," Pettine said "It was a difficult thing for him."

The Bucs' offensive line was also a problem, as McCown was sacked 36 times, a career high. On the season, Bucs quarterbacks were sacked 52 times, tied for third highest in the league. As for the supporting cast, McCown did have talented wideouts in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, but little in the way of a running game as leading rusher Doug Martin had 494 yards.

In this search, Pettine said the Browns leaned heavily on new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo, who was the quarterbacks coach in Oakland for one season when McCown was on the team.

What's interesting is that was 2007, eight years ago, and McCown won just two of his nine starts. But DeFilippo offered enough positives to bolster the Browns' belief.

"We're confident, based on Flip having been with him, that if we need him to start games for us, we're confident he can get the job done for us," Pettine said.

Why did McCown bolster the spot and Brian Hoyer didn't? The Browns weren't getting into that question.

"I don't like to comment negatively about any one particular player for any reason," Farmer said. "So I would say for me to focus on our team, I thought the reality for who Josh is, who he was and what he was doing was right for us."

Farmer and Pettine also fell on the "decided to go in a different direction" sword.

But Pettine also admitted the signing of MccCown did not mean the Browns were finished trying to bolster the spot. They tried to trade for Sam Bradford, and no doubt made other inquiries about adding other quarterbacks to the mix.

"Were we done looking to do anything there?" Pettine said. "We were not, but it's very difficult when you talk about getting a top-five quarterback. Those are not things where you run down to the corner market and there it is. We wanted to stabilize it and we feel we did with Josh."

Pettine is well aware of past numbers, and of the perception McCown is viewed as a solid No. 2 as opposed to a capable No. 1. The coach simply felt McCown best fit what the Browns needed.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was criticized for the decision to throw from the 1-yard line in the Super Bowl. His response: You don't call a play expecting failure.

This is the same with the move to McCown. It's an easy one to criticize and question, but the Browns didn't make the move with the intention of making the team worse.

"If you feel you have the right guy regardless of what the past history's been," Pettine said, "If you feel you have a guy that can be credible for you and be functional, then you go ahead and make that move."

There should be no head-scratching about Joe Thomas' comments on ESPNCleveland.com on Monday morning.

Thomas was 100 percent right in everything he said about Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel. And everything he said, not just part of it, must be considered.

Thomas’ main points in an interview with Tony Grossi of ESPN Cleveland 850 were all correct:

Manziel did lose the trust of his teammates last season.

[+] EnlargeJohnny Manziel
Jim Dedmon/Icon SportswireJohnny Manziel has a lot to prove to his teammates when he returns from rehab.

Manziel did take a positive step by entering rehab after the season.

Manziel can earn back the lost trust.

But it’s a challenge, and the Browns have no idea what kind of Manziel they will see coming out of rehab. That's why ESPN’s Chris Mortensen can report his feeling that the Browns may be “90 percent” done with Manziel.

Put it simply: The Browns can’t count on Manziel until they see how he acts after a long stay in a rehab treatment facility. It’s the challenge facing Manziel -- repairing his psyche and his persona while in a team environment and public setting.

Here is Thomas’ entire quote on Manziel losing trust, all of which is important:

“I think he’s going to have to prove to the team that football is important and being 'the man,' being the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns, is important, it is his goal, his single goal in his life. You know, I think he lost probably a lot of trust among the guys on the team last year by the way he handled himself once he became the starter. And I think he had a lot of time to reflect, I’m guessing, after the season was over by the comments he made in the media and by his actions, checking himself into rehab. … I think those were really positive steps. I’m hoping when we come back in April, we see a new Johnny and everybody’s blown away with his commitment. And I think he’s got the talent, so it’s just a matter of if he commits himself to it, we can have a really good quarterback on our hands.”

Thomas merely spoke the truth. It’s been well-documented that Manziel lost trust with his actions last season. He didn’t prepare when he wasn’t starting, wasn’t ready when he did, then compounded it by missing the final day of work before the final game because he was out late the night before.

The lack of trust Thomas spoke to was the same anger he and several teammates expressed the day after the season ended. All spoke with blunt honesty about the actions of Manziel, Justin Gilbert and Josh Gordon, all of whom were suspended or essentially suspended for the final game. (Gordon has since been suspended for the entire 2015 season.)

But Thomas also properly credits Manziel for “really positive steps” that include checking himself into rehab.

Again, Thomas speaks truth. Manziel deserves respect for taking actions to change his course. The results have yet to be seen in the locker room and on the field, but Thomas is hopeful about a renewed commitment from Manziel that helps him become a better player.

The Browns hope the same. It’s why they’ve stuck with Manziel and why they will give him a full chance to regain his footing -- even if they won’t know for some time whether they can count on him for 2015.

Manziel has a chance not everyone gets: a chance to reset his career and his future. He’s taken actual and specific steps to improve himself.

At this point it’s up to him -- and Thomas echoed the feelings of his coach and general manager when he said that hype and talk mean little compared to the day-to-day work a player does with his team and teammates.

“Everyone wants to talk the good talk in the media, and that includes Josh Gordon,” Thomas said, “but it’s your actions that really are telling to your teammates about if you really mean what you say.”

As Thomas made clear, the challenge for Manziel when he returns to the team is carrying what he’s gained during rehab to the team, and showing he is truly committed to the game, to the team and to himself.

Ereck FlowersJim Owens/Icon SportswireMitchell Schwartz understands the Browns' offensive line is good but could get better, and Ereck Flowers may be a good fit.

CLEVELAND – A trendy mock draft pick for the Browns is an offensive tackle at No. 19 overall. Browns right tackle Mitchell Schwartz isn’t surprised.

“That kind of seems to be the chatter every year,” said Schwartz, a second-round pick in 2012 who has started the last three years. “You get used to it by now.”

Any conversation about drafting a lineman seems to shift the conversation to Schwartz, mainly because his name isn’t Joe Thomas. The Browns aren’t drafting a tackle to replace Thomas, at least not right now, when he still has good years left. Considering Schwartz’s free-agency status after 2015, it’s fair to wonder whether what the presence of a new tackle – that’s still a big if – means for Schwartz’s future in Cleveland.

That conversation doesn’t have to be so pointed. There’s broader context. Center Alex Mack can opt out of his contract after next year, Thomas and right guard John Greco have a combined 15 years in the league and the Browns want to foster competition at arguably their most successful position. Plus, Schwartz did some good things last year. He’s not the problem on offense.

The Browns could have a bevy of possible tackle options at No. 19, including Miami’s Ereck Flowers, LSU’s La'el Collins, Pitt’s T.J. Clemmings and Florida’s D.J. Humphries. Humphries told ESPN he has a private workout with the Browns, and WalterFootball.com reports that Flowers is one of the Browns’ 30 in-house visitors.

As for interior linemen, Florida State center/guard Cameron Erving is an intriguing prospect.

Schwartz, who says he still feels at home at right tackle, doesn’t shy away from the possibility of the team drafting a lineman high. He believes bringing in new players would strengthen the group.

“I think the offensive line is the strength of the team,” Schwartz said. “You can always look to strengthen it more. We have a really strong room, a lot of guys who can play.”

(As a side note, Schwartz did some good work for a local Jewish school and a fourth-grader who looked up to him.)

As for Schwartz’s play, Pro Football Focus named him to its All-Third Year team. PFF calls Schwartz’s play “solid.”

I thought Mitchell [Schwartz] had a good year for us,” Pettine said at the NFL combine in February, when asked about the possibility of the team upgrading a tackle spot through the draft. “Had some plays he’d want to take back, but we feel good about where our offensive line is.”

In August, the Browns claimed injured tackle Michael Bowie, a former Seahawks lineman, off waivers. Pettine said he’s eager to see what Bowie can do.

Johnny Manziel took an Easter weekend trip with family but is expected to return to treatment, according to a rep for the Cleveland Browns quarterback.

The Shreveport (La.) Times reported Saturday that Manziel was in the area with his father to play golf at 265, a facility built by PGA Tour player David Toms.

The Browns expect Manziel to attend offseason workouts, which start April 20. Manziel entered treatment Jan. 28. He's allowed to make occasional trips as part of the program.

Jimmy HaslamJason Miller/Getty ImagesJimmy Haslam says criticism of the Browns won't stop until the team can win consistently.


PHOENIX -- Stung by sarcasm that deems his team amateurish, buffeted by reports of a dysfunctional organization, confused by criticism that catches him by surprise, Jimmy Haslam still has one word to describe his feelings about owning the Cleveland Browns.

"A privilege," he said as he sat next to his wife and fellow owner Dee at the recently concluded NFL owners meetings. "Unequivocally, yes, it's a real privilege to be in this position."

He said that's especially true in Cleveland, a city some 500 miles from his home in Knoxville, Tennessee.

"Besides the fact that it's really cold in the winter," Haslam said with a smile, "[Cleveland's] a really nice place to live. With great people and tremendous football fans."

Haslam stands firm in his commitment, but he has had his share of tumult and upheaval in less than three years of owning the Browns. From general manager Ray Farmer being suspended four games because of illegal in-game texting, to offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan leaving with two years left on his contract, to first-round pick and expected face-of-the-franchise quarterback Johnny Manziel finishing rehab, to former All-Pro receiver Josh Gordon facing another suspension for substance abuse, headlines have not been kind to the Browns. And that was all within the past few months.

"Let's face it," he said, "it hasn't been the smoothest start in the world."

Since the family bought the team for just more than $1 billion in October 2012, the Browns have been through three head coaches, three general managers, seven quarterbacks and (in two full seasons under Haslam) 21 losses in 32 games.

In the same span, Pilot Flying J, the Haslam family's company, went through an FBI raid on its headquarters as part of an investigation into alleged fraud regarding fuel rebates. Several executives have plead guilty, and Haslam had to pay heavily to fix the mess -- in fines, restitution and in his image in Cleveland.

"Nobody likes criticism, let's face it," Haslam said. "We've had our share, some of it probably self-inflicted and deserved. Others maybe not.

"But it is what it is."

[+] Enlarge Johnny Manziel
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsJohnny Manziel was expected to become the face of the team but had an up-and-down rookie season.

Last week Haslam even had to deny a story about him switching ownership of teams, a scenario that would see him giving up the Browns for the Tennessee Titans. He blistered the report, saying there was no foundation and expressing anger that he even had to address it.

"We feel really fortunate to own an NFL team, we feel really fortunate that it's Cleveland, and we're totally committed to turning the franchise around and making it a consistent winner," he said. "We're committed to do that, and it's not easy. OK?

"It's not easy."

The final two words say much. Haslam joined the Browns after serving as minority partner with the Steelers, a team and organization that exudes stability and success. The Steelers have had the same number of coaches in 45 seasons as the Browns have had in three. But Haslam has learned that just building his team to the point of stability can be undone with pratfalls and missteps. Do it in an environment of negativity like the one in which the Browns reside, and the team rarely gets the benefit of the doubt.

"Listen," Haslam said, "all organizations feel like they're picked on and that you guys [in the media] are too tough on us. There's times we say that, but I just say, 'There's no sense spending time [on it]; they're going to write what they want to write.'

"The best thing we can do is win and build up some equity and capital. Until we win and win consistently, we don't have that."

Browns coach Mike Pettine calls Haslam an involved, interested and active owner, but not a meddling one.

"It's upsetting to see him get maligned the way he has been when he's been nothing but supportive," Pettine said during the owners meetings. "He wants to know the why. That's one of the reasons why he's gotten to where he is in business. He's very inquisitive."

The Haslams' principal residence remains in Knoxville, but they have a home in Bratenahl, a village east of Cleveland where the homes sit on Lake Erie and income ranks sixth in Ohio. His Knoxville residence, a historic home built in 1928, sits on the banks of the Tennessee River. It recently was listed for sale with an asking price of $4.9 million (the Haslams purchased it in 1996 for $1.4 million).

"We've adopted [Cleveland] as our town," Dee Haslam said. "But we haven't been adopted by the town yet. We have to kind of prove ourselves, and we're willing to be patient and humbly ask for the blessing of the community that we can get involved and make a difference."

The pair make clear they couldn't ask for a warmer welcome. They prefer to move in slowly, and assume they will be assimilated over time.

"Everybody has been great to us," Dee Haslam said.

She spoke as a member of the Browns ownership group, a role she has assumed more and more. Dee is one of two women on the NFL's conduct committee. She also is Executive Producer and CEO of RIVR Media, a film production company responsible for documentaries and series like "Trading Spaces" and "Renovation Realities."

"Jimmy is obviously the primary owner and face of the team," Dee Haslam said. "But I'm very involved."

She said she doesn't ask or need permission from her husband to act, that she's an independent and active participant. She's passionate about addressing domestic violence, and active in the team's broadcast interests. She also took a strong stand against the Browns being featured on "Hard Knocks" this year.

"It's a little sensitive from a female that's been around business all her life to be referred to as a spouse," she said. "I got on the conduct committee not because I was Jimmy's spouse; I think I got on the conduct committee because they felt I added value for who I am."

As president of the Cleveland Browns Foundation, Dee runs the team's charitable arm. She also recently was behind a $1 million donation to Cleveland's Breakthrough Schools from the The Haslam 3 Foundation, the couple's private charity.

"I'm fine being referred to as spouse," Dee Haslam said. "I'm very proud of that. But I'm also an owner of the team."

Jimmy Haslam has not been afraid to bring change to the Browns beyond the obvious on-field and front-office overhauls. In just three years he has allowed long-standing contracts with the team's broadcast (radio and TV), insurance and medical care partners to run out, then signed deals with new companies. It took him very little time to sell naming rights to Cleveland Browns Stadium, something the Lerner family resisted. This offseason, he raised ticket prices -- by as much as 30 percent.

The drive for revenues has not gone unnoticed; team president Alec Scheiner said recently that the business end of the Browns had a good year. Haslam also has spent upward of $130 million as part of a renovation of FirstEnergy Stadium that drew positive reviews.

A huge change will come April 14 as the Haslams unveil new uniforms for a team whose look has not been radically changed since it joined the NFL in 1950. Finding the combination of new while maintaining tradition could not have been easy.

"That was the goal, to balance it well," Dee Haslam said. "I think we've done that."

The uniform unveiling will take place at the Cleveland Convention Center, on a one-hour television show replete with an "orange carpet" where media can interview "dignitaries" as they head inside.

The Haslams took a lot of barbs when a much-hyped new logo turned out to be a slight variation of the orange on the helmet. The Cincinnati Bengals and renowned Cleveland Orchestra even poked fun at the Browns on April Fool's Day with new logos that barely changed or did not change at all. A one-hour TV show on uniforms looms, and it seems there may be trepidation about the next reaction.

"Look, there's going to be a zillion opinions on whether [people] like [the uniform] or don't like it or whatever," Dee Haslam said. "It's really a hard call, and at the end of the day it's how you play the game."

Playing the game has been the Browns' biggest issue since well before Haslam took over. The follies have continued under his watch.

Still, Haslam seems at times flabbergasted by some of the questions sent his way and some of the things written about his team. He says he understands the criticism, but obviously pays attention and recoils at some of it. He knows his team has been mocked, but he sees his organization as one that is cohesive, dedicated and hard-working.

In October 2016 he will make a final $300 million payment to former owner Randy Lerner that will complete his purchase. He wants to spend more time in Cleveland and "at a certain point in time" live there full-time. He embraces the team's history, and when asked about a Paul Brown statue outside the stadium he readily admits he hasn't thought about it but he should.

When it's mentioned he's been through some rough water, he says "yeah" and admits the criticism "caught us off guard."

"I just accept the fact that we have to win," he said, adding: "If we don't win in four or five years, it's our fault."

Jimmy Haslam assessed the Cleveland Browns 2014 draft with a dose of realism and a healthy bit of hope.

“Everybody is killing our two first-round picks,” Haslam said last week at the NFL meetings, connecting it right back to general manager Ray Farmer, who made the picks.

Haslam’s statement was more fact that complaint. Most fans and analysts are highly critical of the Browns' pair of first-round picks.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Haslam
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesJimmy Haslam and the Browns are willing to be patient with the development of Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel.

Justin Gilbert, taken eighth, was a near complete first-year loss. Teammates were so down on his attitude and approach that they went public in December with rarely-heard negative comments about another player. Johnny Manziel’s first year was tarnished by dismal performances in his two starts. Both spent the final game of the season in the locker room, not even permitted on the field with their teammates.

But what Gilbert and Manziel have done since February provides the Browns their hope.

Gilbert has spent time in Florida with Joe Haden, working out under Haden’s tutelage. Haden knows about second chances. He was suspended the first four games of the 2012 season, but bounced back to go to two Pro Bowls.

“Joe stepped up to the plate and agreed that he wanted to work with Justin,” coach Mike Pettine said, “and sure enough he sees progress as we all do.”

All well and good, but progress measured in the offseason means nothing if it doesn’t show during the season.

Manziel voluntarilty entered rehab and has been there for almost two months. The hope is that addressing whatever personal issues he had that led him to rehab will help him on the field.

“For his football life to get it where it needs to be, he needs to get the personal life where it needs to be,” Pettine said.

Turnarounds aren’t easy, but they have happened in the NFL. Gilbert and Manziel must rebuild their careers as well as rebuild trust in the locker room.

In the same way, Farmer has to rebuild trust, not just in proving he can make two successful first round picks (yes, the jury is solidly out on that one) but he has to live down a four-game suspension for in-game text messages sent about personnel use and in-game strategy.

The Browns talk as if the texting issue is in the past and things are now apple pie and ice cream, but the coaching staff was plenty angry when the text messages were sent. Pettine admitted that at the combine. Since, the team has done its best to minimize the feelings to the public.

Those feelings may be supressed, but they’re not invisible.

Farmer has another two-pick first round ahead of him with picks 12 and 19. One year ago, he passed up the chance to draft Sammy Watkins and traded down for Gilbert, whom he took eighth. Teams absolutely cannot miss on a top-10 pick. He has to play and contribute for years. A mistake sets a team back, but it becomes compounded because teams tend to stick with higher picks longer.

Gilbert has to show he can be a professional. Farmer said that Manziel failed in his starts because the team changed its entire offense when he played. The statement basically threw former offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to the wolves and is illogical on several levels. Every evaluator before the draft said that Manziel’s NFL success depended on adjusting the offense to suit his skills; Shanahan did that, but Farmer said it hurt him.

“We’re still optimistic,” Haslam said about Manziel. “I think Ray said this, and I haven’t heard Pett’s remarks yet, that Johnny can still be a really good football player. I think six quarters is not a fair reflection of how a guy’s career is going to be. We’re still optimistic he can be a good football player, but our primary concern is him getting his life together off the field.”

After the first round, Farmer acquitted himself well, taking future Pro Bowler Joel Bitonio on the offensive line, as well as linebacker Chris Kirksey, running back Terrance West and cornerback Pierre Desir. That’s a good collection of picks -- and they’re boosted by underrated free agents Isaiah Crowell (RB) and Taylor Gabriel (WR).

The problem is the first round was so glaringly weak it overshadows the rest of the group. Hope is based on potential.

““If one of them or both of them come through, he [Farmer] will have had a super draft, particularly when you consider that our 19th pick [this year] is the result of last year’s draft,” Haslam said. “I think it’s too early to say how good or not so good last year’s draft was. A lot will depend on how No. 2 and No. 21 play.”

And the choices at No. 12 and No. 19.

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