Ray Farmer is in his first season as the Browns’ general manager. He recently discussed his feelings on the state of the team, its lightning-rod rookie quarterback and trying to be patient and prudent in an age that craves immediate gratification. Farmer joined the Browns as assistant GM in March 2013 after seven seasons (2006-12) as Kansas City Chiefs director of pro personnel. He spent four seasons (2002-05) as a pro scout with the Atlanta Falcons, where he saw firsthand the emergence of Michael Vick as a star. This is Part 1 of Farmer's interview. Here are Part 2 and Part 3.
How are you feeling about where the team is?
Farmer: I feel good. I feel like we’re right where we thought we were going to be. We went into free agency, we did what we were supposed to do -- at least in my mind. We went and got players who we believed would help change the culture in this building, help establish us as a defensive-minded football team. Whether it’s Karlos Dansby, whether it’s Donte Whitner, we’ve brought in guys who are demonstrating that they’re definitely worthy of our selection and how we compensated them and what their value potentially was in free agency. So I feel good about the acquisitions made there.
Then we went into the draft, and I think we did well. We brought in guys that are going to contribute to this football team, and at the end of the day, it’s not always about instant coffee. This is a process. Within the process, we’re doing what we have to do to develop our guys the right way. Inevitably it’s not just about winning at the moment. It’s about sustaining wins. So the way you grow players has a large part in how they perform long-term.
That’s a big part of what we’re going to do: We’re going to raise them right, we’re going to discipline them when they need to be disciplined, we’re going to force them to be tough on them when we need to, and we’re going to do all the right things we need to do to make them understand what it means to be a pro.
When you talk about the process, do you put timetables on it? How do you know when it's right?
Farmer: It’s like a good cook. They go in the kitchen and they don’t measure how much brown sugar they put in it. They do it until it tastes right. It’s based upon the feel for where you are with the player, the rhythm you have with him, where he’s at psychologically, how his development and maturation is going. Then, when he’s ready to take his opportunity, then you can put him in.
I’ll give you an example. Ronde Barber did not play much on defense, if at all, in a regular-season game his rookie year until the playoffs. Then they [the Buccaneers] turned him loose. Now you see Ronde Barber at the end of his career and you [don’t have to] wonder why he’s a pro.
What do you think he learned from sitting?
Farmer: You have to earn your stripes. You have to earn your opportunity to contribute in a viable way. Even though you may be talented, even though you may make plays every practice, you’ve got to get your opportunities at certain points and times. When you structure that appropriately, you can potentially shield a guy from himself, you may help a guy grow up, you may help a guy do a lot of things that presents a better picture eight games from now, 10 games from now, 16 games from now or maybe a year, year and a half from now.
Inevitably, guys change. That’s part of this process. When you draft them, when you get young guys who you feel can grow and develop, they’ll grow up in time. The negative is, when you put a guy in before he’s ready, people say, “Aw, he can’t play.” Well, guess what: Very few guys come in to this league and start tearing it up from day one. Randy Moss, I applaud you. He came in, and he tore it up from the day he stepped on the field. That’s a rarity, but I think that’s what everybody sees as commonality. That’s the expectation.
Is that because of the young quarterbacks who came in and played right away?
Farmer: I would ask how many of them came in and threw the ball 35, 40 times a game and won. Not many. Look at Peyton [Manning as a rookie]. Twenty-eight interceptions and three wins as a rookie. You can do that, but some guys never recover from it. Peyton had a different mental toughness. He had a different perspective on life. He overcame his shortcomings when he was a rookie. But if you look at the long-term maturation of a lot of guys that sat and took time to grow, they fared better by getting their chance to learn how to play.
I know you don’t believe in doing things based on public opinion, because teams can never win that way, but when you set up organizationally how you were going to handle the quarterback situation -- if a veteran like Brian Hoyer isn’t able to separate himself from a first-year player (Johnny Manziel) who has so many challenges in front of him like learning a playbook with more verbiage, having to make protection calls at the line, taking snaps from under center, going through multiple read progressions, all these things he never had to do before -- why should that instill confidence in the team or the public?
Farmer: It should instill confidence from the standpoint that when he’s had to perform -- the difference now is that you have two guys learning new playbooks and new systems. So people say he’s a veteran. Well, to some degree, yeah, he’s a veteran. But they’re both coming in with little to no knowledge of the scheme they’re going to be implementing. To that degree, the race starts at the same point.
As you move forward, you say, "OK, what guy has done what? What guy has done what in practice?" Games are a part of it, but I look at it like the 3-point shooting contest [in the NBA All-Star Weekend]. There are a lot of brown balls before you get to the striped ball. The striped balls are the games; they offer a little bit more. But they don’t take away from or negate what you see in practice. So it’s looking at the totality and not just the money ball. If it was just about the money ball, then that’s all you’d shoot. But there are a lot of other things that go into the process. It’s understanding the totality of the process that gives us a different and clearer vision for why one guy’s different from the other.