Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
The heat is on: By virtue of owning the No. 2 overall pick in a draft with two outstanding quarterback prospects, I thought this was a draft the New Browns Order couldn’t possibly botch.
They couldn’t whiff it, muff it, butcher it, flub it, blow it.
They couldn’t Bill Buckner it.
They couldn’t Ray Farmer it.
Alas, I may be wrong.
Increasingly, national analysts and insiders have caught up to what I first said two weeks ago – that the Browns’ top-heavy analytics department may ignore the franchise’s generational need for a transcendent quarterback and instead trade out of the No. 2 position to collect extra picks to patch their depleted roster with bodies.
And that would be my definition of blowing the 2016 draft – forsaking the draft’s No. 1 or No. 1A quarterback to showcase owner Jimmy Haslam’s new Harvard University football lab and load up on offensive linemen, safeties, and assorted special teamers.
The first sign of this apocalypse was the acquisition of quarterback Robert Griffin III, who last was a productive player as a rookie in 2012 but who “made the Earth move under the feet” of coach Hue Jackson in a private workout, team sources told Jeff Darlington of NFL.com. Jackson has the confidence/arrogance to believe he can succeed where Washington Redskins coaches Mike Shanahan and Jay Gruden failed.
And now, the trade-up to No. 1 in the draft on Thursday by the Los Angeles Rams – the NFL’s new favored franchise – seemingly has intensified the Browns’ desire to trade out.
If so, we in Cleveland are doomed to many more years of unspeakably inept football.
What just happened?: The whole dynamic of the draft changed on Thursday when the Tennessee Titans traded the No. 1 pick to the Rams for essentially two first-round, two second-round and two third-round picks over the next two drafts.
Prior to the trade, the national narrative was that big-armed Carson Wentz of little North Dakota State was clearly the draft’s best quarterback prospect and tiny-handed Jared Goff of Power Five conference University of California was a distant second.
Almost every national mock draft was assigning Wentz to the Browns. But now that the Rams have leap-frogged the Browns into the No. 1 spot, the nationalists have revisited their team sources and they are saying that, wait, Goff is clearly the best and the Rams surely will choose him to launch their new era in Hollywood.
Wentz’s meteoric rise from unknown Division II powerhouse North Dakota State to the draft’s top quarterback prospect has given way to a similarly meteoric fall.
Not only will he not be the No. 1 pick but now the Browns – desperate as they are for a new face and new hope at the sport’s ever-crucial quarterback position – won’t even touch him.
The narrative now is that the Browns will pass up Wentz for a safety with three interceptions in his college career (Jalen Ramsey) or a tackle who hasn’t played a full season in three years (Laremy Tunsil) or a 4-3 linebacker with a knee problem (Myles Jack), or they will bail out of the No. 2 position and concentrate on simply adding bodies – much like former GM Tom Heckert did in 2011 when he passed up receiver Julio Jones to add picks and end up with a nose tackle who couldn’t move (Phil Taylor), a receiver who couldn’t catch (Greg Little), and a fullback who couldn’t block (Owen Marecic).
Anyone who has lived through this should be screaming, “Don’t do it! Gawd, don’t do it!”
Don’t punt: For eight consecutive weeks, I have advocated selecting Goff while everyone else was mocking Wentz to the Browns.
Goff clearly has always been the better prospect. He is more advanced than Wentz in the intricacies of the position. He processes information more quickly, maneuvers in the pocket like a seasoned NFL quarterback, releases the ball decisively in the face of pressure, exhibits physical and mental toughness against better competition, and has lifted his school’s football program from the depths of irrelevancy to a bowl win. And he is two years younger than Wentz.
This is not to say that Wentz is not a viable alternative. Two esteemed media analysts and film junkies – NFL Network’s Mike Mayock and NFL Films producer Greg Cosell – have likened Wentz’s attributes to Indianapolis Colts’ franchise quarterback Andrew Luck.
In other quarters, Wentz’s body type and arm strength have brought comparisons on the high side to Ben Roethlisberger and the low side to Blake Bortles.
I believe Wentz has a steep learning curve due to the level of competition he faced in an abbreviated two-year career. But when you factor in his impeccable character, work ethic and football intelligence, I don’t think it’s a reach for the Browns to tab Wentz at No. 2, if he indeed is the quarterback the Rams eschew with the No. 1 pick.
The New Browns Order is intent on building the foundation for a championship team. But it has to accept the fact that it will not reinvent professional football.
It may feel its thunder has been stolen by the Tennessee Titans. The Titans’ new GM Jon Robinson, a Bill Belichick protégé, has received national pats on the back for maximizing his team’s draft position with a blockbuster trade.
But Robinson had the luxury of inheriting the team’s franchise quarterback, Marcus Mariota, who was selected No. 2 overall a year ago. Trading out now, in a draft with no dominant No. 1 selection, is a no-brainer. Timing is everything, and Robinson is the beneficiary of fabulous timing.
The Browns should follow Tennessee’s blueprint. The first step in turning around a franchise is taking the quarterback when the opportunity exists. Once you have the quarterback in hand, your options expand exponentially.
Take the quarterback, even if it has to be Wentz. Suffer his growing pains this year. Trade the high pick next year and we will be on our way.