The Cleveland Browns don’t want us to know the truth.
They have every reason to lie to the media, the fans, the agents and, in turn, the other 31 NFL teams heading into the 2018 NFL Draft. The Browns have the Nos. 1 and 4 overall picks (and four picks in the top 35 selections), a unique scenario where they are absurdly rich in draft assets. They’d be wise to protect those picks, particularly their top two, to turn them into the best two players on their draft board.
Most teams blow up pre-draft smokescreens to protect the players they want to fall to them. That’s what makes the top pick in the draft unique — no one picks above it. Thus, smokescreens become less important. But with the Browns, they have to be incredibly careful with what tells they provide for that top spot, because they pick again after the Giants pick at No. 2 and the Colts select at No. 3. Those two teams could easily open up trade offers to teams interested in the class’ top prospects. If the Browns plan on taking a quarterback at No. 1, then they’ll surely be hoping their top non-quarterback option (like NC State defensive end Bradley Chubb or Penn State running back Saquon Barkley) falls to No. 4. If they don’t plan to take their quarterback at No. 1, then they’ll have to cross their fingers he falls to No. 4.
If a team knows which player the Browns want at No. 4, they could trade into the Nos. 2 or 3 spot to steal him away from Cleveland.
So the Browns should deploy full-force espionage and counter-intelligence. The news cycle should be a house of mirrors for the rest of the NFL. If the Browns do it right, no one will have any clue what Cleveland will do when they’re on the clock. Or, better yet, the Browns will do the opposite of what everyone expects.
The misinformation may have started early in the calendar year.
For two consecutive mock drafts, ESPN’s Mel Kiper projected the Browns to pick Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen. The projection seemed to come out of nowhere. But with Kiper, one of the most connected draft insiders, the information can’t have come from nowhere. His projection surely wasn’t baseless, which is why the Browns’ news cycle became tied to Allen.
With the combine generating buzz around Barkley, however, the Penn State running back suddenly became the front-runner to be the No. 1 overall pick, according to NFL Media. Oh yeah, and Browns general manager John Dorsey is suddenly really into Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield, too. He could go to the Browns at No. 4.
It would be strange for the Browns to settle on prospects without first exploring their free agent options. Free agency opens on March 14. And the Browns apparently have plans for when that period opens. Here’s what Peter King had to say about it:
This comes from an executive with a historically reliable ear to the ground: Cleveland, with four picks in the top 35 of the draft, is still exceedingly interested in signing free-agent quarterback A.J. McCarron after the trade-deadline-day debacle last fall … and then backstopping him with a rookie quarterback in the draft. I’m hearing that’s coach Hue Jackson’s preference, having coached McCarron in Cincinnati as Bengals offensive coordinator.
So for now, the picture the Browns have painted is this: 1) sign A.J. McCarron during free agency, 2) draft Saquon Barkley at No. 1 overall and 3) draft a young quarterback, likely Mayfield, at No. 4 to serve as a developmental backup.
So for now, don’t buy the rumors the Browns are spreading.
Because while Allen and Mayfield have been tied to Cleveland, USC quarterback Sam Darnold has been curiously out of the picture. And Danold is widely considered the best quarterback prospect in the draft. Coincidence?
There’s too much for them to lose by telegraphing their pass. Why tell insiders exactly what you want to do, so they tell the world how to get in your way of doing it? Their quarterback of the future could get intercepted before he gets the chance to throw his first interception in a Browns uniform.
Dorsey and the Browns are probably lying. They’ve been lying all along. And they should keep lying, if they know what’s good for them.