INDIANAPOLIS -- The Browns are going to be busy this week.
And they’re going to be in the spotlight.
The NFL world has descended on the Midwest -- in about a 10-block radius. Owners, general mangers, scouts, coaches, agents and 300-plus draft prospects are in town for the annual scouting combine.
Everyone’s curious to see what the Browns will do in their latest make-or-break offseason. They have the No. 1 pick in April’s draft, five selections in the first 65 and are expected to try to trade for New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.
For a franchise that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2002 and went a franchise-worst 1-15 last year, it still manages to move the needle around the league.
Executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown will lead the Browns contingent this week, and he and his team have a lot to do.
Here are four things at the top of the list:
TAKE BILL’S TEMPERATURE
If Brown hasn’t done so already, he must convey his interest in Garoppolo to Patriots coach and decision-maker Bill Belichick -- and gauge whether Belichick’s willing to part with the potential replacement for 39-year-old Tom Brady.
The combine is the perfect setting for behind-the-scenes maneuvering. Garoppolo can’t be traded until the league year begins March 9, but that won’t prevent conversation or even the parameters of a deal from being set.
What happens with Garoppolo will set the stage for the rest of the offseason for the Browns. If they trade for him, they won’t have to worry about a quarterback at the top of the draft and can address other needs. If they can’t land him, the giant question at quarterback still must be answered -- perhaps without the preferred option.
The first deadline of the offseason arrives today at 4 p.m., when the Browns must decide whether to use the franchise tag on receiver Terrelle Pryor. He’s scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent March 9, but the tag would guarantee he returns for the 2017 season.
Brown said the day after the season he wasn’t planning to use the tag and that hasn’t changed, according to a league source. The one-year tag for a receiver is expected to be worth $15.5 million, a steep price tag for someone who’s been playing the position for less than two years.
The Browns would prefer to work out a long-term deal with Pryor and have had talks with agent Drew Rosenhaus. Applying the tag could create leverage for the Browns to complete the extension, but it could also stick them with the huge salary in 2017 and alienate Pryor.
If they don’t use the tag -- or the less restrictive and less likely transition tag -- Pryor is just days away from testing the market. The rest of the league can begin negotiating with free agents-to-be March 7, with deals allowed March 9.
Pryor would surely draw interest. He’s 6-foot-4 and 223 pounds, fast and led the Browns with 77 catches for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns.
If the Browns left the combine with Pryor signed to an extension, they could consider the week a win.
PICK OF THE LITTER
Lost a bit in the talk of trades and free agency is the draft April 27-29. For the first time since 1999 and 2000, the Browns have the No. 1 pick.
Their scouts have been studying the top prospects for years and the coaches have spent the last six weeks watching film to get up to speed. But the combine is the setting where the whole process comes together.
The Browns’ front office and coaching staff will watch the players work out, formally interview many in 15-minute chunks and interact with them around town. Pro days and individual visits will fill March and early April, but the Browns should leave Indy with a more solid idea which way they’re leaning at No. 1.
Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett is the pre-combine front-runner, with Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen the next-likeliest option. The next week won’t change their college game film but could significantly affect how the Browns feel about them.
And don’t rule out another trade down. Those discussions often start in Indy.
WHAT ABOUT US?
A quarterback with the top pick can’t be dismissed.
If the Browns don’t get Garoppolo, they’ll still need a massive upgrade at the most important position. And the draft is the obvious avenue.
North Carolina’s Mitch Trubisky, Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer are considered the top three quarterbacks, but none is viewed as a can’t-miss prospect. The team interviews matter more with quarterbacks, so someone has the chance to separate himself in the eyes of the Browns.
Quarterbacks always get pushed up in the draft, so don’t be surprised if the buzz builds for at least one of the three coming out of the combine and he begins to be mentioned as a candidate for the Browns at No. 1. The early guess is Trubisky, a Mentor High School graduate who has dreamed of playing for the hometown team.
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