Nearly every year it’s said. And nearly every year it applies. But it’s never been more accurate.
This is the most important draft in Browns history.
Even executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown, who has the franchise’s fate in his hands, called it “really momentous.”
The Browns hold the No. 1 pick for the first time since 2000 and just the fourth time in franchise history. They also have No. 12, five picks in the first 65 and 11 overall.
The league’s focus will be squarely on the Browns when the three-day draft begins tonight at 8 o’clock. Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is the favorite to be the pick, but Brown is keeping everyone in suspense despite telling NFL Network’s Michael Silver he’s known who it will be for two weeks.
That contradicts reports that Browns headquarters has been divided over the premier pick, with North Carolina quarterback and Mentor native Mitchell Trubisky the other option.
The final solution could be trying to land them both, although Brown told Silver, who’s embedded with the team, that the Browns “aren’t desperate” for a quarterback. The Browns have talked to multiple teams in the top eight about a trade up, according to multiple reports, and the target would likely be Trubisky.
The Browns would have to give up multiple picks to move from No. 12 into the top five or six.
“We’re open to it,” Brown said last week. “Generally we value picks. We think no matter how prepared you are, there’s always a lot of uncertainty in the draft. Every team misses.
“We’ve said the draft is going to be the pipeline. So we don’t want to get into a habit of turning two picks into one, so to speak. We just don’t think that’s a good way to do business over time. But does not mean that if there was a player there we might not go take a shot. We think we’re positioned to be able to do that without impacting our draft too much.”
A Garrett-Trubisky combination would excite a fan base at wit’s end and drifting toward apathy and make the Browns the story across the NFL.
Of course, multiple first-round picks and early excitement don’t guarantee success. Trent Richardson and Brandon Weeden were the first-round picks in 2012, Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel in 2014 and Danny Shelton and Cameron Erving in 2015. Only Shelton and Erving remain, and Erving has struggled through two seasons and isn’t guaranteed a starting spot in 2017.
But the draft is still the best road to respectability, even if it’s failed the Browns numerous times as they’ve been stuck in a cycle of losing for the better part of 18 years. Brown, chief strategy officer Paul DePodesta and vice president of player personnel Andrew Berry must succeed where their predecessors failed.
The Browns, following a franchise-worst 1-15 season, are positioned to do just that.
The bounty of picks is the result of a series of trades, part of an extensive rebuild started after the regime was put in place after the 2015 season. The Browns wound up with 14 picks last year after trading down twice from No. 2, but Brown said that’s unlikely to happen again.
It’s time the Browns choose quality over quantity. Especially with the early returns from last year’s haul less than impressive.
“In particular last year, we felt like we needed to add a lot of young talent to the roster and that really drove a lot of the decisions,” Brown said. “We do think we’re positioned obviously very different than we were coming out of 2015, so the need to continue acquiring high-value picks is less intense this year.”
The Browns have drafted No. 1 three times previously, taking Stanford quarterback Bobby Garrett in 1954, Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch in 1999 and Penn State defensive end Courtney Brown in 2000. None made the desired impact.
If Garrett meets expectations, he would dump that history on its head and give himself a chance to become the best pass rusher in Browns history. They’ve never had a Reggie White, Bruce Smith, Michael Strahan or Von Miller type, with Clay Matthews holding the team sack record with 76.5 and Jerry Sherk next at 69.
Garrett (6-4½, 272 pounds) totaled 145 tackles, 48.5 tackles for loss, 32.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles in three years with the Aggies. He wants the chance to be the first pick and go to work changing the Browns.
“I want to be the best from the very beginning,” Garrett told ESPN. “And I’m going to be going against the best every single day in Joe Thomas. Hopefully he can mentor me and make sure I’m on the right path to my goal. So I’m just excited for that opportunity.”
The Garrett-Trubisky tandem would give the Browns the chance to have signature players on both sides of the ball, and at the game’s most important positions.
“Obviously, the teams that have the great quarterbacks seem to perennially be in the playoffs and having a chance to win championships, but there’s a scarcity as well, so you don’t want to force it,” Brown said. “At the same time, we certainly value that position, and edge (rusher) is a place in terms of affecting the quarterback that can help defenses be much more successful.”
The first round of the draft is tonight, with Rounds 2 and 3 Friday night and the final four rounds Saturday afternoon. The Browns will have numerous chances to upgrade their 30th-ranked offense and 31st-ranked defense.
“We know that we will make a lot of headway as far as building the roster we need to build and return the Cleveland Browns to champions of the AFC North,” Brown said.
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