October 22, 2014

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NFL draft: Browns can’t offer the world at outset

The reports are coming out of St. Louis almost as fast as Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III ran his 40-yard dash at the NFL scouting combine.

The Rams are anxious to trade the No. 2 pick in the draft for a bounty of selections. They haven’t been shy about this, and members of the front office seem to be providing constant updates on discussions under the disguise of league sources.

The latest story out of St. Louis, from the Post-Dispatch, doesn’t settle anything, but it’s a great conversation starter. Here are the most important issues addressed, followed by my takeaways.

  • The Browns aren’t willing to give up the No. 22 pick. Interesting, but not surprising. The Browns would be foolish to open with their best offer. If you start by offering Nos. 4 and 22, the Rams’ counter would include No. 37, next year’s first-rounder or both. You can’t put the toothpaste back in the tube. The unanswered question is whether the Browns are willing to give up next year’s first-round pick instead of this year’s No. 22. Perhaps general manager Tom Heckert thinks about the combination of free agency, Griffin and another starter at No. 22 and visualizes a dramatic turnaround from the 4-12 season of 2011. The No. 22 pick belongs to a playoff team, so odds are Cleveland’s first-rounder in 2013 will be better. The problem: It’s more than a year away.
  • The Rams want the deal done before free agency begins March 13. St. Louis is trying to maximize the value of the second pick, and that happens with more teams involved in the bidding. So the rush is to get a trade done before Peyton Manning and Matt Flynn hit the free-agent market, find new homes and decrease the number of teams looking for a quarterback. Not so fast, Rams. Trades involving high draft picks almost always get done during the draft, as both teams finally feel the urgency to make something happen. The other sticking point is that the prospective bidders — the Browns, Redskins and Dolphins — have decided, or soon will, what route they want to pursue, whether it’s Griffin, Flynn or Manning. If the team preferred Griffin before free agency, that’s not changing after free agency. I just don’t see a trade getting done until the days before the draft — at the earliest. But that doesn’t mean the Rams lose their leverage. The teams that don’t sign Manning or Flynn could feel greater pressure to move up to land Griffin.
  • The Dolphins and Seahawks are out of the running. I’ve been saying for a while the Rams won’t trade inside their division, which eliminates the Seahawks and Cardinals. If you had any other option, why would you deliver a potential superstar to a rival you play twice a year? I’m not as convinced the Dolphins are out of the picture because new St. Louis coach Jeff Fisher rejected them. If you need a quarterback, petty issues suddenly look even pettier. And just because the number of bidders appears to be shrinking doesn’t mean it’s a one-on-one fight between the Browns and Redskins. Any team with a question at quarterback can still fall in love with Griffin and decide to mortgage the farm for him. Kansas City and Jacksonville are two such possibilities.

Contact Scott Petrak at 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.