(From left to right) Johnny Manziel, Teddy Bridgewater and Blake Bortles, generally regarded, in some order, as the top three quarterbacks entering the 2014 NFL Draft.
INDIANAPOLIS – The Cleveland Browns are here at the NFL Scouting Combine to dig deeper on upward of 300 NFL Draft prospects, many of whom the team’s scouts and key decision makers will be meeting for the first time.
That’s all fine and dandy, but what about the quarterbacks?
Yes, the quarterbacks. Three-hundred some prospects, including the quarterbacks. Especially the quarterbacks, maybe?
New Browns general manager Ray Farmer knew those questions were coming when he met with local media Thursday. To some level, he admitted he’s intrigued by the quarterbacks, too.
Farmer isn’t giving up very much.
"I think we’re going to get a chance to spend time with, I can’t say everybody that’s here, but we’ll have a chance to engage a lot of different guys at the combine," Farmer said. "We’ll definitely be focused on getting as much character information and spending as much time with these guys as we can.
"That makes it too easy for you guys if I tell you I’m going to spend time with those (top quarterbacks) directly. Regardless if we meet them here or somewhere else, there will be an opportunity for us to spend time with everybody that we really want to get to and understand who they are."
The quarterback question is THE question because the Browns really haven’t had one in the team’s new era — and that spans 15 years. Brian Hoyer won three starts before getting hurt last year, Brandon Weeden knows he isn’t in the team’s plans and Jason Campbell did little last season to indicate he’s any kind of answer.
The Browns — now Farmer and Mike Pettine’s Browns after the latest shakeup — hold picks No. 4 and 26 in this year’s draft and 10 picks overall. Maybe by staying put, maybe by putting together a package, they’re almost certain to draft one in May, bring him to camp alongside Hoyer, and see how it all works itself out.
"I would say it could be safe (to say the Browns draft a quarterback), but we might not go that direction," Farmer said. "It may not be what everybody thinks it’s going to be. There is an opportunity for some curveballs."
He has been a GM for a week and he’s smokescreening like an old pro.
Based on what those who follow the NFL Draft for a living have been saying, writing and tweeting, the top three available quarterbacks are all underclassmen and therefore all eligible for their first up-close exposure with the Browns this week and weekend. Those quarterbacks are, listed alphabetically, Blake Bortles of Central Florida, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Johhny Manziel of Texas A&M.
In an interview with the Houston Chronicle last week, Manziel campaigned to be the No. 1 overall pick and said if he goes to the Browns, he doesn’t care that he’d be competing to be the team’s 21st starting quarterback since 1999.
"I’d be the one to take them to the Super Bowl," Manziel said.
None of the teams set to meet Manziel this week list "confidence" as an area in which they’d like to see Manziel improve. There are questions Manziel will have to answer, though, about his Johnny Football persona, maturity and how much he really wants to work toward maximizing his potential.
Farmer was asked what’s the first thing he’ll ask Manziel when they meet. Without hesitation, he said, "how big are your feet?"
He was more ready for the question than he initially let on.
"I think reality is I really want to find out from any player, who he is, how would he define himself?" Farmer said. "What would he say is his core character makeup? What does he think of his opportunity to play in the National Football League? Is it a privilege, is it an honor? Is it a right?
"And, how does he see himself impacting, not only his individual performance in the game, but how does he impact his teammates and what does he bring to the table that is going to demonstrate the other guys around him can have success? Football is probably the biggest team sport and from that perspective, I need guys that understand the team concept and how to affect their teammates in a positive way."
Farmer has been careful not to commit to anything involving the roster or impending decisions. A hometown guy who tore his ACL last October, Hoyer has said his rehab is going well. Farmer said he "definitely believes" in "a lot of the traits that Brian Hoyer has demonstrated he has. I think that nevertheless, competition is what drives this league. When we have guys that push the guy in front of him or beside or behind him, etc., then that’s when your football team gets better. Every position on this team is definitely up for competition.
"I think Brian understands that, respects that, and I think that that’s what he’s looking for is the opportunity to compete for an opportunity to be the guy."
Farmer said he doesn’t necessarily believe a franchise quarterback has to be found atop the draft, either, citing Joe Montana, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers as examples.
His job, though, is to work with Pettine and his scouts and everyone else invested in this latest incarnation of the Browns and decide if the right quarterback for the Browns is at the top of this draft. With the Texans holding the first pick and the Jaguars the third, the Browns might not get their guy without a move. Every bit of information and every evaluation might count.
Asked if getting a quarterback in this draft "is essential," Farmer said "the reality is we want to upgrade our football team. Winning games and finding a way to put the best product on the field is what the fans deserve, is what the city of Cleveland deserves. I think that’s what we’re focused on, building a better product all around."
It starts with a quarterback. Even with three teams picking in front of them, Ray Farmer and the Browns are on the clock.