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Questionable Decisions Spell Likely End to Ray Farmer Era in Cleveland
After two years as General Manager of the Cleveland Browns, Ray Farmer has proven to be inept in his position. With a lot of anticipation and some excitement after he took over for former president Joe Banner and GM Mike Lombardi, Farmer seemed to bring a calm to the organization and credibility into his position as a “football guy.” The former player and scout brought optimism because of his reputation as an up-and-coming front office executive. He even turned down the GM position for the Dolphins shortly before being promoted in Cleveland. In his first offseason, there were some splash moves in the draft that brought a lot of exhilaration to the city of Cleveland. But looking back on his decisions as GM, he has made several fans question his philosophy and his ability to evaluate talent.
Farmer’s philosophy has been well documented. He is old-school. He believes in a strong defense, a powerful running game, and believes an organization should do everything possible to minimize the importance of the quarterback position. Somehow, minimizing the quarterback position includes ignoring the wide receiver position as well. This mentality is outdated. Yes the Seahawks and Patriots have proven to have great teams without big-time wide receivers, but they are the exception and not the rule. “A wide receiver may touch the ball ten times if he’s having a great day, so I just like the idea of let’s get the guys that affect the game all the time and let’s try and get those guys and make a difference for our football team.” This comment was on why offensive linemen are more important than wide receivers. This one comment shows how out-of-touch Farmer is with the modern game of football. Maybe A.J. Green or Odell Beckham (who the Browns passed up for Justin Gilbert) don’t catch as many passes as an offensive lineman blocks a defender, but we all know good receivers affect the game on every play. Does Green not take up a team’s best corner and sometimes an additional safety opening up plays for other receivers and even soften the run defense? Does the fact that Antonio Brown consistently beats coverage not fuel one of most high-scoring and winning offenses in football? After hearing this one comment, I immediately began to question his whole mentality on building a football team.
Dwayne Bowe practices with the Browns
What also brings us to question Farmer’s work has been his poor execution in the draft and free agency. Watching the Raiders and Vikings is painful for fans knowing those teams have selected several players that were available for the Browns to draft when it was their turn to pick. Many fans are upset that the Browns passed on Oakland’s current linebacker Khalil Mack. I am not one of them. The Browns chose to accept a trade offer from Buffalo to slide down five spots for an additional first round pick in the following year’s draft. It seems to be the only decision that Farmer has gotten right. The problem with this decision was the execution of the actual selections made from that trade. Odell Beckham, Aaron Donald, Teddy Bridgewater and more were on the board when Farmer selected Justin Gilbert. Let’s not forget that Farmer gave away more draft picks to Minnesota to move up one spot to select Gilbert. Gilbert has not been his only mistake in the first round.
Farmer has had four first round picks in his first two seasons as General Manager. Only one is a starter on a team that desperately needs difference-makers. Gilbert, Farmer’s first pick as a GM, was known for being an athletic freak of a cornerback from Oklahoma State. He was also known for poor practice habits and terrible technique. SB*Nation’s scouting report on him included this in a summary of Gilbert: “Gilbert is being hyped as a first-round pick, and his skill set certainly warrants that. However, he has a long way to go in his development as a prospect. He will be over-drafted based on his size-speed combination.” Farmer’s second first round pick was party-boy Johnny Manziel. This pick was made despite the fact that Bridgewater and Derek Carr were still on the board. It was known that Carr and Bridgewater were mature and hard-working. It was known that Manziel was not. In addition, Manziel cost the Browns a third round pick in which they used to trade up with the Eagles to select him.
Farmer’s second season as GM is seeing a lack in production in the first round again. First round picks DT Danny Shelton and OL Cameron Erving (selected with the pick received from Buffalo) have not made the impact needed. Erving did not win a spot as a starter on the offensive line. Shelton has been average at best in his rookie season. So that’s four first round picks. A cornerback, quarterback, nose tackle and a versatile offensive lineman (who is likely the replacement for Alex Mack when he opts out of his contract) that have all been selected in the first round. The nose tackle is the only one seeing the field. For a team greatly needing to catch up to the rest of the AFC North, having virtually no impact from your first round picks will not dig you out of the cellar of the division.
In addition to the draft, Farmer has made several other head-scratching moves that are difficult to defend. Let’s list a few:
In one of his first and most important moves as a GM, Ray Farmer needed to retain pro bowl center Alex Mack. All to save $1.6 million, he decided to use the seldom-used transition tag as opposed to the franchise tag to keep Mack. The franchise tag means a team gives up draft picks if an offer to a player is not matched by his current team. A transition tag means the offering team does not have to give up picks. Because there were no consequences, the Jaguars offered Mack a contract. The contract they offered allows Mack to opt out of his contract after year two. Now, the Browns have no power to retain Mack after this season which forced Farmer to use a precious first round pick on his replacement instead of an impact player somewhere else on the roster.
Dwayne Bowe: $9 million guaranteed to a slow, older and non-coveted receiver who can’t even find his way onto the field.
Illegally texting coaches on the sidelines during games resulting in an experienced offensive coordinator begging his way out of town, a four-game suspension for Farmer, and a black eye to the organization.
Allowing the Browns’ best run-defending OLB Jabaal Sheard to leave in free agency despite the need to improve upon the 32nd ranked run defense in the league. The Patriots love Sheard and the role he plays in their defense.
I want to counter these points with what Farmer has done right. I can’t find much. Joel Bitonio looks good. Duke Johnson, Pierre Decir, Christian Kirksey, and Xavier Cooper look like contributors. Josh McCown and Tremon Williams are playing well despite their advanced ages. But what do these picks do in the big picture and the long term? No young, game-changing players at impact positions equal fans having no hope to latch onto. No interest as an organization to play and develop their first round quarterback despite the perception that he’s turned his life around is puzzling. No direction, no shared organizational vision, and no true leadership from the top is the perception and likely the reality.
I value continuity. I really do. But continuously going down the road with a GM with such a bad track record in just his first two years doesn’t seem productive. So once again Cleveland fans call for the one thing that has been constant in Cleveland since 1999: change.