Two days out from the 2017 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns are starting to make some moves.
Owners of the first and 12th overall draft picks, and in need of a franchise quarterback, it was long suggested that Cleveland might use its bounty of early-round selections to package picks and move up to hand-select its quarterback of the future. Numerous reports out of Cleveland suggest that man is North Carolina quarterback Mitchell Trubisky.
Now there is tangible proof of those efforts.
NFL Network’s Michael Silver reported Tuesday that the Browns have spoken with at least “three teams in the top eight” about trading up.
“The Browns have been doing their due diligence and investigating the possibility,” Silver said on Tuesday’s edition of Up to the Minute Live. “I’ve learned that at least three teams in the top eight have been contacted by the Browns and discussions have taken place about the prospect of moving up. Now this is something that would likely happen in real time when these teams were on the clock because obviously if the target is Mitchell Trubisky and he goes earlier than expected, then those discussions would be moot.
“The Browns could still take Trubisky at No. 1. They could still trade down and try to take him a little lower than one. The more likely scenario right now would be trying to use that 12th pick and get up a little higher to get the quarterback of the future.”
After the Browns pick first overall — a selection that will most likely be Texas A&M pass rusher Myles Garrett — the 49ers, Bears, Jaguars, Titans, Jets, Chargers and Panthers are slated to pick in that order. Excluding the Titans and Panthers, all of those teams are either QB-needy or QB-desperate; Los Angeles brass has suggested it will look into drafting its QB of the future to succeed Philip Rivers.
While no quarterback in this year’s draft is projected to be a top-10 talent, according to NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah, you never know how these teams with gaping holes at the game’s most important position will react on draft night. With regards to draft-day trades, anything is possible.
So let’s speculate. Three teams to which Silver might be referring in his report are in the back half of the top eight: the Titans, Jets and Panthers.
» Tennessee needs secondary help — Jamal Adams, Marshon Lattimore and Malik Hooker are options — and could also be targeting Alabama tight end O.J. Howard. But if all or some of those prospects are off the board by No. 5, then the Titans would be the prime target for Cleveland. The Browns would benefit from jumping ahead of the unpredictable Jets, who are also in the market for a franchise quarterback.
Titans general manager Jon Robinson’s comments on Tuesday that his franchise is “50-50″ to stick at Nos. 5 and 18 should also spur furious speculation that the Titans are open to trading down with Cleveland.
» Jets general manager Mike Maccagnan has been saying for a month that the Jets are willing to trade their sixth overall pick. And who could blame them? The Jets’ roster is untested and shallow at nearly every position, and the franchise is entering a very obvious rebuilding year. If Gang Green isn’t in love with a quarterback or any of the remaining secondary prospects at No. 6, it doesn’t hurt to fall back six picks, steal a second-rounder and accumulate much-needed talent and depth.
However, trading with the Browns presents a potential doomsday P.R. scenario for the Jets. As Cleveland did with Philadelphia and Carson Wentz last season, trading away the opportunity to procure the sought-after franchise savior could sink the fan base’s hopes for years to come, especially if the McCown-Petty-Hackenberg troika flounders as most expect it to.
» Then, there are the Panthers, one year removed from a Super Bowl appearance and still plenty deep at multiple positions. Many draft analysts have Carolina targeting the running back position with their top-10 selection, eyeing either Leonard Fournette or Christian McCaffrey. While Fournette could fly off the board early on, there’s a chance that McCaffrey might fall into the meat of the first round, or at least to Cleveland’s 12th pick, which makes their eighth selection expendable.
NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo confirmed this hypothesis, adding, “When Mike Silver says top eight, he says top eight for a reason. Keep an eye on the Panthers. There’s also some defensive players that they like that might not be up there at No. 8. Could be that slide-back option there. And then at that point opens up a couple options, one of them is John Ross by the way. They like his speed. They do want to add speed to the offense.”
Which team the Browns eventually target, if and when they do decide to eschew their 12th pick, acquired from the Eagles in the Wentz deal, and a second-rounder in favor a second top-10 selection, remains a mystery.
But what is clear now, with 48 hours remaining until Cleveland is officially on the clock, is that the Browns are deadly serious about trading up for their franchise quarterback.