The most popular answer when fans of the Cleveland Browns discuss what should be done to improve the fortunes of the team going forward is they should fire GM Ray Farmer.
Mostly because Farmer has made odd comments about the impact of wide receivers, and because the veteran he did sign, Dwayne Bowe, has made no impact on this year’s team.
There is a growing thought that Mike Pettine shouldn’t keep his job either after the season ends, but many fans and media people alike think it would be nice to see what the head coach can do with a different general manager.
This overlooks the fact that Farmer inherited Pettine. And that Pettine has lost 13 of the last 15 games he has coached.
Some of the difference comes from the two people’s demeanor. Pettine comes across as a tough football coach, spouting the right clichés, while Farmer can be a bit pompous.
While the GM gets hammered for his drafts, it has been only two years, too early to make a definitive opinion. However, let’s look at those picks, first using the 2014 draft, Farmer’s first as GM.
The two first round picks were Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel. Farmer traded down to get Gilbert, getting another first round pick in ’15 to move down four spots.
To us, that extra first round pick made it a no brainer.
While most regard Gilbert as a bust, our thought is we just don’t know, mainly because the Oklahoma State product doesn’t play. We are trusting a coaching staff that seems to have a lot of issues to form the judgment that the young man can’t do anything.
And Manziel has shown enough in the last two games to show he’s not a complete failure either. He may not be a franchise passer, but he can play at the NFL level.
As for the rest of that draft, Farmer picked a starting offensive lineman in Joel Bitonio, a linebacker who gets regular playing time in Christian Kirksey, and a cornerback in Pierre Desir, who gets time, but has struggled a bit in man coverage.
He also picked Terrance West, who was traded before the regular season and is now with his third NFL team.
So, that’s two solid players (Bitonio and Kirksey) and one bust (West). On the others, it is simply too soon to tell.
In the 2015 draft, Farmer took NT Danny Shelton and OL Cameron Erving in the first round. Both were projected to go close to the slot they were taken, so it is hard to fault the GM for those choices.
The next two picks were LB Nate Orchard, who is showing more each week, and RB Duke Johnson, who has shined when used, but seems to disappear from the field in the second halves of games.
Xavier Cooper, Ibraheim Campbell, Charles Gaines, and Malcolm Johnson all look like they have talent, especially the two players in the defensive backfield, Campbell and Gaines, who look like they could be starters.
However, the wide out Farmer drafted seems to get a lot of attention. Vince Mayle was a 4th rounder who had problems catching the ball and was cut at the end of training camp.
Cleveland had 12 picks, so two others were let go, and keep in mind the Browns have a possible first round talent in Ifo Ekpre-Olomu, who tore up his knee in college, but was projected as a high draft choice.
In addition, Farmer has signed some under the radar free agents in K’Waun Williams, who may be the Browns’ best corner this season, and Jamie Meder, who has played well on the defensive line.
So Farmer can be the chief culprit for the Browns’ plight, but we think the more likely problem is a disconnect between the front office and the coaching staff.
We think there may be some talented players available, but the staff doesn’t seem to put players in the right positions so they can succeed.
In the final six games of the season, we may see some of these young players get on the field, and then we will have more information to judge the players.
We certainly aren’t saying Ray Farmer is a genius or one of the best GMs in the NFL. However, he may not be the biggest problem with this football team either.