Browns owner Jimmy Haslam’s first draft will be unlike any in team history. There’s no guarantee it won’t be his only one.
The endless speculation over what Cleveland might do with the No. 6 overall pick, whether they’ll select another quarterback — maybe one to replace Brandon Weeden — in the first round or trade defensive linemen Jabaal Sheard or Ahtyba Rubin seems pretty trivial all of a sudden.
This year, “being on the clock” has new meaning for the Browns.
With Haslam embroiled in a deepening FBI investigation for fraud at his Pilot Flying J truck-stop chain empire, the team’s revamped front office, new coach Rob Chudzinski along with his staff and newly signed high-priced free agents, enter this year’s NFL draft facing more uncertainty.
Haslam, who bought the team last year from Randy Lerner, insists he has done nothing wrong. He has no plans to step aside as CEO of his family’s business or as head of the Browns while federal authorities ascertain how much he knew about a widespread scheme by sales executives in his Knoxville, Tenn.-based company to defraud customers.
The NFL said it will respect the legal process and does not intend to request Haslam to step down from the team. However, if Haslam’s legal troubles worsen, things could change.
In the meantime, the draft provides both a distraction and normalcy.
Haslam plans to help CEO Joe Banner and general manager Michael Lombardi prepare for their initial draft as they rebuild a team that went 5-11 last season. So it’s business as usual for the Browns, who are typically dealing with some kind of clutter or chaos in the background.
Banner, Haslam’s hand-picked CEO, offered few clues last week about the team’s intentions with their seven picks. There are plenty of options with the sixth selection and Banner said the team has been exploring trading down in the first round to possibly recoup another early-round pick.
The Browns forfeited their second-round pick when they took wide receiver Josh Gordon in last year’s supplemental draft.
“It’s normal this time to be talking to teams,” Banner said as he approached his first draft with the Browns. “Some are teams you exchange some opinions on and some are teams you get a feel for: ‘Are you open to moving up or down?’ As you get closer to the draft sometimes those conversations become more specific. We haven’t had any specific conversations about trades or what would be involved in a trade.
“We have had conversations with teams either initiated by them or us, kind of feeling out: ‘Are you interested in going up or back? Are you open to it depending on who is there?’ We have had those kinds of feel-each-other-out conversations.”