Offseason Smokescreens

Browns interest in Newton, Gabbert may be only a bluff by Mike Holmgren.

The season of subterfuge has begun around the remnants of the NFL. As late April slowly approaches, the Browns have begun their annual game of Clue, as team president Mike Holmgren recently offered up what appears to be a red herring in regards to the team's draft direction. Or in a less Machiavellian manner, Holmgren simply took to the podium to express his lifelong love affair with young quarterbacks.

Either way, Holmgren offered the following while meeting with the Cleveland media earlier this week.

(On the team's interest in Cam Newton)

"I think with our due diligence as an organization and a personnel department, it's our obligation to evaluate the best players coming out of college football. Cam Newton is one of those and so, yes, we are looking hard. It's fun for me anyway; I've told you this before. Even though I don't have anything to do around here it's fun for me to grade the quarterbacks and watch the quarterbacks and try to get an idea of how they play."

(On if the team will have Blaine Gabbert for a private workout)

"We are having 30 players come in. Which 30, I'm not going to tell you. I know we talk about give and take and transparency but, I've told you a lot with the fact we are bringing in 30 players. Which is the league high level."

The Idle Hands Theory simply states that Holmgren has yet to fully settle into a management role in Cleveland. Naturally, the position of Team President is still a foreign role for the ex-coach and it's obvious that his heart is still on the sidelines. How else to explain Holmgren's sense of joy in evaluating quarterbacks – especially given his recent comments regarding Colt McCoy's place as the Browns' 2011 offensive leader.

On one hand, Holmgren's comments regarding the top two designated quarterback prospects in April's draft are essentially harmless. As we've grown to learn in Cleveland, Holmgren loves quarterbacks. Blending his executive position with his coaching roots, Holmgren can have his "fun" evaluating quarterbacks while also serving the Browns.

However, considering that the makeup of this year's draft is lacking a consensus direction, Holmgren's words also reflect a clear strategic purpose. Since projecting picks this year is a nearly impossible task – and with the Browns holding another top ten pick – Holmgren's fondness for quarterbacks could possibly shake up the upper tier of April's draft.

While it would appear that the Browns should be targeting some defensive help or possibly adding a wide receiver with their first draft pick, holding some pre-draft leverage can only help the team's cause. After all, there are several quarterback-needy teams drafting behind the Browns. If the top of the draft produces a run of defensive talent, the Browns could find themselves in a prime position to trade down.

Regarding this strategy, it helps to have some friends in high places. As a complementary piece to Holmgren's musings, NFL Network analyst and President of the Bob LaMonte Fan Club Mike Lombardi offered the following this week.

"I don't know how they (Cleveland) can ultimately be sold on McCoy. His injuries down the stretch - his body is not the biggest or strongest, and can he endure 16 games? These are all questions that have to be answered by the new staff (who) have to be comfortable with the answers and see if they can move forward before they do anything else — draft or trade."

Isn't it funny how quickly things change?  Only a month ago, Holmgren, GM Tom Heckert and new Head Coach Pat Shurmur were all singing McCoy's praises. Now, some doubt is beginning to creep in – however manufactured it may be – which leaves the Browns holding a much more intriguing first-round draft pick.

Adding to this NFL version of counter-intelligence are recent reports suggesting Clemson's Da'Quan Bowers' balky knee precipitating a first-round fall, the prospect of teams scared to spend a high draft pick on a cornerback such as Patrick Peterson and the inexplicable rise of Blaine Gabbert as a franchise quarterback.

While there may be only a shred of truth contained in the above statements, it's worth pointing to both history and reality in attempting to make sense of Holmgren's posturing. This time last year, Holmgren went on the record to profess his love for Sam Bradford, which led many Browns followers to speculate on the possibility that a mega-trade was in the works. Of course, reality intervened in the form of the Browns holding steady with their first-round pick.

The reality of this offseason – complete with an unfortunate labor stoppage – suggests that Holmgren is again doing little more than bluffing. Considering that NFL teams will likely not be able to initiate essential offseason preparation, spending a high first-round pick on a quarterback makes little sense.

But of course, merely talking about it is a whole other story.

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