The Browns were very close to selecting wide receiver Sammy Watkins with the No. 4 selection in the draft. In the hours leading up to their time on the clock, the Browns had linebacker Khalil Mack, offensive tackle Jake Matthews, wide receivers Sammy Watkins and Mike Evans and cornerback Justin Gilbert as the players they would select from.
General manager Ray Farmer had a discussion with his staff and head coach Mike Pettine as the draft started. Many of the Browns wanted Watkins, Pettine likes Watkins, but as he had done on numerous times throughout the process leading up to the draft was steadfast in his opinion of Gilbert.
The cornerback spot had been identified early in the offseason as a critical area to upgrade. Unable to secure a top-quality corners in free agency, the Browns scouted the cornerback prospects heavily, with Gilbert and Kyle Fuller being the top-two rated on their draft-board.
But, the Browns believed they could secure Gilbert in a slight trade-down. The Browns had heard the Detroit Lions (No. 10) or Chicago Bears (No. 14) could go corner with their first round selection and had some concern one of those teams may be looking to trade-up for Gilbert.
Buffalo was after Watkins.
As the Texans were in the midst of making their selection, Farmer called Bills general manager Doug Whaley to gauge his interest in trading up to the No. 4 pick in the draft.
As Whaley's attempts were rebuffed by the Texans and Rams, Whaley and Farmer discussed what it would take for the Browns to trade out of the No. 4 selection in the draft.
Farmer's asking price to move down five spots to No. 9 in the draft was steep – the Bills' No. 9 selection in the first round of the 2014 draft, as well as a third round draft selection in the 2014 draft and Buffalo's first round pick in the 2015 draft.
Whaley told Farmer he would call him back.
Following a short wait, Farmer was on the phone again with Whaley. But, it was Farmer making the call; the Browns wanted to know whether the Bills wanted to deal or were the talks done.
As Whaley and Farmer discussed, the Browns were in on another call with a team believed to have been the Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons had shown interest in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney (No. 1 to Houston), Mack (No. 5 to Oakland) and Matthews (No. 6 Atlanta) in the days leading up to the draft.
Farmer let it be known he had another call to take.
Whaley would call back, his guy, Sammy Watkins was in play.
Farmer and Whaley went back and forth as the Browns were on the clock following the Jaguars selection of quarterback Blake Bortles at No. 3 overall.
Whaley knew any deal would certainly cost him the Bills' 2015 first-round pick, but the additional compensation was a haggling point in the high-pressure negotiation.
Farmer wanted a third round selection, the Bills wanted to add a player or a sixth round selection. The Browns did not want a player; they sought to fortify their roster and future with young talent in the draft.
Within minutes, the Bills agreed to send Cleveland the No. 9 selection in the 2014 draft as well as first and fourth round selections in the 2015 draft.
The Browns were out of the No. 4 pick and onto the player they really wanted to select, Justin Gilbert.
Getting to Gilbert didn't come easy for the Browns. After dealing down to the ninth pick in the first round, the Browns would soon come to find either the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears had been sniffing around for Gilbert. One team in particular, the Minnesota Vikings were on the phone offering their No. 8 selection to the Browns.
While many believed it to be odd the team sitting one spot ahead of the Browns would be will to deal their pick, it was obvious to Farmer that Minnesota was willing to move down slightly to secure an additional selection.
The Browns worst fears could be materializing, a team was in on Gilbert and Farmer's efforts to position the Browns for the Gilbert selection wouldn't be outdone.
Following a very brief exchange with the Vikings, Farmer agreed to send a fifth-round selection in the draft to move up one spot and secure Gilbert.
Quotes on the movement to secure Gilbert –
- "The deal with the Bills could have gone either way. We were in a position which we wanted Gilbert, but not at No. 4 if we didn't have to. With the interest in some of the players still on the board we felt we could get great value and the player we wanted. We accomplished both."
- "There were some very serious talks when it came to who we would select at No. 4. We had people wanting Watkins, other wanting an offensive lineman and others liking Mack. Ray (Farmer) had his guy in mind, but overall the process showed that many players were similarly ranked."
- "A QB at No. 4 really wasn't an option after internal discussions got going. There wasn't ‘that guy' out there we were comfortable with at No. 4."
- "Pettine really liked Gilbert. In the evaluation process, it became very quickly evident he (Pettine) was very intrigued with the CB. He (Gilbert) just jumped out in film work. Frame by frame you can see Gilbert has the athletic quality and ability, he is very good and has room to grow."
- "It was a great deal for us. We got the player we wanted (Gilbert) and gained a 1st and 4th. I know a handful of people in the game called and told Ray (Farmer) that he got tremendous value."
- "Gilbert is going to come in and compete. We have high expectations for him and believe he will become a high-quality starter. He can play outside or in; he will see plenty of time in various roles."