Cleveland Browns rewind: Is Ray Farmer a good NFL GM candidate?

Former Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer will be interviewed for the GM position in Houston. Did he do enough in Cleveland to warrant another opportunity?

Former Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer interviewed for the Houston Texans’ general manager opening on Saturday, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL.com.

Ray Farmer last worked in the Browns’ front office from 2013-2015. In his first season with the Browns, he was the assistant general manager under general manager Michael Lombardi.

Farmer became the general manager when Cleveland’s owner Jimmy Haslam decided to part ways with then-CEO Joe Banner and general manager Michael Lombardi. Ray Farmer was handed the job without an interview.

He was the team’s general manager in 2014-2015 and presided over the 2014 and 2015 NFL Drafts. His lack of success in selecting game-changing players in those drafts led to his ultimate demise in Cleveland.

What did Ray Farmer do wrong with those drafts? Did he make any good moves in Cleveland? What does his time in Cleveland show he can do if given another chance as an NFL general manager? Let’s take a look.

The 2014 NFL Draft

In what should only be considered a “Browns” move, the Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam announced in February 2014 that then-current general manager Mike Lombardi has been replaced by Ray Farmer and that CEO Joe Banner will step down. However, he will stay on for the next few months. This fiasco happened just less than a month after hiring new head coach Mike Pettine.

Haslam was done with the power struggles within the organization and made the unpopular duo of Banner and Lombardi the scapegoat for the dysfunction on the Browns.

With zero sense of direction and unleveled stability, Farmer had to focus on the 2014 NFL Draft immediately. He came into the draft with two first-round picks and a projected $35-$45 million in the salary-cap room to spend on free agents. Coming off a 4-12 record in the 2013 season, Farmer did not have talented players to build around. Additionally, he was forced to accept a new defensive-minded head coach in Mike Pettine that he did not hire.

The #8 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft

To start his tenure as the Cleveland Browns general manager, he traded down in the first round. He moved down from #4 overall to #9 overall. Quickly, however, he moved back up to #8. Based upon the recommendations of just hired Pettine, the Browns selected cornerback Justin Gilbert.

Farmer permitted Pettine to make his first draft selection as the Browns general manager. He drafted nervously and was never sold on Justin Gilbert. He never actually met him before selecting him as his first pick as an NFL general manager. Shockingly, even head coach Mike Pettine never had an opportunity to meet Gilbert. Pettine wanted a cornerback to play opposite starter, Joe Haden. Gilbert was a monumental bust and was out of the NFL in 2016.

The most disturbing aspect of this dreadful selection were the available elite players in that 2014 NFL Draft. The talent was overwhelming and in abundance.

The Cleveland Browns came into the 2014 NFL Draft with prior knowledge that their best player Josh Gordon will be suspended for a portion of the 2014 NFL season. The Browns had a load of wide receivers to take at their original pick. They bypassed Sammy Watkins, Odell Beckham, Jr., and Mike Evans. Each of those receivers has flashed among the top players in the NFL during their careers.

Additionally, Cleveland also possessed the possibility to select defensive stalwarts, Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald. Both players are mentioned among the best defensive players in the NFL today.

With a team devoid of talent, the Cleveland Browns failed to take the most simple and obvious approach: Draft the best player available with every pick

Johnny Football

The soap opera concerning their second first-round selection in the 2014 NFL Draft was exhausting and perplexing.

The Cleveland Browns were desperate for a franchise quarterback and selected former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny “Johnny Football” Manziel with their 22nd pick in the 2014 NFL Draft.

Farmer insinuated that the Manziel pick wasn’t unanimously agreed upon by everyone in the Browns’ war room. Farmer explained that Manziel ended up in Cleveland due to a collective failure of the front office.

The Browns spent thousands of dollars in the offseason to conduct a study on quarterbacks. According to ESPN’s Sal Paolantonio, Cleveland used analytics to review every quarterback who has played in the NFL the past 20 years. The results of the study determined that former Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has the best chance of any quarterback to succeed.

However, inexplicably, the Browns chose Manziel due to a text that he sent to then-Browns QB coach Dowell Loggains. Manziel texted Loggains that he wanted to come to Cleveland so they could “wreck this league together.” That text was shown to Farmer, Pettine and owner Jimmy Haslam. The decision was made to move up from the 26th selection to the 22nd selection to grab quarterback Johnny Manziel.

The only thing that the Manziel’s pick accomplished was to place the Browns towards an ever deeper downward spiral. Manziel only started in two NFL games in his short two-year career and was unceremoniously cut. He is now desperately looking for another opportunity in football.

Brian Hoyer

After not being assertive enough, Ray Farmer decided to put his foot down and not give in. Unfortunately, this moment was not the right time to throw his weight around.

Upon the selection of Manziel, the Houston Texans came calling the Browns and offered a high second round pick for Brian Hoyer. Hoyer was a journeyman quarterback who surprisingly was leading the Browns to a 7-4 record on the onset of the 2014 NFL season.

Farmer felt that he had to take control of the draft. Something that all general managers must do. This instance, Farmer should have been smarter than the masses around him and accepted this trade without hesitation. He was too scared to pull the trigger.

Textgate

During the 2014 season, Farmer was sending in-game text messages to coaches persuading them to replace Hoyer with Johnny Manziel at quarterback and questioning the play-calling. The NFL suspended Farmer for the first four games of the 2015 NFL season.

This incident displays the insecurities of an inexperienced general manager. His senseless acts did not place the team in harm’s way but did show his lack of leadership and proved that Farmar was way over his head as a general manager.

The 2015 NFL Draft

Everyone seemed to have learned their lessons from the 2014 NFL Draft and stopped meddling into personnel decisions.

The Browns had two first-round picks in the 2015 NFL Draft but came away with zero impact players.

With their first selection, at 12th overall, the Browns selected Danny Shelton, a nose tackle whose immense size was ideal for clogging up the middle against the run. However, Shelton was more concerned about making big plays and not being disciplined. This led to substantial running lanes for opposing backs and led to his downfall. He had an edge rusher mentality at nose tackle, not a player to be selected 12th overall.

Their next selection at 19th overall in the 2015 NFL Draft was offensive lineman Cameron Erving. Erving played each position on the offensive line. However, he was not a good offensive lineman. The Browns selected a decent backup with their second first-round selection.

The End

The final game of the 2015 NFL season saw the conclusion of the Ray Farmer/Mike Pettine era in Cleveland.

The general manager and head coach carousel continued in Cleveland with the firing of both Farmer and Pettine.

Mike Pettine was forced into an untenable position with the lack of offensive talent, especially at quarterback, and a rookie general manager who he met AFTER he was hired as the new head coach! There was also the meddling owner who created dysfunction and promoted chaos within his organization.

Farmer never solved the quarterback problem in Cleveland. His first-round draft picks were dreadful. The fact that he listened to everyone but himself tells you all you need to know about Farmer as a general manager. Only one of his four first-round selections (Danny Shelton) played longer than two seasons with the Cleveland Browns.

My Advice

When the breaking news came out that the Houston Texans fired general manager Brian Gaine, it sent shockwaves across the NFL.

However, another story broke as a result of this dismissal, and that is the Houston Texans interest in former Cleveland Browns general manager Ray Farmer.

I examined his tenure with the Browns in short order and to say the least, and it wasn’t pretty. The insecurities and the fact that he was too petrified to stand up for himself made him a punchline to fellow NFL general managers.

Farmer did have tall mountains to climb in Cleveland but didn’t have the equipment to get to the mountain top. He never asserted himself in the face of adversity, and when he did try to vindicate himself, Farmer became the front office guy who failed. He failed with four first-round picks in two seasons. He failed in accepting a trade that would garner a high second-round pick for journeyman quarterback Brian Hoyer. He was unable to secure a quarterback for a franchise desperate for one to lead the team.

The Houston Texans still have their issues, mainly head coach Bill O’Brien. But the Texans should not compound that issue by hiring an inexperienced and inept Ray Farmer. If the Cleveland Browns can teach any franchise a lesson, despite numerous seasons of failure, it’s that their former front office personnel were hardly effective, let alone deserving.

Dennis Sosic is a writer for PFN covering the Cleveland Browns. He is also the co-host of the AFC North and Goal Podcast for the PFN Podcast Network. You can follow him @CALL_ME_SOS on Twitter.

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