Browns zeroing in on No. 1 pick in 2017 NFL Draft

Browns zeroing in on No. 1 pick in 2017 NFL Draft

BEREA, Ohio -- For nearly 30 minutes, Sashi Brown kept Cleveland's draft plans close to the vest, deflecting some questions, dodging others.

The team's top football executive was intentionally vague on a number of subjects, including which player the Browns will select with the No. 1 overall pick, though it appears Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett is the choice.

But as he was wrapped up his news conference, Brown, who has spent the past year acquiring picks for this draft, finally gave a definitive answer. Asked if the team will trade for a veteran quarterback on draft weekend, he didn't mince words.

"No," Brown said firmly.

His comment would seem to ends months of rampant speculation that Cleveland is angling to acquire New England's Jimmy Garoppolo or Cincinnati's AJ McCarron to help solve their decade-old search for a franchise quarterback.

So there is no gray area, Brown was asked if a deal could happen before next week's draft.

"Could we in theory? Yes," he said after standing at the podium. "But are we planning on it or is that the plan? No."

And with that, Cleveland's seemingly endless quarterback quest took another twist.

But as the Browns prepare to pick a draft class he described as "momentous" for an organization still recovering from a 1-15 season, Brown feels the team is well positioned to add players that will "return to winning here in Cleveland."

Garrett appears to be the head of that rookie group.

Brown said the team has received calls about a possible trade for the No. 1 pick, but indicated the Browns will likely keep it, and that they've zeroed in on who they want.

"We feel really good about picking at one," he said, "and I'll leave it at that."

Both Brown and Andrew Berry, the club's vice president of player personnel, gushed when talking about the Aggies All-American, who has emerged as the consensus best player on the board in 2017.

Garrett could transform Cleveland's defense, giving it a ferocious edge rusher opponents will have to scheme to stop. The Browns don't have enough of those players on their roster.

The team has spent a lot of time getting to know Garrett over the past few months.

"We learned a lot about what makes him tick, what motivates him, how he spends his down time, how he spends his time with his teammates," Brown said. "You can learn a lot. He is an enjoyable young man, very bright. Whatever team gets him, particularly if it's us, would be proud to have him."

One of the only criticisms of Garrett is that it appeared he took plays off during his three seasons in college. Berry, though, said the Browns don't have any issues with Garrett's competitiveness.

"Sometimes those concerns are a little bit overstated," he said. "Every prospect is going to have his weaknesses. There is no such thing as a perfect player."

Or a perfect draft.

But with the No. 1 pick, No. 12 and six in the top 65, the Browns are in a commanding position to fill needs.

The biggest remains at quarterback, and Cleveland, which has started 26 QBs since 1999, could not only come away with Garrett but with the best young passer available as well. If they need to move up from 12, the Browns have the resources with 11 picks.

North Carolina's Mitch Trubisky is believed to be Cleveland's highest-rated quarterback, and his Northeast Ohio roots could make him irresistible to the team he grew up rooting for.

Trubisky started only 13 games for the Tar Heels, and his lack of experience could deter teams ahead of the Browns from taking him. A Garrett-and-Trubisky package would be considered a smashing success in Cleveland, where fans treat the event like the Super Bowl they've never gotten.

Brown isn't feeling any more pressure to get this draft right, but he knows it's vital not to get it wrong.

"We are not trying to take some approach where it is this draft or bust," he said. "My job is to make sure that our organization makes a series of good decisions. When you do that over time with a good plan, strategy and alignment, you are going to be good in this league. We have seen this in our division. The teams that we play against have all been together a long time and have those systems very right.

"That is what we are heading toward."

49ers set aside cap space with an eye to the future


49ers set aside cap space with an eye to the future

The first wave of free agency is over, and the 49ers struck quickly.

The club identified two players coach Kyle Shanahan tabbed as fits for his offense and they paid the money it took to get them.

General manager John Lynch said there were five teams seriously interested in free-agent running back Jerick McKinnon. Even more teams were going after center Weston Richburg, he said.

That drove up the prices on McKinnon and Richburg to the point that they rank behind only quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo ($37 million) as taking up the most cap space among the 72 players currently under contract to the 49ers.

McKinnon and Richburg account for $10.5 million and $9.26 million, respectively, on the 49ers' salary cap. Veteran cornerback Richard Sherman's deal takes up $6.175 million on the 49ers' cap this season.

The big spending to attract free agents to the team is likely over. The 49ers have $45.1 million in cap space, according to the NFL Players Association. That figure does not include a projected $8.3 million to sign their 2018 rookie class, according to overthecap.com.

The major spending for this offseason is over because the 49ers have apparently looked to the future and set aside cap space with the idea of retaining some of their own players whose contracts are winding down.

The first decisions for the future must occur by May 3, the deadline for picking up the fifth-year options on first-round picks from the 2015 draft. The 49ers have decisions to make on defensive lineman Arik Armstread and left guard Laken Tomlinson, who was acquired from Detroit in a trade just prior to the start of the 2017 regular season.

It is still unclear how or if Armstead’s skills fit into the 49ers’ defense. He opened last season at the team's pass-rush end before moving to the "big end," which also appears to be first-round pick Solomon Thomas' best position.

Tomlinson showed reasons for the 49ers to be optimistic about his future as his play got better as he acclimated to the offense. Among the guards already on the 49ers’ roster, Tomlinson appears to be the most likely to be a starter in 2018.

Presumptive starting safeties Jimmie Ward and Jaquiski Tartt are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents next offseason. Ward’s fifth-year option deal of one-year, $8.526 million became fully guaranteed last Wednesday. But in order for the 49ers to make a multi-year commitment, Ward would likely have to prove he can remain healthy and available for a full season.

DeForest Buckner is likely the target for the next blockbuster contract extension. Buckner has emerged as one of the top young defensive linemen in the league. Next offseason will be the first time the 49ers are permitted to negotiate a multi-year extension with him.

With a scarcity of offensive linemen available in the draft and free agency, right tackle Trent Brown could be set to cash in with an enormous deal next offseason – either with the 49ers or some other team.

DL Arik Armstead
FS Jimmie Ward
SS Jaquiski Tartt
RT Trent Brown
LB Eli Harold
LG Laken Tomlinson
K Robbie Gould
P Bradley Pinion

DL DeForest Buckner
LT Joe Staley
OG Joshua Garnett
DL Ronald Blair
TE Garrett Celek
RB Matt Breida (RFA)
WR Kendrick Bourne (RFA)

Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in


Deepest position in the NFL Draft? 49ers VP of Player Personnel weighs in

The 49ers concluded the first wave of the free-agent signing period with the signings of players to fill the team’s biggest offseason needs.

--Cornerback. Aqib Talib would have been the answer in a trade with the Denver Broncos, but he wanted to play elsewhere. Instead, the 49ers signed veteran Richard Sherman, whom the Seattle Seahawks cut a day earlier.

--Interior offensive line. Center Weston Richburg was the player the team had rated as their top target in free agency, and they signed him to a lucrative five-year deal.

--Running back. The team decided Jerick McKinnon was a better fit than Carlos Hyde. They wrapped him up with a four-year contract.

--Edge rusher. Lacking many options in free agency, the 49ers signed Jeremiah Attaochu to a one-year contract in hopes he will earn a spot on the team and make a contribution at the “Leo” position.

The 49ers can still use more help at a number of different positions, including cornerback, wide receiver, offensive line, linebacker and edge rusher. While the 49ers might add some role players in the second wave of free agency, most of the major acquisitions at this point are likely to come in the draft.

On the 49ers Insider Podcast, 49ers vice president of player personnel Adam Peters addressed what positions he believes are strong in this year’s draft.

“I think running backs, absolutely. It’s a deep position,” Peters said. “Quarterbacks at the top is deeper than it was last year. Secondary, corners, it’s not deeper than it was last year, but it’s a strong class of corners. Those are the main ones. The offensive line class is a little better than last year, too.”

The 49ers got major contributions from their rookie class last season. Tight end George Kittle, receiver Trent Taylor, quarterback C.J. Beathard, running back Matt Breida, defensive lineman Solomom Thomas, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon, linebacker Reuben Foster and safety Adrian Colbert each played more than 300 snaps.

The 49ers feel good about Witherspoon, a third-round draft pick, as a starter with Sherman on the other side. Peters said a lot of the team’s rookies played larger roles than expected in 2017, but Witherspoon might have been at the top of the list.

“I don’t think he was active for the first four games,” Peters said of Witherspoon. “And he ended up playing at a high level at the end. Really driven, conscientious player who wants to be great. 

"We were lucky we got a chance to play a lot of rookies because that’ll help us moving forward.”