"I appreciate you guys making some time on Good Friday. Before we hop into football, I just want to take actually a few moments just to [say] I know the last few weeks have been really, really hard for everyone on this call, everyone in Northeast Ohio and everyone around the country. The COVID-19 pandemic has been a real challenge really worldwide. I just want to take few moments to express some gratitude to our public health officials and the medical professionals who really have put themselves at personal risk to sacrifice and help others and really help us stem the spread of coronavirus. The other thing I want to mention is how proud I am of our organization in terms of how they have navigated really uncharted territories over the past few weeks and raise a special mention to the Haslam family and people like (DT) Larry (Ogunjobi), (DE) Myles (Garrett), (CB) Denzel (Ward), (QB) Baker (Mayfield) and guys who have really gone above and beyond to support the various relief efforts with COVID-19. Really the last thing that I wanted to say is all of us – whether it is myself or everyone on this call that has the power of the pen – is really part of our responsibility is to just to make sure that consumers of our work or people who read different articles in various media platforms to emphasize how important it is for everybody to follow the direction of our medical professionals and how important it is for people to stay at home and stay safe. That is the one thing that is going to really help us slow the spread of COVID-19. I just wanted to take a couple moments there. Quite honestly, that is probably the most important message and even more important than anything that we are going to talk about here in the next few minutes. I just wanted to take a little bit of time to say that on the front end."
On where he is located during the stay-at-home order and how has he been coping during the past few weeks:
"When I took the job here, my wife and I, we had really decided to push our formal move back until after the drat just because the first three months in any transition is very challenging. Now that being said, I have been fortunate to see them a couple of weeks ago. We have had a lot of FaceTime activity. With a two-year old and a one-year old, that has been a bit of a challenge, but it is something we had really planned on addressing permanently after the draft. Obviously with everything with COVID-19, we are playing that a little bit by ear, but we have been able to navigate it fine over the past few weeks."
On where he will be located during the draft and if he has done any mock drafts specific to the virtual draft:
"In terms of the draft process, it still is a bit of a work in progress in terms of the operating protocol that we are going to have. Personally, I think we have a really strong preliminary gameplan, and that is really a credit to our IT staff lead by (Vice President of Information Technology) Brandon (Covert) and (Systems & Network Engineer) Jud Covert, as well as our video staff with (Director of Video) Rob Pavlas. We still are working through those things. We feel like we are going to have a good plan and be very prepared. I do intend to be in Cleveland on draft night, and we will be ready to go."
On planning for this year's draft with many uncertainties and unknowns, given it is the first virtual draft:
"I think it is just more different, right? It is more a different environment than any team has operated under, but all teams have faced the same challenges. From my perspective, we are going to be prepared and ready to go regardless of the circumstances. I feel confident that we are going to have a very high-quality draft. We have a really strong support staff that has been working through a number of creative and effective solutions that we have used already throughout the free agency and draft preparation process. I have full confidence that we are going to be ready to go here in two weeks."
On draft preparations in an all-digital format:
"What you alluded to, it has been a lot of use of Zoom and Microsoft Teams. My phone, if it was not already attached to my hip, it certainly is now. We are fortunate to live in an age of technology so it has not disrupted the work product or workflow from that standpoint. Look, obviously, you miss a little bit of something with not being able to engage with people in person, but it really has not slowed the free agency or draft process from my perspective. We felt very prepared going into free agency, and we feel very prepared at this point in the draft process. It has had its challenges, but we have navigated them pretty well."
On building the Browns roster to win now without replacing too many of a past GM's players, including from his perspective of being with the team under two previous GMs:
"That probably goes back to something that was asked at the opening presser in February. The first thing I want to clarify is every player who is on the Browns roster, they are part of our organization and they are a Cleveland Brown. It is not about how they were acquired, who acquired them or anything along those lines. The players on our team, they are ours and we are going to embrace them with open arms regardless of how they got here. In terms of the question about assembling a team, it is no different than any other offseason. Our goal is to aggressively add talent and aggressively add players to the roster who can help us and fit in our schemes offensively and defensively on the field and are the type of people that we want in our organization. We said it multiple times: smart, tough and accountable. That is really our focus day in and day out during this offseason process and putting together the best team possible so we can go out and win on Sundays in the fall."
On the dynamics of transferring the team's draft board and draft room to a home office:
"I guess maybe a big part – this is maybe where my particular age demographic is perhaps a little bit helpful – a lot of the stuff that we use, they are database tools. It is really no different than the video tools and no different than probably a lot of industries around the country. In terms of physically moving things, that is really not a challenge for us. The bigger challenge is just setting up effective communication protocols because you do run into issues sometimes where someone at their home does not have a strong internet signal and maybe they go out for a few minutes or there is a latency issue. In terms of our information, a lot of that is housed in our internal database. Fortunately again, we live in the age of technology where we have FaceTime, Zoom, Microsoft Teams and just even picking up the phone and giving people a call. From that perspective, it is different, but it is not a challenge that is insurmountable by any means."
On if the Browns have any 'old school' personnel members who are referring back to times prior to all of the technological resources available:
"I would say that regardless of age, we have a pretty progressive group. I would say even just people who are significantly older than I am that we have on staff, they realize the benefits of technology now. We are going to make sure that we are prepared in any decision-making scenario that we have what we need if there was to be a kind of a Armageddon scenario with power, internet access or something along those lines. That is really no different than anything you would experience if you were actually in the building navigating the draft process. I think we are pretty well prepared on that front and have a number of strong contingency plans in place."
On evaluating players who team doctors haven't examined:
"That's a great question. I think we are fortunate on a number of levels. No. 1, we did have the combine in February. Every year, really the most important part of the combine is getting the medical information and getting the baseline and preliminary medical information for roughly 330 prospects. The league has done a really nice job of coming up with some protocols where essentially each team doctor is responsible for a check-in with some of the guys who were not healthy in Indianapolis. We are going to get some pretty good updated medical information on prospects who were not healthy earlier in February. I think the bigger challenge is for players who were non-combine invitees and medical information there. Again, that is a challenge we face every year. Fortunately, (Senior Vice President of Player Health and Development) Joe Sheehan and our medical staff, every year they have done a good job of leveraging their relationships to really get the information we need from the different campuses on prospects who are not combine eligible. Yes, there is a little more sight work this year compared to prior years, but we are still going to be at a really good place for the players who are in consideration for us in the draft and then after the draft."
On if there is an update on S Karl Joseph, given the team has not formally announced Joseph has signed:
"The big thing there is the physical. It is a little bit challenging just from state to state obviously the focus of the hospital system is rightfully so on COVID-19 so it can be a little more challenging from state to state. That is really the only reason he has not been announced, but we do not anticipate any significant problems."
On if he anticipates executing a trade while on the clock will be more challenging during the virtual draft:
"Not really. I guess there could be a little more risk depending on the technology of the other end. If you think about it through a normal situation or a normal draft, a lot of those trades are executed by phone. We are still going to be on the line with the league office. We will still are going to be on the line with other teams. From that standpoint, absent if there was a power outage or something along those lines from either of the two clubs, I think that is something that is going to operate largely the same on draft weekend."
On the Browns' free agency signings:
"We feel good. We are excited about all of the guys we added to the roster. We thought they had the talent and the skillsets that would fit really well into our offensive and defensive systems. We think they embody the characteristics that we are looking for in terms of people, fitting into our locker room and fitting into our organization. We like the value we got for the players. I think it is a good start to the offseason. We have five months until hopefully we are playing in early September. We still have a lot of work to do to add competition to each of the different position groups, but certainly, the guys we have added to the roster so far we are excited to have them and we are excited to have them with the Browns."
On how much of a priority the team placed on stabilizing the OL:
"I think I mentioned this a little bit earlier, as well. For us, having a young quarterback and being an organization that we want to make sure we can be quarterback-centric and make sure that position has a lot of success, the offensive line is always going to be a priority. That is not just this year but any given year because if we can't protect the quarterback and we can't create holes in the run game, then it is going to be a really tough challenge for our skill players to produce and play at a high level. It really does start there. I know those guys end up being a bit of unsung heroes, but that is something that has been a focus of ours and will continue to be a focus of ours in each successive offseason."
On the traits, characteristics and skills that are most important for operationally executing a virtual draft:
"I really think it comes down to just organization and preparation. A big part of that is working in conjunction with the IT staff, the video staff and obviously your personnel staff and our coaches, but make sure No. 1 the communication is where it needs to be as we are making selections later in April. I think that is really the biggest thing. One of the things that we are going to do over the next two weeks as we get our virtual war room, so to speak, set up is we are going to go through a couple of dress rehearsals so we can make sure we flush out any trouble spots or things we may not anticipate because the first time doing it this way, we do not want it to be Thursday, Day 1 of the draft. We really just want to get to the point where two weeks from now, it is all about execution and we are ready to go."
On his philosophy on strength of drafts changing year to year and if this can be viewed as a stronger or weaker draft class:
"I have a feeling this may be a less-than-satisfying answer for you. I think every year each class has a number of good players across positions. In retrospect and hindsight, there are classes or years where perhaps the depth of the draft is maybe not as strong as other years historically. I do not think that is something we truly know until we look through the lens of history. Needless to say, this year, again, there are a number of quality players across positions and a number of players we will be excited about in each round we have to pick and each day of the draft. We look at it as an opportunity to add some young players to the roster that can improve depth, competition and overall talent across the team."
On reports that the Browns were in serious discussions to acquire free agent DE Jadeveon Clowney:
"I am not going to get into the habit of commenting or speculating on players who are not on our roster. Obviously, Jadeveon, he is a good football player. For us, it really goes back to something I mentioned maybe two months ago. Rest assured across all opportunities to acquire other players, we are going to be aggressive in adding talent to the roster. We are going to make sure if there is an opportunity to upgrade the team and we think it makes sense, we are going to be proactive there. Like I said, I am not going to speculate on players who are not on our team, but we are actively always looking – whether it is draft, free agency, trades, waiver wire or you name it – to add players to our roster."
On evaluating draft prospects at T and considering their ability to potentially transfer from one side to the other:
"Honestly, I think the distinction between left and right tackle is really outdated. We are no longer in the days of football where teams will have their best rusher and line him up on the defensive right side and offensive left side of the formation. Really, the game is not played that way. From my perspective, tackles are tackles. In terms of guys making the switch, certainly, there is an element of muscle memory that needs to be reprogrammed, so to speak, for people who have played one side or the other for a long period of time. If you look, (T) Jack Conklin was a college left tackle that has been a pretty well accomplished right tackle in our league. Perhaps the best example of a career college right tackle who has been a pretty good left tackle in our league is (Cowboys T) Tyron Smith. Sometimes those distinctions can be a bit overemphasized. In today's game, the two tackle positions may not be identical, but they are pretty close."
On teams in the past typically placing the most athletic OL at LT:
"I think the requirements of both the left and the right tackle in today's sport are just as challenging. You are going to face top rushers every week at both spots. You are going to have to pass protect at both spots. You are going to have to create movement in the run game at both spots. It is certainly a challenge that both guys will face."
On if the Browns by design have not addressed LT in free agency to focus on the position in the draft:
"I would not make any assumptions regarding that. Like I mentioned, Jack (Conklin) has played left tackle before. (T) Chris Hubbard has played left tackle before. (T) Kendall Lamm has played left tackle. I would not make any assumptions about what we may or may not do moving forward. My goal is to make sure that we are adding talent across the roster and adding competition across the roster. That is something that we are looking forward to continuing to do over the next several months."
On the philosophy behind many of the team's defensive free agency signings being one-year deals and if it is for salary cap or draft flexibility:
"Some of it is really just not forcing the market's hand, so to speak. We felt like all of those guys add something team to team with their on-field profile and their off-field profile. Some of them did find perhaps a more depressed market than they were expecting going into the process. It did work out that way, but part of it was again just trying to be opportunistic as we navigated some of the different player markets. Really, that is the primary focus there."
On his experience working with Head Coach Kevin Stefanski and what has surprised him about Stefanski:
"It has been fantastic. We were in each other's offices every day before the facility closed down. We have been on the phone multiple times a day since the facility have closed. Probably the biggest – maybe I should not say surprise – pleasant surprise just getting to know him over the past few months is really something non-football related. I don't think people [realize] and maybe people will realize it as we go through the year, but he has an incredible sense of humor and an incredible wit. He can really get me going just because he has such a sharp wit. Maybe that is something that you have picked up a little bit on with some of your sessions with him, but he is a really, really funny guy. I can't wait when we do open the building back up and our players get to know him a little bit more intimately. I know they are going to embrace him."
On the process of evaluating the opportunity to select a player who is more immediately 'NFL ready' compared to a similar player who 'may not be as ready now but has a higher upside':
"Really more globally, I think it really does depend on the particular situation because there are a number of factors that come into play – talent, need, medical history, character, mental profile, positional priority or you name it. In terms of that question about NFL readiness or ceiling in particular, for me, the draft is largely about trying to find some longer-term solutions to your roster because you do have these players under contract for multiple years at a pretty cost effective amount. The idea that you are taking players to come in and hit the ground running, very few rookies do that. That is not to say that there are not some that do or will, but that really won't be our organizational mindset as we enter the draft about 'OK, who can perform at a Pro Bowl level Day 1?' History tells that it is very rare and not usually the case, and all the players that we take Day 1, Day 2 or Day 3, we are hopeful can become longer-term members of the organization."
On how Chief Strategy Officer Paul DePodesta's NFL experience from the past few years is impacting the upcoming Browns draft:
"It is something that both Kevin and I have hit on of how fantastic of a thought partner Paul has been in a variety of the football operations domains. With Paul, I think he has such a unique background. Here is someone who has had 20 years of high-level executive experience in one of the big three professional sports and now has four years of high-level experience in the NFL. That diversity within his background has been really valuable to us throughout the offseason process. I know Kevin has mentioned how helpful Paul has been. Paul is a super-valuable resource for all of us in the organization. Very, very happy that he is here and involved with everything that we do."
On the potential setback of not having a full or any offseason program for NFL teams, particularly for the Browns with a first-year head coach and first-year GM:
"It is a challenge, but again, all 31 other teams are dealing with the same circumstances. We are going to be prepared. I know Kevin and his staff are prepared. I do also think there is some precedent for this if you look at 2011, coming out of the lockout. At that point, there were zero offseason programs, the teams were starting free agency in August and then it is like you hit the play button and you are in camp two days later. Teams navigated that fine. In fact, I think that was the year where we had a number of rookie quarterbacks who really hit the ground running that season. It creates a different environment, but it is not like it is the first time that organizations or teams have had to deal with it or deal with adversity. We will be ready to go."