Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown:
"Thanks for being here. I'm going to start and talk a little bit about where we are as a team in the first half of the season and then hit two quick points and then open it up to you all. Obviously, no other way to describe our first half other than very disappointing. Had eight opportunities in the regular season and haven't pulled out a victory yet to this point. Pleased with the guys' work ethic, both coaching staff and the players, but really disappointed that at the end of the day we haven't been able to come away when the clock is stopped with a victory yet this season. Certainly, our standards are much higher than that and our expectations are higher than that. Easy to get lost in certainly the wins and losses, there has been some progress. I will talk about that a bit. I have liked the contributions that some of our free agents have come in. Really appreciative of the young players that have come in and been thrown into some situations where they have had to start earlier in their careers where they may have had to elsewhere but contributing well and seeing some of that production from some of your young players, but at the end of the day guys, it is my responsibility to deliver a roster here that is talented enough to win week in, week out, and we haven't done that yet. We are confident as we move forward that we will be able to add – you guys know how well we are positioned – the requisite talent to bring this roster back to being a contender for this division and beyond, but we are not there yet. We have to own that, and we will."
"Just going to hit two quick points here and then open it up for questions. First (OL) Joe Thomas, I think you guys saw the raise for Joe. It wasn't even really an extension. The idea there was really something we had contemplated and discussed for some weeks prior to Joe's injury and his injury just came at an inopportune time. We were able to sit with him and thought it was the right thing to do by him. He has been a warrior. He obviously had played at a very high level for a very long time and represents a tremendous amount for this organization. (Head Coach) Hue (Jackson), Jimmy (Haslam) and myself, the rest of the staff, the entire organization just appreciates the heck out of him and what he has given to the organization and felt terrible that he had that injury and brought an end to his streak this year. We were able to extend him and bring him up to one of the higher paid, if not the highest-paid left tackle in the game for this and next year. We were pleased to do that.
"Secondly, I think this has been reported, but I was just going to hit so everybody is clear, (WR) Josh Gordon is not back in the facility today. He will be back tomorrow. We have had very little contact with Josh so I am not able to comment much on the state of his being. We have had some preliminary conversations with him. We are looking forward to having him back. He will not be able to practice for the first couple of weeks while he is here, but otherwise, he will be back on the roster afterwards."
On characterizing the relationship between the Browns front office and coaching staff:
"Good. These builds are challenging, and they do place a lot of adversity on organizations. I think organizations' and individuals' characters come out. Character comes out in those circumstances, and obviously, not going to sugarcoat anything, last week was a tough, tough week for us from a PR perspective and things that we can get better on, but the groups are working together and working hard. We will continue to but we understand while we haven't had the results we aspire to that those are going to be the types of stories that come out. Now, we have to do everything we can to stay unified, and I think that is the key ingredient towards making this a successful effort on both parts, and we will get there."
On the trade deadline and Bengals QB A.J. McCarron:
"It is a lot simpler than what has been written truly. This is just a matter of getting to a deal too late in the process. I think both sides, both Cincinnati and us tried our damnedest to try to get the paperwork in at the last minutes, and we are talking about minutes and seconds before the trade deadline ended. We were on the phone with the NFL at the time to try to make it happen. It did not happen. I do think Cincinnati in earnest tried. I know we did everything humanly possible to get it done. It just didn't happen. It is truly that simple."
On if Cincinnati submitted its paperwork to the NFL on time, given reports:
"It is too technical to try to simplify that way. There is no paperwork that either side got in that would allow a deal to happen, and it is truly that simple. They had our paperwork, we had theirs and then it was incumbent upon us to send it in."
On reports that he 'sabotaged' the trade for McCarron because he didn't want to make the deal:
"I will go back to kind of the point I made earlier – when you are in this situation, things are going to get written that way. We are big boys enough. That is wholly untrue. I think we were all in there together – Hue, myself and couple other staff members that work on these things at the time we were trying to get the trade done so I am not worried about that internally. Externally, I can just put it to bed that is just not the case. Nothing we would ever do to try to make up a trade, to sabotage a trade just wouldn't make any sense."
On if the trade deadline passing created tension between the coaching staff and front office:
"No, we really are a transparent, collaborative group. Particularly at the top where before we embark on any trade discussions even, we have good discussions on how a player would fit, how the coaches would see him utilize that player. As much as these trades seem like they happen right at the deadline, they actually usually are weeks in a process so they are not as last minute as they quite seem. We have a lot of opportunity to talk internally prior to engaging and then throughout the engagement on where you will be so our coaching staff and Hue in particular is really my partner in a lot of these discussions. He understands right where that is and all of the efforts that went into it."
On how Jackson reacted to not acquiring McCarron:
"Well listen, he was there, and he knows the efforts that went into trying to get the deal done. It didn't happen. At the end of the day, it is our job to make those things happen. In terms of getting the actual transaction finalized, we were all disappointed that it didn't happen."
On why trade discussions for McCarron did not happen sooner:
"I think that is the place where – I am not going to talk a lot about the conversations with Cincinnati – but that is a place where I think when we look back and try to learn from all of our experiences and some of the transactions that we will undertake, that is the one place that I think we were talking this morning a little bit about what we would do differently next time. I think that is a fair critique. Deadlines do make deals, but that don't have to so we can get better there."
On what McCarron could have added:
"I think A.J. is a guy who is experienced in our system. Obviously, has played in NFL games. Hue has a lot of familiarity with him so for all those reasons. He is a young quarterback and promise on the field and has familiarity with our system. That is a very rare combination."
On his comment that reports claiming 'sabotage' and anonymous sources from NFL teams do not bother him:
"I couldn't tell you what other teams are going to discuss, and frankly, that is not our concern. We know what we do here in the building. We stay on the same page in good communication."
On how to reconcile reports that the front office and coaching staff aren't on the same page:
"Obviously, I can't go to every single report that has been out there. As I said, I think in these builds and in these moments there is a lot of adversity that will put pressure on people and we have to stay united internally. I would not address it other than that, but we are working together and that is what I would say to it."
On if the Browns asked New England about acquiring QB Jimmy Garoppolo prior the trade deadline:
"I wouldn't get into all the discussions we had. I know the McCarron thing is a little unique just because it has been so widely reported and there actually was trade paperwork sent to the league, but as you know under league rules, I can't comment in our interest in another player and we would not comment frankly just respectfully to other teams about what comments we did or did not have with the Patriots or anyone else, and you should not read into that one way or the other."
On not yet being able to deliver the kind of roster envisioned and missed opportunities:
"Overall, I would begin this by saying we were really realistic about where our roster was when we took over December 2015 and coming into January 2016. We understood, if you look back – I think you guys are familiar and many of you have documented it – where our past draft classes were and what we were relying on in terms of pipeline of young players, older players who are contributing and performing to either their contract levels or otherwise, and that is no excuse. As I have said from Day 1, we want the winning to start as soon as possible and it is one of the reasons we so aggressively have tried to position ourselves in terms of I think we are going to end up with something close to about five drafts in three years, the equivalent of that. We were realistic first of all, and then secondly, I want to arm our coaches and our personnel staff wants to arm our coaches with as much talent as we possibly can have to go out there and win every Sunday. There are certainly a lot of opportunities out there and we are realistic. There will be those opportunities, whether it is a player that is going to perform on another team at a high level or is performing on another team that you had a chance to draft or a free agent that you missed on or a trade that you don't quite get a transaction, that is part of it. We have to be realistic and accountable to that. We are not going to be perfect. That is not the name of the game, but it is to be better than the others. We have a very aggressive plan as we move forward to bolster this roster in a huge offseason, probably the most important we have coming up, and we plan to execute on it."
On building the team first and then inserting a QB rather than selecting a QB and then building the team:
"Yeah, so, common kind of chicken and egg question that goes on in this league, and I think you have seen people debate this one way or the other. Many of you have kind of documented this with the Tim Couch experience here, whether they threw Tim out too early and kind of ruined his career. I don't subscribe to that one way or the other. I think circumstances change. It is different in every building. It is different on every roster. It is different with every quarterback and his personality and makeup. For us, I think the first thing we realized was how far we had to come in terms of replenishing our talent. As we have made decisions to trade back at different times, that has been a theme of that. We are, I promise you, very intent on addressing the quarterback position. Even when we haven't taken one high the last two years, we found ways to add other players to that room and we will continue to look for every opportunity there. In all honesty, I don't think there is a right answer and I don't think anybody ever knows because you never can prove the negative – what would have happened if something else? – but there are certainly teams that are out there that are turning it around. We are going to be one of those teams. We are confident in what we are going to do moving forward, but these things will always be second guessed until we win. We understand that. We certainly have high expectations for ourselves, and we are not going to sit here and cry for ourselves. No one is crying for us. This is football."
On a report that he was home by 5 p.m. last week and was caught off guard by the Garoppolo trade:
"I'm not going to get into specifics. I have seen a lot of that being written. We will never know what is in the minds of other teams. It would be nice to be able to control where all of the other teams are going to send their players. We don't have that control, but a lot of this stuff that has been written has been made up. Someone can call my wife and kids and tell them where I was at 5 o'clock, but it certainly wasn't home."
On if the Browns have to change the their QB evaluation process given the success of Eagles QB Carson Wentz and Texans QB Deshaun Watson:
"You take your hat off to both of those young players who are off to hot starts to their careers. I think whenever we look at an opportunity in the draft, first you come knowing that there are going to be opportunities that you miss on to add talent to your roster. I think good organizations – I have talked about this before – do go back and look at those decisions and those evaluations. What did we miss? We are perpetually doing that here internally. What is all of the information we had? How do we gather it? Was it accurate? How did we analyze the information and put it all together to make a decision? Some of those are more strategic and tactical, and some of those are purely in terms of the actual operational issue of evaluating the player. We look at it both ways. I think we have some really good processes in place. I am pleased with the guys that we have pulled out of the draft. I think that they are performing well almost to a man. At the end of the day, we always can get better and we will always look to get better certainly, including at the quarterback position, absolutely."
On how to explaining the decision to ownership if asked why the Browns did not draft Wentz and Watson, who have been successful:
"Listen, we never walk away feeling like it is OK in terms of that is something that we planned to do, but you also have to be professional enough and realistic enough to know that is going to be part of it. There is a guy out in Seattle (QB Russell Wilson) running around that the entire league passed on two and a half times. Those are the things that you want to learn from in all honesty. You have to be accountable to them and go back and take a look at it. I'm not going to comment on Carson. I'm happy that he is off to a good start to his career. Obviously, for us, the focus has to be moving forward – what can we learn from that that can help our decisions moving forward?"
On if the Browns didn't learn from not selecting Wentz, considering the team traded picks and could have selected Watson:
"I would just say I don't think just trading down was the problem. I think it is just purely evaluating. There are obviously a lot of teams that passed on Russell Wilson that know how to evaluate quarterbacks. There are a lot of teams that passed on Deshaun Watson or other quarterbacks, (Raiders QB) Derek Carr or others that didn't go No. 1 or No. 2 in the draft, that certainly have the ability to evaluate quarterbacks. I don't shy away from missed opportunities at all. That is going to be a piece of it. There are a lot of non-quarterbacks out there frankly that are playing well right now too that we would love to have on our team, but we are not going to get every one right. We haven't and we won't moving forward. We will get enough of them right and we will solve the quarterback position here."
On how to maintain unity between the front office and coaching staff, given history of the Browns:
"Again, I think it has been here and elsewhere well-documented. I think it is incumbent upon the leadership to come together and to address it and to lead through it. That is what adversity will breed in professional sports. It is highly public. It is very competitive. We have to lead through it. I think it really is incumbent upon us from ownership right on down to be the type of organization and to mandate that from everybody in our organization."
On if the Browns expected more from the team's WRs:
"I think when we look at it, obviously, (WR) Corey (Coleman) has been hurt and we have missed him, but we certainly, as we look at that group, understand that it hasn't performed as well as we had hoped. Bringing in (WR) Kenny (Britt), and he is off to a slower start than I think we expected and wanted, but not just singling him out, I think the entire group can get going. (WR) Ricardo (Louis) has had a couple of good weeks and settled himself down and has made some big plays for us. I think as we get Corey back and come off the bye week, we will get that group going. (Senior offensive assistant) Al (Saunders) and (assistant wide receivers coach) Bob (Saunders) do a good job with the wide receivers, coaching them and bringing them in. We have had some new players that we have added late at the waiver wire and claimed those players, and we will continue to work them in. If (WR) Josh (Gordon) is able to get back and onto the field, which we expect will happen, that will be a big boost to that group, as well."
On if he met with the Browns coaching staff to address reports of 'sabotage' in relation to the trade deadline:
"We are going to leave the internal discussions internal, but as I said, I am not worried about that part of it. As I said, Hue was in the room as we were hustling to try to get the deal done. He observed it and witnessed it. For us, we have to be realistic and big boys about the fact that right now we are not great and it is easy to pile on and write various things. All of those things, we will have to lead and as a leadership group not just me, but as a leadership group get through."
On why the Browns front office is equipped to evaluate future QBs despite passing on Wentz and Watson in previous drafts:
"The group that we have here, one, we work well with the coaches. We have good processes with them as we move through our spring evaluation, and actually, it will be in free agency this year potentially, as well, that we will work well together and understand what we need for our system. We are going to work it as hard as we can in all honesty. We have got good processes in terms of background on these guys, good systems in place in terms of evaluating touchpoints all over the place. We will get it right. It doesn't mean that we will get every single one right, but we are confident of where we are headed and the group that we have here in place."
On if the Browns need a 'football guy' to help evaluate QBs and players moving forward:
"We have football people here, but we are always looking at our staff to figure out where we are but are really pleased with the job that the guys have done. If you look at the players we have selected and how early they are performing and performing well, then I think you can see that this group can evaluate and will continue to do that coming up in the next draft."
On if he is concerned about QB DeShone Kizer starting since Week 1 and not having a veteran QB on the roster to play and allow Kizer to adjust to the NFL:
"We have a lot of trust in kind of the decision in terms of how to manage that room. (Quarterbacks coach) David (Lee) and Hue do a good job. They are close with all three guys – (QB) Kevin (Hogan), (QB) Cody (Kessler) and DeShone. Obviously, a young room and not a lot of experience in it. The decision that we made at the deadline to move on from (QB) Brock (Osweiler). It is something that we will certainly have discussed and revisit, but DeShone is doing a good job in terms of his resilience and his focus. All three of those guys are working hard. Cody and Kevin have been ready when their number has been called."
On how ownership reacted to the trade deadline situation and if he has concerns it will cost him his job:
"I don't. I think we are in good communication with both Dee and Jimmy on these things. They are well apprised of what we are doing and why and how things come together. I think they have seen our track record in terms of being able to perform and pull off some of the more creative deals in the league and a host of just simple straightforward of these transactions, whether they are in season or on draft day. I don't. I think they understand that we have been as aggressive as any team trying to churn this roster and improve it."
On if ownership has assured him that the Browns front office and coaching staff will return next year:
"No, it wouldn't be a conversation that I would have either. I think the most important thing for us to do is to really stay focused on our task at hand. We have eight other opportunities this year. Our guys have been resilient and focused. I think you expect no less from the front office and the coaching staff, and that is what we will continue to do."
On if he consulted the coaching staff and Al Saunders before signing WR Kenny Britt to a significant contract who had issues in the past:
"I'm not going to go back through all of our evaluation process. We have good processes internally. The reality of free agency is when you are a wide receiver that is a starting wide receiver in this league and you hit free agency, you are going to get paid. That just is the reality of it. Kenny has eight more opportunities this year and future years on his deal to come around. We haven't been, obviously, from his perspective or ours, where we expected to be with his performance, but he is working hard and he will continue to. I think that is the reality and dangers of free agency. (OL) Kevin (Zeitler), (OL) JC (Tretter) and (DB) Jason (McCourty) come in, and Kenny, they provide us with some real stable performance; my sense is that Kenny will work to turn it around in the second half."
On reports of Peyton Manning being in the Cleveland area and if the team is talking with Manning about a role in the front office:
"You shouldn't read into it one way. Even if we were, we wouldn't comment on it here. That is how I would leave it."
On stating the importance of continuity for success and if there are concerns that the current front office and coaching staff won't have an opportunity for continuity due to the team's record:
"No, I think that is not the way that you go into it. Obviously, if we are racing to try to get as good as we can as fast as we can, then we would have a different strategy. That isn't ours. We want to be sustainable. We are going to be good, and when we get there, we will be good for a long time. You have seen a defense here that has transformed from the bottom of the league to somewhere in the top half to maybe even the top quartile, depending on what metric you are looking at or what statistic you are looking at. It is entirely young, and that is something for fans to be excited about. We have maybe four guys that aren't on rookie deals on the defense, and they are already a top-15, top-12 defense, depending on the way you look at it. Our offensive line has come together and stabilized, and we have some more pieces we have to drop in here to get the roster to where it needs to be, but there are signs of progress that people can be excited about and look forward to. At the same time, we are disappointed in the results and we own those. We will get those better."