Of course, Banner and Lombardi gave Pettine and Farmer a good head start by clearing millions of dollars in salary cap space and acquiring extra draft picks for a total of 10 in 2014 -- including the first-round pick and the third-rounder used to select former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

"The plan was very simple,'' said Banner. "It was to accumulate draft picks and and cap room so we could build on this base, keep our own guys, participate in free agency and have the assets necessary so that if a quarterback became available that we felt was transformational -- either from another team or in the draft -- we'd have all the assets we need to go and get him. That's why we did everything we did in that first year.''

Banner was bashed during the 2013 draft for trading several of his picks for 2014 choices -- including a fourth-rounder for Pittsburgh's 2014 third-rounder. But Farmer and Pettine used that third-rounder, the No. 83 overall, to move up from No. 26 to No. 22 to draft Manziel. Meanwhile, Thomas is working with the second team in Pittsburgh during organized team activities.

Banner was also hammered for dealing 2012 No. 3 overall pick Trent Richardson to the Colts for that No. 26 overall pick, but it gave the Browns a chance at their potential quarterback of the future. Richardson, on the other hand, struggled in Indianapolis, gaining just 458 yards on 157 carries for a 2.9-yard average.

"I still think Richardson will prove to be a solid player, but based on where we were at the time, with the goal we had for accumulating cap room and draft picks, it was a a sound move for the team to make at the time,'' Banner said.

Banner acknowledges that the draft-day trade with Miami for troubled receiver Davone Bess was a mistake, but that it cost the Browns nothing in draft pick compensation. The Browns paid Bess about $4 million for his lost 2013 season, but wrote language into the contract to protect themselves against future guarantees in the event they were forced to cut him. The jury is still out on 2013 No. 6 pick Barkevious Mingo and 2013 free agent pass-rusher Paul Kruger, but both have a chance to excel in Pettine's attack-minded scheme. 2013 third-round pick Leon McFadden is not slated for a starting role at cornerback, and hasn't yet lived up to his draft status.

But Banner cleared about $28 million in cap room for 2014 that enabled the Browns to extend the contracts of Pro Bowlers Alex Mack and Joe Haden, and to sign free agents such as Karlos Dansby, Donte Whitner, Andrew Hawkins and Nate Burleson.

Some of the moves were unpopular -- especially letting kicker Phil Dawson walk in free agency -- but they added up to a bonanza for Farmer and Pettine this offseason. The following is the cap savings for each player cut or not re-signed: Dimitri Patterson $5.5 million, Chris Gocong $5.5 million, Usama Young $2 million, Frostee Rucker $8 million, Ben Watson $3 million, Sheldon Brown $4.5 million, Dawson $3.5 million.

The moves gave Farmer about $55 million to $60 million in cap space with which to start the year, which enabled him to sign Alex Mack to a five-year $42 million extension and Haden to five-year, $68 million extension. The club also has $20 million in remaing cap space, which can be rolled into next year.

"We weren't saying any of those guys were useless,'' said Banner. "But we were trying to build a quality team that had a chance on an ongoing basis to win Super Bowls, and we weren't going to win the Super Bowl last year.''

Banner also noted that the Browns took grief for moves such as signing wide receiver Charles Johnson off the Packers practice squad when it was discovered a few days later that he had a torn anterior cruciate ligament. "But that was fine because he'll be healthy this year and we still owned his rights for four more years,'' Banner said.

Banner and Lombardi also wanted to trade star receiver Josh Gordon because of multiple failed drug tests, but some in the organization, including then coach Rob Chudzinski, felt the Browns had a strong enough support system to keep him on the straight and narrow. When the Browns' highest offer was a second-round pick and players, they opted not to make the move, and Gordon responded by finishing No. 1 in the NFL with 1,646 yards before reportedly failing another drug test this season.