CLEVELAND (AP) — The NFL sent a tough message to Browns general manager Ray Farmer for texting.
However, the league didn't delete any of Cleveland's precious draft picks.
Farmer has been suspended without pay for the first four games of the 2015 regular season for sending text messages to the sideline during games last season. The league announced its punishment on Monday, ending an investigation that hung over the franchise during yet another turbulent offseason and threatened to undermine the Browns' upcoming draft.
Farmer, who acknowledged sending the messages weeks ago, will not be paid during his suspension. The league said his ban begins on midnight of the Sunday preceding the Browns' first regular-season game and will end immediately after the fourth regular-season game. Farmer cannot be involved in any club matters and is prohibited from being at the team's offices, practice facility or games, the league said.
"I respect the league's decision and understand that there are consequences for my actions," Farmer said in a statement released by the Browns. "Accountability is integral to what we are trying to build and as a leader I need to set the right example. I made a mistake and apologize to Jimmy Haslam, (coach) Mike Pettine, our entire organization and our fans for the ramifications. Learning is a big part of who I am and I will certainly be better from this situation."
The Browns were also fined $250,000, but that's pocket change considering what they could have lost.
Cleveland has 10 picks in the upcoming draft, including two in the first round (Nos. 12 and 19) and six of the first 115. The Browns, who went 7-9 last season, could be positioning themselves to make a run at one of the top quarterbacks, and losing any assets would not only have weakened their bargaining power, but prevented a team with several holes from adding young talent. The Browns haven't been to the playoffs since 2002 and have had just two winning seasons since 1999.
Owner Jimmy Haslam, who has remained supportive of Farmer, has said the team is committed to finding a franchise quarterback. The team signed free agent Josh McCown , backup Thad Lewis and is waiting for Johnny Manziel to be released from rehab.
During its investigation, the league said it found no evidence that Haslam or other team executives knew about the texts.
Troy Vincent, the NFL's vice president of football operations, said Farmer used a cellphone on "multiple occasions" during games in 2014. League rules prohibit teams from using any electronic devices beginning 90 minutes before kickoff through the end of a game. The rule forbids communication to the sidelines, coach's booths, locker room or any other club-controlled areas. The only exceptions are the league-issued tablets coaches use for still photos.
The texting inquiry was just one of several issues to hound the Browns this winter. Along with Manziel's trip to rehab, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan had a messy departure and troubled wide receiver Josh Gordon was suspended by the league for at least one season for multiple drug violations.
Throughout the inquiry, Haslam professed his loyalty to Farmer, who was promoted in February 2014 when team president Joe Banner and GM Michael Lombardi were fired.
"We accept the league's ruling," Haslam said. "Ray made a mistake and takes full responsibility for his role in violating the policy. It is critical that we make better decisions. Ray has tremendous integrity and I know has great remorse for what occurred. We are all committed to learning from this and making the Browns a stronger and better organization."
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