How did Johnny Football end up in Cleveland?
Adam Rifkin stashed this in Football
How Johnny Manziel ended up in Cleveland:
It had to be documented. For history. For the children walking through the Pro Football Hall of Fame who ask, “How did he ever end up in Cleveland?”
I was prepared to ignore it entirely after three months of miserable news, but Johnny got me hooked early on, and before I knew it, three hours had gone by. It was too insane to change the channel or turn off the computer. So for the children’s sake, let’s all relive the night Johnny Football went to Cleveland.
I experienced this in 10 steps.
1. Was Johnny Drinking at the Draft?
This photo surfaced early in the first round, and in that moment, I was ready to pledge lifelong loyalty to Johnny Football.
2. Johnny Wasn’t Drinking at the Draft
I really thought that first photo was real, which should tell you three things. First, everything on the Internet is a lie; don’t be an idiot like me. Second, given his history and general approach to life, it was at least a little bit plausible that Johnny Manziel would be the first draft prospect in history to be drunk in the green room. Third, following a draft on Twitter remains the absolute greatest. It makes the whole night so much dumber, and so much better.
3. The Browns Trade
Everything went according to plan with the first two picks. Then the Jaguars went and took Blake Bortles, which is the closest thing we have to an NFL version of the Cavs taking Anthony Bennett last year. It was so perfectly Jacksonville that it still doesn’t seem real 12 hours later. It’s too on the nose, right? Like the Johnny Photoshop. I’ve already been fooled once. There’s no way the Jaguars took Blake Bortles with the no. 3 pick.
Anyway, that’s where the draft went off the rails.
The Browns had been linked to Manziel since January, but after Bortles leapfrogged him, Cleveland dealt their pick to Buffalo to trade down. The Browns got a first-round pick next year, so it was great for Cleveland. But it was the beginning of a rough few hours for Johnny Manziel.
4. Free Fall
It’s draft rule no. 1: If a famous quarterback starts slipping even a little bit, that becomes the only thing anyone talks about on TV all night. With Manziel it was doubly true, because people were going to be talking about him all night anyway. Having him slide down the first round was just a bonus. It was the dream scenario for ESPN and NFL Network. As soon as he slipped past to Cleveland at four, speculation took over the night.
Raiders at no. 5? Nope. Johnny Manziel could have single-handedly resurrected the Raiders as every rapper’s favorite team again, but they went with Khalil Mack. Oakland’s all set with Matt Schaub at quarterback. And this is why Ice Cube is the only rapper who still cheers for the Raiders.
Vikings at 8? Nope. They traded down with the Browns. So… Browns??
Browns at 8? NOPE. They pass on Manziel for a second time — grab a cornerback instead — and every Cleveland fan who’s fallen in love with Johnny Football now remembers how much they hate the Browns.
Vikings at 9? Nope again. took Anthony Barr, because apparently Mike Zimmer wasn’t a huge fan of Manziel and his life outside football. Which makes a lot of sense if you’ve ever heard Mike Zimmer on the sideline. That’s not a man who has time for commercials with LeBron James. It’s nothing against him or Manziel, but pairing those two together would have ended badly.
Titans at 11? Nope. They grab tackle Taylor Lewan instead. They’ll stick with Jake Locker as the face of the franchise for the next few years, which is a sad sentence to say out loud.
Through all of this, there were two subplots that kept it entertaining.
First, there was watching fans lose their minds on Twitter as their favorite team passed on Manziel. It’s depressing to watch your team have a chance at someone as exciting as Manziel and then just pass and take a regular football player or trade out of the pick. Cleveland did it twice in the top 10, so the Browns fans were the clear winners in the meltdown power rankings, but Vikings fans and Titans fans were also pretty great. Watching them ride this roller coaster of emotion with each pick was just as riveting as watching the same thing happen to Johnny in the green room.
It was a humbling experience for Johnny.
6. Rock Bottom
After the Cowboys passed on him, I felt like Johnny looks in that photo. This was around the time it became open season for Manziel jokes from all corners of the Internet. Some Caribbean vacation company offered a vacation. The Photoshopped beer became a Photoshopped bottle of whiskey. DiGiorno pizza was making jokes. Even the NFL got in on it with #SadManziel ...
7. The Chiefs?
Not the Chiefs. They were the next team with a quarterback need, and the idea of Manziel playing for Andy Reid sounded pretty great for a second there. He could learn under Alex Smith for a year, and then take over a quarterback-friendly offense that actually has a decent number of weapons.
You could probably talk yourself into Johnny Football being fun on 90 percent of the teams in the NFL. That’s how we all stayed busy Thursday. Jon Gruden was doing that exact thing all night long on ESPN. Nobody in the world loves Manziel more than Gruden, and he was completely shameless about shilling for Johnny throughout the first round.
When the Chiefs’ pick was approaching, Gruden made the case for Manziel just like always. Mel Kiper hated the idea, but Gruden didn’t care, and it eventually ended in dead silence, and this scene:
Jon Gruden won me over for life on Thursday.
8. The Eagles?This was the dream all along, and it was right there. We could spend weeks imagining the terror that would come with Johnny Manziel, LeSean McCoy, and Chip Kelly all in one place. History will always ask what might have been … They could’ve drafted De’Anthony Thomas in the third round, maybe trade up for Marqise Lee tomorrow? Who knows. It would’ve been amazing. Chris Ryan would have moved back to Philadelphia. But nope. Chip didn’t do it.
And then the Browns traded up for #22.
9. THE BROWNS
CLEVELAND DID IT.
And even after two hours of embarrassment, Manziel still found the strength to go out there and do that stupid money sign with his hands. It was inspiring.
Speaking of money … Manziel lost out on millions sliding from the top 10 to 22, but he’ll also make more in endorsements than anyone else in the draft, so it’ll even out just fine. As it stands, he wound up with a great receiver in Josh Gordon, a potentially great tight end in Jordan Cameron, and a new head coach who did a killer job coordinating defenses in Buffalo and New York.
He’ll also be paired with Kyle Shanahan as his offensive coordinator, which is either great or terrible depending on which of the last two Redskins seasons you remember. All told, it’d be tough to ask for a much better situation. The fans already love him. They even have Brian Hoyer, a QB who’s good enough to start while Manziel sits, but probably not good enough that anyone will mind once Manziel takes over.
This was our happy ending. As Manziel said afterward, “I really, truly believe Cleveland was where I was supposed to end up. … Dawg Pound here we come.” The crowd in New York was going crazy when Goodell announced the pick, so Gruden had to yell over them to say, “THIS IS BETTER THAN THE MOVIEDRAFT DAY, I’M TELLING YA.”
Johnny Manziel is great because (a) he’s insanely fun to watch play football, (b) he is a ridiculous human who refuses to tone it down under any circumstances, and (c) wherever he goes, a cloud of batshit insanity follows.
He’s like Evil Tebow, which it turns out is actually pretty excellent. Everything he does on and off the field either makes you love him or makes him an amazing villain. Or eventually you come to love him for being such an amazing villain. I’m somewhere between the first and third option, I think. Manziel’s gotten more likable over the past year, so it’s probably closer to the first category.
Nobody approached the first round in terms of maneuvering and creating value better than the Browns, who managed to come away with Manziel and pick up a potentially monstrous trade asset in doing so. When the Jaguars took Bortles at three, it left Watkins on the board for the Buffalo Bills, who couldn’t resist trading up to grab the wideout of their fantasies. In doing so, they paid a heavy cost. To move up from nine to four, the Bills gave up a fourth-round pick and their first-rounder in the 2015 draft, which could be an incredibly valuable pick for Cleveland.
The Bills haven’t had a winning season in nine years, and over that time frame, their average first-round pick has delivered the ninth overall selection.4 For the Browns, dealing the fourth overall pick for the ninth overall selection in consecutive drafts would be an enormous windfall. Watkins should be a fantastic pro receiver, but even the best wideouts often struggle during their rookie season, and Buffalo’s underrated defense from a year ago lost its best player (Jairus Byrd) and its defensive coordinator (Mike Pettine). If EJ Manuel can’t stay healthy or doesn’t play well, this deal could go south very quickly. It was one thing for the Texans to consider trading down with Atlanta, given that the Falcons would likely have been sending Houston future first-rounders that will likely end up in the mid-20s. There’s a substantial chance Cleveland ends up with a top-five pick next year via this trade.
The Browns, who already had the most draft capital of anybody in the league, then used some of their picks to move up and grab the players they wanted. Having moved down to nine, they swapped picks with the Vikings at eight by giving up a fifth-rounder to snag Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, which shored up a spot of weakness for them across from Joe Haden. Then, after Manziel somehow slipped through the draft and past the Cowboys and Cardinals, the Browns dealt their extra third-rounder to the Eagles to move up and grab Johnny Football with the 22nd pick. It was a master class in how to use your draft picks. While I generally favor trading down and acquiring as many lottery tickets as possible, it also makes sense to occasionally trade up and grab a player who you think might represent a sound value proposition at a given point in the draft. At 22, grabbing a player like Manziel makes a lot of sense.
The Jaguars had the same opportunity to trade down and chose not to, which certainly seems like the wrong decision. Had they traded down to nine, they could have picked up — at the bare minimum — that incredibly valuable 2015 first-rounder while still retaining an excellent chance at acquiring Bortles. Is it possible the Browns, Raiders, Buccaneers, or Vikings would have chosen Bortles had he been available? Sure. It certainly doesn’t seem likely, though, given how the other quarterbacks in this tier fell to the bottom of the first round. Jacksonville’s roster is so impossibly bereft of talent after years of mismanagement that it needs all the first-round picks it can possibly get. There will be more quarterbacks. Bortles certainly has promise, but he’s also not Andrew Luck or somebody who is a lock to succeed in the NFL. Jacksonville should have been looking to trade down at just about every opportunity, and it’s a move that Browns fans should savor.
Manziel also enters a more promising situation in Cleveland than Bortles does in Jacksonville. Manziel has got a much better offensive line in front of him, a pair of excellent receivers in Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron, and a reasonably well-regarded offensive coordinator in Kyle Shanahan. While Washington unquestionably lost the plot last year, Shanahan did a good job during his first year with Robert Griffin of molding an offense that played to Griffin’s strengths from the college level. To take advantage of Manziel’s unique skill set, Shanahan will need to do the same here. His biggest concern will undoubtedly have to be keeping Manziel healthy; like Griffin, the ultracompetitive Manziel can be his own worst enemy at times in terms of keeping plays alive and playing through pain. It’s unclear whether the Browns will turn to Manziel in Week 1, as they have (perhaps ill-advised) faith in incumbent Brian Hoyer, but Manziel represents the most exciting quarterback the Browns have drafted since Brady Quinn,5 whom they also drafted with the 22nd overall pick after being linked to him with a much earlier selection in the 2007 draft. That was different; the Browns gave up their 2008 first-rounder to move up 14 picks and grab Quinn. This time around, they got the quarterback they wanted and might have picked up another top-five pick to go with it. It certainly seems like a much smarter process, even without knowing how Manziel will turn out.