The Cleveland Browns were an NFL betting disaster last year. And they’ll be starting this year with yet another high-profile quarterback controversy. Can the Browns manage not to screw up with Johnny Manziel?
Holding a clipboard used to be a rite of passage for rookie NFL quarterbacks. Now, they’re expected to deliver instant results the moment they’re drafted – except in Cleveland, where one of the most dynamic QB prospects in recent memory is being told that he’ll be an understudy to Brian Hoyer. We’re talking, like everyone else is, about Johnny Manziel, aka Johnny Football™, whom the Browns selected with the No. 22 pick in this year’s NFL Draft.
It seems a bit strange in this day and age that Manziel, a Heisman Trophy-winner and already one of the most marketable superstars in football, is expected to take a backseat to a relative unknown with just five NFL starts under his belt. These are the Cleveland Browns we’re dealing with. They’re coming off yet another awful season at 4-12 SU and 6-10 against the NFL lines, and their 2014 campaign is already off to a contentious start.
Ten Frauds Working
Less than two years ago, Jimmy Haslam bought the Browns for $1 billion. The team was a laughingstock before Haslam’s arrival, so he’s managed to avoid (so far) the same level of public scorn that Jerry Jones gets these days from the Dallas Cowboys faithful. But Haslam’s tenure has been one dubious event after another, both on the field and off. His truck-stop company, Pilot Flying J, has been under federal investigation since April 2013, with 10 employees thus far admitting to mail and wire fraud. On Monday, workers were notified that president Mark Hazelwood was no longer with the company. He could be the next to confess.
As for the Browns themselves, they let go of both head coach Pat Shurmur and general manager Tom Heckert on New Year’s Eve, 2012. They were replaced by Rob Chudzinski and Michael Lombardi, respectively – but both of those gentlemen were fired after the 2013 season, making Cleveland the first NFL team ever to pull the plug on both front-office positions after just one year.
It gets better. With not very many coaches interested in the Cleveland job, the Browns eventually hired Mike Pettine, whose previous head coaching experience was in high school. That was back on Jan. 23; three weeks later, Joe Banner “resigned” as CEO and Ray Farmer was named GM. Banner had expressed regret that the Browns didn’t aggressively pursue Seattle Seahawks defensive co-ordinator Dan Quinn for the coaching job. When asked about this, Haslam said “I was really committed to Pettine.”
Who Does No. 2 Work For?
Which brings us to the draft. People have probably made too much over Haslam’s story that a street person advised him to pick Manziel. This story is even juicier: QB coach Dowell Loggains told reporters that Manziel texted him on draft day, saying “I wish you guys would come get me. Hurry up and draft me because I want to wreck this league together.” Loggains forwarded the text to Haslam and Pettine, at which point, according to Loggains, Haslam made the decision to trade up from No. 26 in order to grab Manziel.
This admission runs completely counter to the Browns narrative that Haslam didn’t have any influence over the draft decisions. Manziel’s selection also comes despite the Browns spending $100,000 on an analytics study, then releasing the results to the public for free: Teddy Bridgewater was the quarterback expected to have the best chance of succeeding at the NFL level. He went to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 32.
Funny thing is, even with the Browns being the Browns, they might have Manziel exactly where he belongs on the depth chart. He’s had a rough couple of days at practice to start his NFL career, and Farmer told a local radio station on Wednesday that Hoyer was ahead “by a substantial margin” at this point. Tyler Thigpen is even getting some first-team reps in front of Manziel. Welcome to Cleveland, Johnny Football™.