NEW YORK – It's rare a team completely skips your pro day, passes over you twice in the first eight picks of the NFL draft, and then swoops in to save you from a free fall. But Johnny Manziel likely won't hold any grudges against the Cleveland Browns.
The team that had one of the most erratic pursuits of Manziel will now count on him breathing new life into the franchise. How crazy was the journey to this draft pick? Consider back in January, word began to circulate that then-Browns general manager Mike Lombardi liked Manziel so much, he'd consider trading up to No. 1 just to get the Texas A&M star. One month later, Lombardi was fired and everything seemingly went out the window.
But in the end, this turned out to be a better script than Kevin Costner's turn as the Cleveland Browns general manager in "Draft Day." And far less believable, too. Not only did the Browns not show up for Manziel's pro day (they did have a private workout), they signed two free-agent quarterbacks leading into the NFL draft (Vince Young and Tyler Thigpen), then passed on Manziel at the fourth and eighth picks. And lest we forget, the Browns couldn't say enough good things about incumbent starter Brian Hoyer during the Manziel vetting process.
But the draft is always about value, and that's what this pick boiled down to. At fourth overall, Manziel was simply too big a gamble. When Cleveland traded back to eight, it was still too risky. While Browns general manager Ray Farmer and head coach Mike Pettine liked Manziel – and owner Jimmy Haslam clearly knew he'd sell tickets – a later opportunity was going to have to present itself. And one pick after another, that opportunity only grew. And when Cleveland saw real Manziel value in the 20s, they jumped in front of Kansas City, which began to look like a realistic landing spot for the Heisman Trophy winner.
Now the Browns get their potential star quarterback, albeit at the slightly jinxed 22nd pick, which is where Cleveland previously selected Brady Quinn and Brandon Weeden. Haslam gets a lightning rod for ticket sales. And Cleveland fans get some hope.
"For me there's no disappointment, no anything," Manziel said. "If you call it a slide, I wouldn't call it [that] at all. I was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft. For me, it almost blows my mind."
But it didn't come without many other potential teams passing. Yahoo Sports spoke to multiple NFL sources, including scouts, coaches and personnel men, who laid out the potential "why" of Manziel's slide.
Here were the factors that made all the difference for the teams that were in the mix …
1. HOUSTON TEXANS
Contact with Manziel: The Texans attended Manziel's pro day, had a private workout and hosted a visit with him.
It looked like it could happen when … In mid-April, the Texans told Manziel he was still in the final grouping for the No. 1 pick. That group included South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, Manziel and Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack. Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles was also still in the mix, although the belief was that Houston considered him more for a trade-back scenario. If Houston remained at the top slot, the likely pick would be Clowney, Mack or Manziel, with Clowney holding the edge heading into May.
It didn't happen because … It became clear in early May that if the Texans remained at the top slot, the "conservative" option of best player available would win out. Despite his declined sack total as a junior, Clowney's tape still showed significant game impact when measuring pressures and the way SEC offenses played him. And although head coach Bill O'Brien was intrigued by Manziel, the belief was he favored Bortles throughout the process, because of size and style attributes fitting his preferred classic quarterback model. Manziel's playing style – and potential injury concerns – loomed in the equation as well.
The wild card could have been … Texans chief operating officer Cal McNair – the son of owner Bob McNair – is believed to have liked Manziel a great deal. And while Cal has gone out of his way to keep from stepping on the toes of general manager Rick Smith, he does share his personnel thoughts with his father. He also is known to break down film, and has been a fixture in practices in the past. McNair will turn 78 in January and Cal is being groomed to take over the team. And while that isn't expected to happen for a while, his ability to impact drafts is growing significantly.
2. ST. LOUIS RAMS
Contact with Manziel: The Rams attended Manziel's pro day, hosted a visit and worked him out along with Aggies wideout Mike Evans and offensive tackle Jake Matthews.
It looked like it could happen when … Word began to circulate shortly after Manziel's March pro day that the Rams were setting up a private workout with the Texas A&M star. Further, news had leaked out of the organization since January that not everyone believed in Bradford as the long-term answer at quarterback. The absence of pressure by St. Louis to get a contract extension has also been telling – and there still isn't a lot of movement on that front. It was no secret the Rams were at least going to look at quarterbacks, but a move toward Manziel suggested something more aggressive. Rams general manager Les Snead was also said to be intrigued by Manziel's athleticism and leadership.
It didn't happen because … A report by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch stated the Manziel interest was simply a "smokescreen" being employed to stimulate trade offers. Conversely, a source suggested the Rams' "smokescreen" was even more elaborate – charging that St. Louis held the workout with Evans and Matthews simply to allow public wiggle room. Indeed, the joint workout raised a question: If the Rams were pump-faking their interest in Manziel, why not do with a solo workout with Rams wideouts? Wouldn't that have sold the Rams' interest as more serious than a "looking at all the A&M guys" storyline? Either way, only Snead and head coach Jeff Fisher will ever know their true intentions. But the events leading up to the draft suggest Manziel had an opportunity to impact the Rams' process, but ultimately didn't sway the decision-makers.
The wild card could have been … A significant trade offer for Bradford. If the Rams were employing a smokescreen to draw out trade offers for the No. 2 pick, a side impact would have been trade offers for Bradford. After all, if the Rams were thinking of taking Manziel, why wouldn't quarterback-needy teams inquire about Bradford? CBS Sports reported the Rams and Minnesota Vikings were believed to have had some trade discussions involving Bradford. Any deal for Bradford always seemed highly unlikely, with the market being flattened by his 2014 salary ($14 million) and history of injury problems.
3. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS
Contact with Manziel: The Jaguars attended Manziel's pro day, had a dinner with him and also hosted him on a visit.
It looked like it could happen when … The Blaine Gabbert project was ditched in March via a trade to San Francisco, and word began to circulate that Jaguars owner Shad Khan had expressed an interest in Manziel. There were also ticket sales to consider in Jacksonville, because wherever Manziel went he would be expected to spike fan interest. The Jaguars then attended Manziel's pro day, met with him for dinner, and had significant personnel and coaching staff talks about him. In early May, general manager Dave Caldwell also expressed his belief that Manziel was the most "ready" starting quarterback in the class. And 48 hours before the draft – when rumors begin to translate into realities – word spread like wildfire through the NFL community that Jacksonville had settled on Manziel at the third pick.
It didn't happen because … As the talk about Teddy Bridgewater slipping heated up, the Jaguars were plowing through piles of homework on him, suggesting they might be angling for the Louisville star at the top of the second round. And throughout the process, those familiar with Caldwell doubted he'd take a quarterback risk as sizable as Manziel at the top of the draft. Caldwell has a conservative reputation in the personnel community, and made his mark in Atlanta, where aside from the Julio Jones trade, the Falcons didn't make many high-risk selections. He has also already been burned by someone else's draft gamble in wideout Justin Blackmon, and has holes all over his roster. The widely held belief was that unless Khan imposed his will, Caldwell would be left to take his guy, and that wouldn't be someone as risky as Manziel. The oddity was that information linking the Jaguars with both Manziel and Bridgewater got out … which is why few were looking at Blake Bortles at the pick.
The wild card could have been … Shad Khan's son Tony – who is the team's vice president of technology and analytics – is known to be a fan of Manziel. Manziel also follows Tony on Twitter. It's believed that, like Bob and Cal McNair in Houston, Shad and Tony Khan also have a dialogue about talent (although Tony is believed to be far less involved than Cal is in Houston). While it's more of a stretch than the situation in Houston, there is the belief Tony Khan's role is expected to expand in the coming years in Jacksonville and that he can impact his father's thinking.
5. OAKLAND RAIDERS
Contact with Manziel: The Raiders attended Manziel's pro day and hosted him for a visit.
It looked like it could happen when… Terrelle Pryor went into the offseason on the outs, and it was clear Oakland was going to be looking for another quarterback. Owner Mark Davis also was believed to like Manziel as a playmaker. And simply from a draft position standpoint, the Raiders' needs made it sensible Manziel would be under serious consideration.
It didn't happen because … Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie polished his front office trade under Ted Thompson in Green Bay, and knows the value of picking and grooming backup quarterbacks. The Raiders never really surfaced as a team that was "hot" after Manziel, despite coming away impressed from his workout and visit. When the Raiders traded for Matt Schaub, it was to start him and find a quarterback to develop. McKenzie is a "stick-to-the-board" guy, and both Mack and wideout Mike Evans were rated higher on the board than Manziel.
The wild card could have been … If Oakland hadn't been able to find a veteran quarterback to fit, it would have put far more quarterback pressure on the No. 5 pick. Pryor was headed out no matter what, and if the right veteran hadn't been available, the Manziel plunge (or perhaps Bortles) would have become more realistic.
7. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Contact with Manziel: Tampa Bay attended Manziel's pro day and hosted him for a visit.
It looked like it could happen when … Tampa Bay did a significant amount of work on Manziel, both in vetting him off the field and also aggressively diving into his game tapes and statistical analysis. Coach Lovie Smith – an East Texas guy, like Manziel – spoke glowingly of him at Manziel's pro day and appeared to genuinely like his athleticism and leadership qualities. General manager Jason Licht has scouted a variety of different quarterbacks and quarterback styles over his career and was believed to like Manziel a great deal.
It didn't happen because … It was one of the better smokescreens in this draft, because it was done quietly. Everything pointed to Licht being intent on taking a quarterback, but there will be second round options, too. Despite the heavy amount of vetting – or perhaps because of it – Tampa Bay could have found a reason to go elsewhere. And they saw plenty of Mike Evans in the Manziel vetting process, too.
The wild card could have been … It's hard to think of a wild card here, barring owner involvement or the Buccaneers getting a whacked-out offer for Mike Glennon and all of Tampa's options coming off the board before the seventh pick. Using Manziel interest as a smokescreen could have jarred loose a better-than-expected trade offer for Glennon.
8. MINNESOTA VIKINGS
Contact with Manziel: The Vikings attended Manziel's pro day, visited with him and also had a private workout.
It looked like it could happen when … Oddly enough, head coach Mike Zimmer seemed to be a little too public about his potential issues with Manziel. First, Zimmer called Manziel's pro day a "sideshow." Then came an interview with the Minneapolis Star Tribune where he said he saw "flags" with Manziel's attitude away from football. If you've ever met Zimmer, you can absolutely see him having these issues. He's fairly straightforward. But it was the airing of the issues that seemed to lack sensibility. When you see things like that happen in the draft process, it smacks of predraft gamesmanship. Among some, it made it look like the Vikings were trying too hard to downplay any interest.
It didn't happen because … The Vikings ultimately traded down to No. 9 with the Browns, but didn't want to risk that high a pick on Manziel. They later tried to trade for the Eagles' No. 22 selection for a chance at Manziel, but the Browns swayed Philadelphia with a better offer. The Vikings then landed the 32nd and final pick of the first round and took Teddy Bridgewater.
The wild card could have been … The Vikings, like the Browns, finding a pick later in the first round that wouldn't have been too risky a pick for him.
16. DALLAS COWBOYS
Contact with Manziel: The Cowboys attended Manziel's pro day, but did not have a private workout or host him on a visit.
It looked like it could happen when … How far back do you want to go? As soon as Manziel won the Heisman as a freshman and so many in the state of Texas fell in love with him, it seemed possible Cowboys owner Jerry Jones could take him. Jones hasn't hid his affection for Manziel, and is known to have the "Randy syndrome" among some in the personnel community. Specifically, Jones has never fully gotten over passing on Randy Moss in the draft, and is known to go through cycles every few years where he falls in love with a player who he simply can't pass up, regardless of potential issues. (See: Dez Bryant).
It didn't happen because … $47.5 million is a lot of money for anyone, including Jerry Jones. And if Romo were released following the 2014 season, that's the guaranteed amount Jones would have paid Romo as part of the new deal he signed in 2013. While Romo is coming off his second back surgery, it's still hard to imagine paying him that kind of money and then undercutting him with Manziel.
The wild card could have been … In a weird way, the Philadelphia Eagles. Chip Kelly recruited Manziel to Oregon, and Manziel is an amazing fit for Kelly's offense. But while nobody in their right mind believes Kelly would ditch Nick Foles after his breakout 2013 season, if Jones truly believed Manziel was being targeted by the Eagles, it might have only increased the chance of him pulling the trigger first.
23. Kansas City Chiefs
Contact with Manziel: The Chiefs visited his pro day but did not set up a private workout or host him on a visit.
It looked like it could happen when … As the draft approached, it looked more and more like the Chiefs would be selecting a quarterback to groom and/or compete with Alex Smith, who will be 30 entering the season. And while that seemed like a developmental foray, you had to keep in mind that Chiefs general manager John Dorsey developed in Ted Thompson's "honor-the-board" draft system in Green Bay. Dorsey had a front-row seat when the Packers took Aaron Rodgers in the first round, despite not working him out or hosting him for a visit. And he saw Rodgers get selected when the Packers had an established veteran quarterback. He has seen the upside of being bold, and if Manziel had slid to him, there would be a very real possibility he'd be the best player left on the board. Manziel is also a natural fit for Andy Reid's offense.
It didn't happen because … The Cleveland Browns jumped into position to snatch Manziel before the Chiefs could have the opportunity to make a bold move.
The wild card could have been … Simply the draft falling correctly. This would have been a pick of pure opportunity, not necessarily born of pressing need.
29. New England Patriots
Contact with Manziel: The Patriots were at Manziel's pro day and hosted him for a visit.
It looked like it could happen when … The Patriots bringing Manziel in for a workout was quickly panned as nothing more than seeing what the market could be for a potential trade if Manziel slid on draft day. And that makes sense. But everyone also has to allow they never know exactly what Bill Belichick is capable of. Tom Brady turns 37 in August. It's officially time to start looking for a successor, and Ryan Mallett can't wait that long (he's reportedly on the trade block, too). If Belichick can get a guy he thinks will be the next big thing at quarterback, there's little doubt he'd pull the trigger and sit on the kid for as long as he had to. It's Bill Belichick. Brady is in the twilight. That makes this more realistic than people want to believe.
It didn't happen because … Manziel had to fall too far. And even if that did happen, this would have been a hell of a conversation between Belichick, owner Bob Kraft and Brady.
The wild card could have been… Like the Chiefs, the draft falling correctly. A lot had to happen to get Manziel to this point. And it didn't.
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