The Cleveland Browns are no longer a cupcake team, the one opposing fans drool over with anticipation knowing a win is almost guaranteed.
Over the past two decades the Browns compiled the worst record in the NFL. Cleveland sports columnist Terry Pluto analyzed what went wrong in his new book, “The Browns Blues,” and in an excerpt for The Athletic shared the Johnny Manziel draft blunder.
It all began when CEO Joe Banner, who warned the Browns against drafting Manziel, was fired.
Almost everyone wanted Manziel
Pluto wrote that it all started with owner Jimmy Haslem, who along with the marketing and sales department and fans wanted to draft the Texas A&M quarterback with documented flaws.
The one person who didn’t was CEO Joe Banner, who hired an outside analytics firm to assess the star. Banner “knew everything. I mean … everything” about Manziel going into the draft, Pluto wrote, and didn’t want the Browns to draft him.
He ranked the top two quarterbacks in the draft as Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater and Fresno State’s Derek Carr.
Haslem fired Banner, who led the coaching search and did draft research, and promoted Ray Farmer to general manager, despite cautions that he wasn’t ready. It completely changed the team’s trajectory, Pluto wrote. The player who was once off the draft board was taken at No. 22 overall.
Said Banner, who spent $100,000 on outside research::
“When they drafted Manziel, I nearly fell off the couch.”
A conundrum of quarterbacks
Pluto dubbed it a “Manziel tidal wave that was emanating from the owner’s suit and elsewhere” after Banner was fired. Pro-Manziel voices became louder while various coaches preferred other quarterbacks: Carr, Bridgewater, Jimmy Garoppolo.
Farmer, who watched all the pro days on tape rather than in person, was for Bridgewater, but he had a “dismal” pro day, Pluto wrote.
The new GM was an old-style football man who wasn’t interested in analytics and thought quarterbacks could be interchangeable parts. And he didn’t see a “franchise-changing quarterback” in the 2014 draft, per Pluto. But he also “was not about to fight it off” when pressure to take Manziel built, Pluto wrote.
Josh Gordon’s failed drug test
Hindsight is 20/20, but Pluto wrote that Banner had moves in mind to prevent another major issue.
Pluto wrote that Banner had set up a deal in 2013 to trade receiver Josh Gordon to San Francisco, but coaches were “adamantly against it” while he was en route to a Pro Bowl season.
Gordon failed a drug test after the 2013 season and the Browns front office was aware before the draft, Pluto said, even though the story didn’t leak to ESPN until after the Manziel pick.
Farmer believed it best to find receivers lower in the draft, but he didn’t do it and traded away picks in the bottom three rounds to stock for the future.
The 2014 draft
The Browns traded their No. 26 pick and a third-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles to slide in at No. 22 and draft Manziel. Per Pluto, the team thought the Kansas City Chiefs were taking him at No. 23.
Manziel played 15 games, eight of which he started, over his two years with the Browns. He threw for 1,675 yards on 147 of 258 passing (57 percent) with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.
The rest of the Browns 2014 draft: offensive lineman Joel Bitonio (second round), linebacker Chris Kirksey (third round), running back Terrance West (third) and cornerback Pierre Desir (fourth).
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