NEW YORK – A day after Cleveland stole the glitzy first night of the NFL draft, the second night brings a harsh reality: everything bold is Browns again.
Within 24 hours, a Cleveland franchise that appeared to quash some nagging doubts about its future was suddenly drowning in uncertainty. Star receiver Josh Gordon faces a potential suspension of at least a year after reportedly failing a drug test. So instead of new pick Johnny Manziel having one of the best weapons in the league as a target at wide receiver, Johnny Cleveland now has … Andrew Hawkins and Nate Burleson?
What's more, some (though not all) reports indicate the team knew about it going into Thursday night's first round.
So the hopeful questions from Friday morning turned into burning questions on Friday night: Why did the Browns pick defensive back Justin Gilbert with their first pick in this draft instead of Sammy Watkins or even Odell Beckham Jr.? Even if they didn't know about the possible suspension for Gordon before Friday, why go with offensive lineman Joel Bitonio instead of one of the many strong receivers in this draft (including Marqise Lee, who looks like a steal for the Jacksonville Jaguars).
There may be good reasons for all of these moves. Take Gilbert to play across from Joe Haden and solidify one of the league's best young defenses. Take Manziel to provide a spark to the franchise and get fans in the seats. Take Bitonio to protect an undersized Manziel.
It's just that … they're the Browns. They're so hard to trust. The benefit of the doubt flees Lake Erie as quickly as quality Indians pitchers and once-in-a-lifetime basketball stars. Even on Thursday, when Manziel galvanized the fan base and got ticket office phones ringing off the hook (not just in Cleveland, but cities where Cleveland is scheduled to play in 2014), there was an undercurrent of guffawing about owner Jimmy Haslam heeding the advice of a homeless man, who told him to pick Johnny Football.
On Friday morning, it was clear the Browns were better than last season. On Friday evening, it's not clear at all.
And it's hard not to wonder what this will mean for Manziel's rookie season. Will he be forced to freelance more without Gordon if he is indeed punished? Will he get frustrated more quickly under the direction of defensive-minded first-year head coach Mike Pettine? Even the most talented quarterbacks can't get too far without talented receivers, and now Manziel could have one less of those to help. Keep in mind how close he got at Texas A&M with Mike Evans, both on and off the field. Manziel might not have a go-to like that this fall.
The Cleveland offense now looks a little bit like the Redskins offense over the last two seasons: an incredibly gifted and charismatic dual threat Heisman-winning quarterback with Kyle Shanahan as the offensive coordinator. And the risk is the same: early and continuing questions about how best to employ the quarterback's many abilities. Those questions still dog Robert Griffin III entering his third season, and they chased a coaching staff out of town. For Manziel and his new coaching staff, there's now an increased risk of a similar debate, since "Just throw it to Gordon" may not be an available strategy.
Did the Browns make the right choices on Thursday, assuming they knew about Gordon's failed test? It's too soon to know the answer. But it's the Browns, so it's never too soon to seek the answer to that question.
The good old day was fun while it lasted.