By Tony Grossi | ESPNCleveland.com
The Morning Kickoff …
Stranger than fiction: In the movie Draft Day, fictional Browns owner Anthony Molina pressures GM Sonny Weaver Jr. to take top quarterback prospect Bo Callahan in the draft. “Make a splash,” Molina orders. He has Browns Callahan jerseys ready to sell to his star-hungry customers.
But Weaver refuses to cave, sticks to his guns and selects linebacker Vontae Mack.
Did the opposite happen in real life? Did the GM cave to the owner’s command?
There is a story going around that after making the trade to move up to No. 22 with the Browns’ second pick in the first round, GM Ray Farmer selected quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.
A source told me that the card prepared to be given to Commissioner Roger Goodell for the official announcement in Radio City Music Hall originally had Bridgewater’s name on it. Then with 10 seconds to go, a new card replaced it with the name of Johnny Manziel, as a result of owner Jimmy Haslam’s order.
“That is not true,” said Zak Gilbert, Browns spokesman. “I was in the draft room. That didn’t happen.”
A text to Haslam for comment was deferred to Gilbert on Sunday.
Later in the day, Gilbert informed reporters that Haslam has declined all interview requests on Monday at appearances at the Browns charity golf outing at Barrington Golf Club in Aurora and at the Pro Football Hall of Fame Luncheon in Canton.
“He wants the spotlight to be on the team,” Gilbert wrote in a text.
For his part, Farmer insisted to reporters, “I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that Jimmy Haslam at no point demanded, requested or tried to influence the process in any way. He definitely asked questions. He’ll definitely give his opinion of what he thinks and all of those things are fine, but at the end of the day he trusted the football staff to make the decisions that we thought were the right decisions for this football team.”
I had pegged Bridgewater as the quarterback Farmer liked best based on interviews with him and others with some knowledge of the Browns’ draft process.
After I made that conclusion, it was disclosed that a $100,000 analytics study commissioned by former Browns CEO Joe Banner projected Bridgewater as the quarterback in the draft with the most chance for success in the NFL.
All along, the national feeling was that Haslam, peering through the prism of a rabid SEC fan, preferred Manziel because of his exciting style and the potential to ignite a stagnant Browns market.
On Saturday, Farmer said, “We chose Johnny Manziel because we had an opportunity to get a player that we really liked and we really wanted.”
Make a splash? Manziel No. 2 jerseys are rolling off the presses and the Browns are ringing up record season-ticket sales.
Welcome to the job moment: The inevitable suspension of Josh Gordon is Farmer’s first crisis as GM.
Two days after taking bows for three flashy maneuvers to net cornerback Justin Gilbert, Manziel and Buffalo’s first- and fourth-round draft picks on the first day of the draft, Farmer was backpedaling on why he didn’t select a receiver in his first draft.
“I would tell the fans that are in panic mode because we didn’t draft a wide receiver that patience really tells the tale,” he said. “Like I said, there’s plenty of opportunity for us to address what everyone would believe is a need, but in our opinion, again, there’s plenty of opportunity to add players, to change the roster and really make a difference.”
Farmer pointed to the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks as an example of a strong team not dependent on highly drafted receivers.
As of today, the Browns’ starting receivers if Gordon is suspended would be Greg Little and Nate Burleson, whose left arm was re-broken during a Browns OTA practice last week. Andrew Hawkins would be the slot receiver. Josh Cooper and Tori Gurley would be next in line. Travis Benjamin (ACL surgery) and Charles Johnson (ACL surgery) may or may not be active when the season starts.
Instant analysis: Quick takes on the Browns’ six picks in the draft …
1. CB Justin Gilbert, Oklahoma State: This was clearly a pick mandated by coach Mike Pettine, who viewed the need for a second blue-chip cornerback as dire. Some draft experts rated him the top cornerback in the draft, others had him as a second-round talent. His size (6-0 1/8, 202) and 40 time (4.31) give him the look of an elite cornerback. He can play Pettine’s preferred press man technique and also is an accomplished return specialist. Bottom line: If you include Buffalo’s 2015 No. 1 and No. 4 picks as part of this selection, this was a good move.
2. QB Johnny Manziel, Texas A&M: Quite an ending to a very weird path to finding the Browns’ 21st starting quarterback since 1999. Every step of the way, the Browns seemed intent on camouflaging their intentions. Ultimately, their trade-up and selection of Manziel was a stunner, with many attributing the pick to Haslam’s desire for a box office splash. Manziel instantly makes the Browns relevant. He also complicates Brian Hoyer’s attempt to re-stamp the Browns as his team. Durability questions surround both players. It’s probable that both will play in 2014. Bottom line: A great business transaction.
3. OG Joel Bitonio, Nevada: If there are two qualities the Browns’ offensive line needs, they are agility and nastiness. Bitonio has both. Bottom line: His addition could move free agent acquisition Paul McQuistan to compete with Mitchell Schwartz at right tackle.
4. LB Christian Kirksey, Iowa: He’s lean and fast and showed he could cover tight ends. That was a team deficiency last year. Bottom line: Taken in the third round, you would expect him to unseat Craig Robertson in his first year.
5. RB Terrance West, Towson: A squatty (5-9 ¼, 225), physical runner who fits the Kyle Shanahan zone-block run offense. He seems to be a personal favorite of several national prognosticators. Charlie Casserly of NFL Network predicted he would beat out Ben Tate as the Browns’ starting running back. Bottom line: We don’t think so, but he could be productive in Shanahan’s system.
6. CB Pierre Desir, Lindenwood (MO): The highest-rated of any cornerback 6-1 or taller, he had 25 interceptions at low-level competition for NAIA Washburn University and Div. II Lindenwood. Historically, star cornerbacks have come from everywhere. He is not a candidate to play inside. Bottom line: About time the Browns take chances on taller cornerbacks.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 46 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Use the hashtage #HeyTony on Twitter or email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.orgFollow Tony on Twitter @tonygrossi
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