Cleveland’s Very Own

Welcome to Cleveland, Johnny Manziel

It was as if I had hit the ejector button. Sitting in the garage of the man who would later be the best man in my wedding, I remember watching the corner of his television and seeing that orange, logoless Cleveland Browns helmet take the place of the silver and blue star which had inhabited that very space. The 22nd pick was on the clock and the Browns, led by then general manager Phil Savage, put their steel balls on the table for the rest of the NFL to see. They sacrificed a first-round pick for the subsequent season’s draft for the rights to draft Brady Quinn, a quarterback who was in the discussion at No. 1 only to later spend the next two-plus hours with cameras in his face as 21 other men were selected before him. One of those men was named Joe Thomas, an offensive tackle from Wisconsin, who the Browns had selected with their third-overall pick just hours earlier, but all eyes were on the Notre Dame product who came equipped with the perfect marriage of a league-ready arm and a marketing team-ready face. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell would read the Quinn’s name off of the notecard which had been handed to him just moments before, the Cleveland Browns had their quarterback of the future, and in a moment that could best be categorized as involuntary, my feet planted into the cement floor and my body shot out of the chair as if it had been pumped full of an electric current. The dozen or so of us who had been sitting in silence in the seconds leading up to the moment raised our hands in unison, high-fived for what felt like hours and discussed the future of a team that would undoubtedly provide greener grass and brighter sun.

They may play on opposite sides of the ball, but Justin Gilbert, the supremely athletic cornerback who was selected eighth overall, should introduce himself to Thomas. Sure, Joe Haden, a fellow cornerback, will be the man in terms of peer-based guidance, but it will be Thomas who can provide the Oklahoma State product with some insight on what it’s like to be selected first yet given very little in the way of attention until the team actually takes the field. Like Thomas was in 2007, Gilbert was the first player taken at his position. Left tackles have been integral in NFL team success for quite some time, but as the league becomes increasingly more focused on passing, the value of the lockdown cornerback has skyrocketed1. Like Thomas, if Gilbert truly excels at his job, it will not show up in a box score—Mike Pettine’s defense thrives on physical corners who knock wide receivers off of their route, allowing the pass rush more time to get to the quarterback and eventually record a sack. Like Thomas, if the team flourishes, it will be because of the quarterback play; if it fails, well, it will be because of the quarterback play. Justin Gilbert can show up to work every day, play every snap, and eventually have his own time share in Honolulu. But when he comes back, the cameras and voice recorders and pen-and-pad types will all be standing outside of the locker likely to be emblazoned with a giant No. 2.

There’s a fatalistic aspect to Manziel before he even takes his show touches down in Berea. Numbers are already against him. He’s the first quarterback to have ever been selected in the first round despite being under six feet tall. Taken with the 22nd-overall pick, Manziel is instantly in the same class as Quinn and former starting quarterback Brandon Weeden. In 2007, the Browns traded up to get Quinn; they did the same seven years later to get Manziel, giving up considerably less the second time around. He’ll likely have a No. 2 stitched to his jersey, the number he wore in college, but also the same number worn by Tim Couch, the first player (also a quarterback) selected upon the Browns’ return to the NFL.; Couch is also a player whose resume includes one playoff appearance, a Playmate wife, post-game tears and an embarrassing HGH suspension in a last-ditch attempt to return to a level prominence.

QUOTEOnce the superstitions are cast aside, Manziel is, after all, a quarterback. Quarterbacks haven’t exactly thrived in Cleveland what with the revolving door of executives and head coaches and schemes and play-callers. Quinn was statuesque and sturdy; the measurables made front office executives salivate. Weeden’s arm was one for the ages, and the bonus was, at age 29, he was mature enough to handle the mental rigors of the professional game. Colt McCoy, a third-round selection who found home in Cleveland in a time period which was bookended by the two No. 22 picks, was also to be savior. There was a cute video, sung by collegiate teammate Jordan Shipley, which praised the short-but-sinewy quarterback. His legend was fueled by wins over top flight teams—the Browns shocked the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints—as a rookie. This was until he fell victim to coaching decisions, an incredibly mishandled concussion scandal and the drafting of Weeden.

And then there are the allegiances. When LeBron James called Cleveland home, his circle included hip-hop mogul Jay Z (Sean Carter). Following every national anthem, James gestured in the form of Carter’s Rock La Familia, placing his hands together at the thumbs and forefingers to make a diamond. He was represented by a group of high school friends who called themselves LRMR who were to be in charge of James’ marketing decisions—the advertisements, the commercials, the appearances. Manziel’s first Nike ad is already making its way around the web. He’s represented by LRMR and it was Nike who took the opportunity to capitalize on Manziel’s Pro Day by fitting him with swoosh-branded gear to place over his shoulder pads. The quarterback is good friends with Drake, one of today’s biggest hip-hop stars. In addition to having the Canadian’s music blare during his introduction, Manziel frequently does the two-handed gesture that represents Drake’s Topszn Regime—it’s pictured above; it looks like the player is gesturing for money. And one look at Manziel’s right wrist and you’ll see the OVO tattoo which stands for “October’s Very Own,” a record label and brand founded by Aubrey “Drake” Graham. Manziel surely isn’t your father’s quarterback.

Nevertheless, on Thursday night, when that green and silver Philadelphia Eagles logo was abruptly swapped out for that logoless orange helmet, you could hear a pin drop in any location that housed a group of Cleveland fans. Seriously: Listen to the eruption from the fans that occurs before Goodell could even get out the quarterback’s last name. Sure, there are plenty of reasons to be guarded—they’ve all been writ large. But in the same, who can blame anyone for being excited? It wasn’t all that long ago that we watched him slice up the Alabama Crimson Tide defense like a southern surgeon. Down late in a Bowl Game against Duke, Manziel found a way to will his team to a win with highlight reel play after highlight reel play.

“When he gets in the building—and we talked about this at length when we visited with him—what accompanies him isn’t really him,” said Browns head coach Mike Pettine. “He’s a competitor. He’s a great teammate. He loves to get in and he’s passionate about football. I don’t think that [celebrity] comes in the building.”

Manziel comes to Cleveland with a skill set ripe for offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan’s picking. He’s not afraid to dub his style of play as “exciting.” For years, it seemed as if opposing defenses could dial in on an immobile Brandon Weeden, rushing him into submission. It won’t be long before defensive coordinators have to have one of their linebackers spy the Cleveland quarterback, taking a defender out of the schematic equation—one fewer player in coverage, one fewer player in a blitz package. The Nike ad, while reminiscent of those that featured a Christ-like LeBron James, aren’t all that far-fetched.

It may be a roll of the dice, but the Cleveland Browns officially have a quarterback of the future. There’s no telling what the next few months have in store in the way of depth charts and decisions2, but the Browns will enter the 2014 season with one of the most-discussed players in recent history. In 2007, when they were rattling off win after win (behind Derek Anderson), the Cleveland Browns were one of the few teams who were often relegated to standard definition television3. Even when they were on their way to amassing a double-digit win season, there was little in the way of respect and attention being paid Cleveland’s way.

Fast forward to 2014 and all of the lights will be shining on a market that, just months ago, was dwindling in the way of fandom. There are no guarantees that the future will be different than the one we thought we were all getting seven years ago. Fans are still widely split on Manziel as a person and as a player, and with good reason. But you can guarantee that this experiment, fueled by the courage and draft wherewithal of Browns general manager Ray Farmer4, will be fascinating as we watch it all unfold. My feet may have finally hit the ground, having lept off of my couch just 12 hours earlier. My head, however, is still in the clouds.

  1. The 2014 NFL Draft had nine defensive backs go in the first round—two more than any other draft in the history of the league. []
  2. I’m just going to go in and get a chance to meet Brian [Hoyer] and work with him,” Manziel said. “We’ll be together a lot. That’s a teammate of mine.” []
  3. This was before every stadium was outfitted with HD cameras, which seems crazy to even think about []
  4. “If you want something, you have to go get it,” Farmer would say. “Either you evolve or you get left behind.” []
  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’m a sucker for pussycats!

  • Garry_Owen

    Just one commenter says “boo”
    Confidence is shot
    Now shutting this mother down

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Schnitkey isn’t around anymore go for it I’ll be ur lookout!

    http://ih0.redbubble.net/image.9135429.0160/flat,550×550,075,f.jpg

  • The_Real_Shamrock
  • Harv 21

    I know you liked that pick. Criticism seems to be that he’s a half-hearted tackler for his size. In presser Pettine answered that 2 ways: 1) Improvement there is coachable; 2) Run support is not a primary responsibility for corners in our scheme (paraphrasing).

  • Harv 21

    ouch

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    If Tate can be a poor man’s Lynch then absolutely. Actually the Browns offense is way better IMO.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I was robbed, again!

  • mgbode

    he is a relative of Jerry Rice, I think I would rather have those genes in a WR anyway

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I don’t know anything about getting in a WRs genes but if it’s Lee or Matthews at #35 I’ll be happy.

  • nj0

    I spent the last quarter of my work day yesterday going through this site – http://iheartcatgifs.tumblr.com/

    Been that kind of week.

  • RGB

    Well he’s a Brown now
    Farmer you better be right
    My pitchfork is sharp

  • Ezzie Goldish

    The torches were there
    And a few times were hoisted
    But for now they’re out

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I liked the first one on there!

  • nj0

    I came across a few that were quite appropriate to the Indians “debates” that go on here

  • MrCleaveland

    If this doesn’t work
    It’s business as usual
    Umbrella-drink time.

  • CB Everett

    The Browns ring a bell
    For every ticket sale call
    Lloyd Braun thanks Johnny

    (I hope pics are allowed)

  • Lunch

    Welcome Manziel and Gilbert
    Ooh, that first pick is nice too
    WHY ARE MY PANTS SO WET?

  • http://twitter.com/bbo13 B-bo
  • Ezzie Goldish

    What’s worse, that I noticed this was 7-5-7, that it bothered me in some way, or that I’m commenting on it?

  • BuckeyeDawg

    Couch wore number two
    Johnny Football does as well
    Recycled jerseys

  • markn95

    Re: the Quinn analogy, here’s a glass half-full thought. To get Quinn, we coughed up next year’s first round pick. This time around, we got our QB and an EXTRA first round pick for the following year. Sure, Manziel and Buffalo’s #1 came in separate deals, but its not like Manziel’s falling on his face will set the franchise back draft-wise a la Quinn.
    Add in the rookie wage scale, and the Browns can move on from Manizel much more easily than they did Quinn. God, I hope they don’t have to, because it will be a huge psychological blow. But next year’s draft in intact. In fact, we even have the extra ammunition with Buffalo’s pick (I’m still saying it’s going to be top 10 and if Johnny stinks, we’ll be top 10 as well) to move up and get Winston/Marriotta/QB du jour next year. (Not that I think the Browns will or should make a decision on JFF by next offseason).

  • Harv 21

    agree. I know there’s sentiment that if you think he’s your QB at 22 he should have been your QB at 4, but I disagree, you’re never sure and the smaller price we paid means our other #1 filled a need and if necessary we can dip in the QB pool again next draft.

    Or even later this draft! Wouldn’t it be funny if one of our fourth rounders this weekend was another developmental QB.

  • MrCleaveland

    Hater.

  • nj0

    And gave up a third to move up to get Manziel, right?

  • Ezzie Goldish

    The third was last year’s 4th they traded to Pittsburgh.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    When Manziel throws out the first pitch at the Indians game the attendance will go up – book it!

  • Garry_Owen

    It was a deliberate reverse haiku. An “ukiah” if you will. Don’t be bothered. I take it back.

  • The_Real_Shamrock
  • Harv 21

    and … Johnny’s barely walked into Berea and his cocky mug is already selling tix in the thousands.

    http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap2000000348584/article/johnny-football-moves-the-needle-for-browns-nfl

    WKYC’s first preseason game may have the highest viewership for an exhibition game in NFL history. I defend the station’s right to replace Bernie
    for any reason they want. But this particular exhibition season I would have loved to hear Bernie analyzing the rookie version of Manziel, rather than listening to a mediocre like Solomon Wilcots. Maybe Bernie can tweet during those games. Or maybe Bernie will let me sit by him during the game. Wait, Rick Grayshock, open the film room with Bernie as a guest!

  • CBI

    Can it be mandated that all comments on this site be haikus?

  • nj0

    Ah, got it.

  • mgbode

    the kool-aid is getting passed around early this year. love it.

  • mgbode

    Yeah, it is not an unfair criticism, but I’ll take his cover and ballhawk skills anyday.

  • mgbode

    Connor Shaw in the 5th

  • lxjenkins

    The leaked Patriots scouting report on Manziel is a little disconcerting – but I suppose, not all that surprising.

    http://www.brobible.com/sports/article/johnny-manziel-scouting-report-new-england-patriots/

  • Andrius Stankus

    Welcome Johnny Cleveland! http://bit.ly/1fUkEN5

  • RGB

    WR next, and all OL.
    Although, if Van Noy is there in the 3rd…

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Never to early I like the draft so far but more work lays ahead. I’m just not getting caught up in one specific player because lets face it the Browns could have used all of the guys we wanted.

    The important part for me is one that people will soon have to face and that is the new coaching staff will have to develop and enhance these young guys especially Manziel so when Farmer’s job slows Pettine’s will just be starting.

  • Harv 21

    read the comment thread below it. It appears to be a hoax. Obsolete Patriots logo, naming wrong coaches …

  • mgbode

    yeah, either a hoax or written by Lombardi. either way, pay no mind.