August 15, 2014

Gilbert, Desir and veteran additions give Browns depth in secondary


Pierre Desir has an incredible backstory. Born in Haiti, Desir found himself a standout athlete with a pregnant girlfriend at age 15. He didn’t back away from his responsibilities, and went to small Lindenwood University while he took care of his wife and family, including working part time jobs that included removing human feces.

Despite being handed life lesson after life lesson, the tall, lanky cornerback has had much to learn coming to the NFL after being selected by the Clevland Browns in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft.

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Willie Snead and the elusive undrafted starter

Willie Snead IV is making his presence felt in training camp with the Cleveland Browns. On Monday the wide receiver had a short catch that he turned into a long touchdown after making an adjustment at the line and getting on the same page with quarterback Brian Hoyer. As he exploded into the end zone, Snead couldn’t stop bouncing all the way back to the huddle. Not bad for a so-called slow, undersized, undrafted rookie from Ball State. Make no mistake: Willie Snead still has a ways to go to make his NFL dream a reality, and the story of guys like Snead is over-told this time of year. For the Browns, it’s a story that never reaches the heights it seems to in other cities. Maybe a guy like Snead can be Ray Farmer’s first. [Read more...]

Cleveland Browns Film Room: A look at Pierre Desir

Over the next couple weeks on WFNY, I will be breaking down the film on all seven draft picks of the Cleveland Browns. As fans, we often rely on mainstream draft analysts to give us certain traits and characteristics that we use to form our opinions. Rather than simply tell you positives and negatives, the goal of this series is to better inform you by showing evidence, in GIF form, of the skills each prospect possess and areas they each must improve upon.  Past film rooms: Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel, Joel Bitonio, Christian Kirksey, Terrance West.


Each NFL Draft class brings in a melting pot of former college athletes from all kinds of backgrounds. Some grow up in the classic middle-class, two parents house-hold with the picket fence that the media glorifies. Others struggle their whole lives to not just make it to the NFL, but the survive. Despite the struggle many prospects go through, rarely is this fight to make “The League” more obstacle-laden than the journey of rookie cornerback Pierre Desir.

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Cleveland Browns Film Room: A look at Christian Kirksey

Over the next couple weeks on WFNY, I will be breaking down the film on all seven draft picks of the Cleveland Browns. As fans, we often rely on mainstream draft analysts to give us certain traits and characteristics that we use to form our opinions. Rather than simply tell you positives and negatives, the goal of this series is to better inform you by showing evidence, in GIF form, of the skills each prospect possess and areas they each must improve upon.  Past film rooms: Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel, Joel Bitonio


Having watched film of all six members of the Cleveland Browns’ 2014 NFL Draft class, a clear theme is apparent. Each draftee possesses a very particular set of skills that perfectly fit into what Mike Pettine desires to do with his defense or how Kyle Shannahan plans to run his offense. The selection of Christian Kirksey continues to push this message as he provides the Browns with his elite coverage abilities, of which the Browns desperately needed last season, and fits the mold of an incredibly versatile linebacker.

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Cleveland Browns Film Room: A look at Joel Bitonio

Over the next couple weeks on WFNY, I will be breaking down the film on all seven draft picks of the Cleveland Browns. As fans, we often rely on mainstream draft analysts to give us certain traits and characteristics that we use to form our opinions. Rather than simply tell you positives and negatives, the goal of this series is to better inform you by showing evidence, in GIF form, of the skills each prospect possess and areas they each must improve upon.  Past film rooms: Justin Gilbert, Johnny Manziel

Joel Bitonio

Although Cleveland fans have been taught year after year to always anticipate the worst, no one ever sees the drop in the emotional roller coaster coming. Following the first day of the 2014 NFL Draft, fans and analysts alike gave the Browns an immense amount of credit in acquiring their top cornerback, top quarterback, and a future first round pick. Within 12 hours of selecting Johnny Manziel, 1,500 more season tickets sold. And then, out of nowhere, Outside The Lines killed the buzz. Josh Gordon: Suspended.

As information on the suspension was leaked (we somehow still do not have a ruling), Cleveland fans started panicking, questioning the front office, calling for Gordon’s release, but worst of all, coming to the realization that Greg Little topped the wide receiver depth chart!

“Should the Browns have selected Sammy Watkins at 4? Did Ray Farmer intend to select Mike Evans at 8, only to have the Buccaneers take him with the seventh pick? Marquise Lee is a lock in the second round, right? Santonio Holmes is a free agent… For the love of Joe Jurevicius, please draft someone who can catch the ball!”

Yet, despite the mounting pressure and unexpected suspension, Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine refused to budge, sticking to their pre-draft philosophies and selecting offensive lineman Joel Bitonio from the University of Nevada. Disregarding the fact that the Browns desperately needed a competent lineman to play at guard or hopefully, right tackle, this pick will be long-remembered as the pick they should have used on name-one-of-the-seven-second-round-receivers.

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Justin Gilbert injures knee in OTAs

Justin Gilbert NFL Draft

It doesn’t appear to be anywhere near the level of what happened in Dallas, but Cleveland Browns rookie cornerback Justin Gilbert left the practice field on Wednesday following an injury to his right knee.

By all accounts, Gilbert limped off of the field in Berea and received medical attention. With ice placed on his heavily wrapped knee (typically not the treatment for anything involving a torn ligament), Gilbert was later seen pacing the sidelines while the rest of his teammates went through OTAs. Gilbert, the No. 8 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, had been practicing with the first team defense.

If Gilbert is forced to miss any time, don’t expect the team to provide much in the way of commentary or updates. Even if he were to miss four-to-six weeks, it would leave the rookie cornerback with plenty of time heading into training camp. Gilbert played in every game during his final year with Oklahoma State.

Update: Gilbert attempted to clear up any residual concern on Twitter.

Other Browns on the sideline include defensive lineman Ahtyba Rubin, and wide receivers Travis Benjamin, Miles Austin, and Nate Burleson among others.

Brady Quinn drops a “blue-collar town” on Johnny Manziel

Quinn Jerseys

For a guy who spent many nights in the back of the Barley House, former Browns quarterback Brady Quinn thinks that Johnny Manziel should cool it with the Las Vegas trips. In a recent interview with the mid-day ESPN crew, the free agent QB who was once a prized Cleveland first-round draft pick believes that Manziel— who spent his off-days taking in a UFC fight and some pool time—may want to consider popping fewer gold bottles if he wants to be successful at the next level. His reasoning, however, is a bit on the bizarre side.

“Cleveland is a blue-collar town,” Quinn said.

Manziel is shorter than his peers. He played in a system with talented players that may have allowed him to thrive. He may have been able to use the holiday weekend to immerse himself in the Browns playbook. But the fact that Cleveland once produced barges full of steel on the regular carries very little in the way of how much Manziel has ahead of him.

Here’s hoping Manziel took his “lunch pail” with him to Mandalay Bay while his Beats By Dre’s were pumping some vintage Michael Stanley.

The New Cleveland

Welcome to Cleveland, Johnny Manziel

Are the winds changing in Cleveland? The mood and spirits of this lakefront town are at an all time high because of the recent happening with the sports teams. The national media has all eyes on Cleveland, but this time they are watching the city because of the prospects of good news rather then the horrible events that have littered its past. The Browns, Cavaliers, and Indians are all producing exciting moments for the its sports fan. The wins have yet to be accumulated, but could Cleveland (finally) be entering an age of professional sports success?

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Counterpoint: Let the Johnny Manziel era begin…As a starter


In a recent post published within the confines of this here website, WFNY’s Craig Lyndall laid out his reasons why Johnny Manziel should start his season on the bench. It’s a popular school of thought that I tend to agree with 99.9 percent of the time—putting the rookie in the backup role gives the newbie a chance to take his lumps and learn from the veteran.

But  Manziel is no ordinary rookie. He’s the franchise-changer the Browns have been waiting for since Bernie Kosar was diagnosed with “diminishing skills.”

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With Johnny Manziel, Things Will Be Different. Right?


In the fleeting moments after LeBron James launched a miraculous 3-pointer at the buzzer from what was about Ashtabula to defeat the Orlando Magic in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference Finals matchup in 2009, I had a thought. It was hard to decipher over the jubilant swearing, the man-on-man hugging and the overall ecstasy of everyone around me, but it was there: “Things are going to be different this time.”

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NFL News: Manziel texts Browns mid-draft to “come and get him”

Welcome to Cleveland, Johnny Manziel

Does anyone know if Browns quarterback coach Dowell Logains is homeless? In an interview with Bo Mattingly, host of “SportsTalk with Bo Mattingly,” the Cleveland coach described a scene during Day 1 of the 2014 NFL Draft where Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel sent a text that may have helped tip the first domino in the trade that ultimately led to the team making the player one of the most discussed selections of the weekend.

“We’re sitting there and they keep showing Johnny on TV and we’re going back and forth, Johnny and I are texting,” Loggains said to the Arkansas-based host. “He shoots me a text that says, ‘I wish you guys would come get me. Hurry up and draft me because I want to be there and wreck this league together.’”

Loggains says that he then forwarded the text to team owner Jimmy Haslam and general manager Ray Farmer, which then led to Cleveland doing what it took to bring Manziel aboard. Loggains confirmed that Manziel was high on the Browns’ draft board and has a big fan in team owner Jimmy Haslam. Out of the 14 quarterbacks the team considered, it was Manziel’s name which sat at the top.

This, of course, will bump any anecdotal discussions surrounding Haslam and an alleged homeless man who told the billionaire to select Manziel—because Browns. That story was fun while it lasted. As more and more details surrounding the quest to add Johnny Football leak out, it becomes that much more apparent how much both parties are looking forward to the future.

[Related: Jimmy Haslam and Johnny Manziel: A match made in the south]

(Photo Adam Hunger/ USA Today)

Cleveland Browns Film Room: A look at Justin Gilbert

Over the next couple weeks on WFNY, I will be breaking down the film on all seven draft picks of the Cleveland Browns. As fans, we often rely on mainstream draft analysts to give us certain traits and characteristics that we use to form our opinions. Rather than simply tell you positives and negatives, the goal of this series is to better inform you by showing evidence, in GIF form, of the skills each prospect possess and areas they each must improve upon.

Justin Gilbert NFL Draft

With the eighth pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns select…Justin Gilbert? In all the pre-draft discussion, no one had considered the possibilities of trading down from four to nine, then back up to eight, only to select a cornerback. If the Browns were to trade down to the range of the late top-ten, analysts and Browns fans alike believed they would target wide receiver Mike Evans or an offensive tackle. All parties presumed that the first selection would fill an offensive hole be it at tackle, quarterback, or wide receiver, but the selection of Justin Gilbert absolutely destroyed this idea.

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GIF: Johnny Manziel’s potential tax impact

As the business side of sports continues to grow, so do the studies of the tax impact (or benefit) for athletes who are drafted by teams in certain states. The latest comes from Sports Illustrated who documents the difference in dollars taken home by various players selcted in the first round of the NFL Draft once Uncle Sam (and his state-specific relatives) gets a cut of the earnings. The lede? Johnny Manziel, of course!

Johnny Manziel may be a Cleveland Brown, but don’t expect him to become an Ohioan. Manziel, a Texas resident, was selected 22nd overall in the NFL draft. He is slotted to earn $4,738,000 this year. As a Brown, a portion of Manziel’s NFL income will be subject to Ohio’s 5.392 percent income tax plus local income taxes. Assuming he remains a Texas resident, Manziel will pay the Buckeye State and local authorities approximately $278,000 this year. Had he been drafted instead by the Texans, Cowboys, Jaguars, Dolphins, Buccaneers or Titans, Manziel would have mostly avoided state income taxes, as those teams play in states without income taxes.

The gif file above animates some of this impact, showing how Greg Robinson (selected second overall) will actually take home less than Blake Bortles (who was selected third) after all of the witholdings are made as Missouri has a six percent state tax rate.

The Sports Illustrated piece hints that this may garner closer attention from the NFL and NFLPA as the rookie wage scale could be adjusted to minimize compensation differences that arise due to geography. This ideal is often discussed during free agency periods as teams that already play in “more attractive” markets also happen to have some of the more favorable tax treatment like Miami, Houston and Dallas.

Needless to say, Johnny Manziel’s “money” sign may have just taken on a whole new meaning.

Peter King details Cleveland’s trade to move up to No. 22 in NFL Draft

Ray Farmer

Looking for some insight into how crazy things can get when an NFL team is officially on the clock during the NFL Draft? Sports Illustrated’s Peter King details—in what was nearly a minute-by-minute breakdown—what went in to Cleveland Browns’ GM Ray Farmer making the move that ultimately landed them Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

The [Philadelphia] Eagles, who held the 22nd pick in the draft, informed teams after several players they loved at 22 were snatched—LSU wideout Odell Beckham, who went 12th to the Giants, and Virginia Tech cornerback Kyle Fuller, who went 14th to Chicago, among others—that they were auctioning the choice.

Six teams inquired about pick number 22. Philadelphia got four solid offers. Though it was reported by Jay Glazer that the Vikings and Browns jousted for the 22nd pick (absolutely true), they were not alone. The source said that another team, not Minnesota, was the leader in the clubhouse when Eagles GM Howie Roseman told Cleveland GM Ray Farmer with three minutes left in the 10-minute draft period that he had to make a better offer than the one Cleveland had on the table.

Minnesota and Cleveland wanted Johnny Manziel. But it’s clear that the second-place finisher, which already had a good quarterback, wanted another player at 22. I wish I knew that other team. I do not. I don’t believe it is Houston. Cleveland, as I reported Monday in my column, did sweeten its offer to move up from 26 to 22, by improving its last offer to the 26th pick and 83rd overall. (I don’t know what Cleveland’s offer was before this, but GM Ray Farmer had less than 30 seconds to improve it to Philadelphia’s satisfaction, and he did.)

If Farmer didn’t include the mid-third-round pick in the deal, Philadelphia absolutely would have made the deal with Team Unknown for the 22nd pick. Cleveland would have had to move on. In that case, Cleveland would have called Kansas City at 23 and Cincinnati at 24 to try to get a deal done. I am told Kansas City would have been receptive to an offer for the 23rd pick, but Cincinnati, in love with cornerback Darqueze Dennard, would have held onto the pick.

The finish line: Cleveland won. The anonymous team seeking a player other than Manziel finished second. Minnesota was third—obviously because the Vikings didn’t want to include the 2015 first-round pick. (I don’t blame them.) The Eagles would have likely made that trade knowing the three or four players they liked at 22 would have been gone at 40. And another anonymous team finished fourth.

First thing’s first: Nice to see that Teddy Bridgewater was Minnesota’s consolation prize following his comments on Tuesday. The crazy part? Cleveland appears to have been 30 seconds away from having to settle for their Plan B as well. Trader Ray’s finger was on the pulse, working the phones like mad, and was willing to do whatever was needed to get the players he wanted. The Browns may want to avoid the circus with Manziel, but there is little doubt that they feel—right or wrong—that he is their guy.

2014 NFL Draft: Johnny Manziel, Josh Gordon, Michael Sam and Don Jones – WFNY Podcast – 2014-05-12

It’s been quite a while since I talked to Jon on the podcast, but I asked him to keep tabs on the NFL draft as a passive Browns fan who is married to a real Browns fan.

We ended up talking a lot about draft value, trades, Johnny Football, Josh Gordon’s impending suspension and the cultural moment of Michael Sam being drafted.

In addition we talked about the Miami Dolphins’ punishment of Don Jones for his two tweets about the Michael Sam kiss on television.

Check out this episode!

Trader Ray


The 2014 NFL Draft has come and gone with the Cleveland Browns adding six new players to the team. The team made headlines throughout the weekend (especially with the selection of quarterback Johnny Manziel) but what may be the real story is that the Browns were very active throughout the draft making five trades and acquiring three additional draft picks for the 2015 NFL Draft. This was the first draft for the newly named general manager Ray Farmer wherein he addressed several of the team’s needs and, juding by his thoughts throughout the weekend, seemed pretty comfortable running the draft as the man making all the final decisions.

Throughout the draft, Farmer showed the willingness to trade up, trade down, trade out, and stay true to the team’s board, all while taking into account head coach Mike Pettine’s opinion on what he looks for in a player.

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A successful draft for the Browns included balance on both sides of the ball

Johnny and Gilbert

It’s the Monday after the NFL draft, which means it is time for websites everywhere to hand out draft grades. Of course, more than half the teams will be given grades of B. You can’t really complain about a B grade. It isn’t good enough to brag about, “Did you see draft hog insider sources gave us a B?!” And it really isn’t bad enough to complain about unless you thinks your team grabbed 11 starters and half of them have hall of fame potential. Of course, if that’s the case you probably think that every year.

Instead of the way too early grading system, let’s take a look at each of Cleveland’s picks and see where they might fit in on the team.

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Johnny Manziel Browns jerseys already best-seller

Johnny Manziel jerseys and shirts galore!

He’s only been in the NFL for three days, but Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel has the highest-selling jersey in the league since April 1.

ESPN’s Darren Rovell reports that the league will not say how many Manziel jerseys were sold, but it did say that the official website store sold nearly as many Manziel jerseys across draft weekend—from Thursday to Sunday—as it sold of Robert Griffin III, Andrew Luck and Tim Tebow jerseys during their draft weekends…Combined.

Nike, Manziel’s endorsement partner, just so happens to be the league’s official uniform supplier. In addition to the Browns jersey, they’re offering Manziel jerseys in every version and every size. The company has also produced special Manziel-specific Browns shirts which read “Johnny Football” and “Manziel or Nothing” and a women’s shirt that says “My Manziel.”

Get yours today! This guy did.

Johnny Manziel’s workout with the Browns “was a mess”

Welcome to Cleveland, Johnny Manziel

In what is a very Cleveland-heavy Monday Morning Quarterback from Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, the long-time reporter reveals that Johnny Manziel’s workout with the Browns, just 19 days before the NFL Draft, was an absolute mess.

The Browns must have really loved the Manziel tape—because his workout with Cleveland brass 19 days before the draft was a mess. On Good Friday night, Browns coach Mike Pettine, GM Ray Farmer, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains went to dinner with Manziel and Burkhardt at a country club outside of College Station, near the Texas A&M campus. “We worked out 10 quarterbacks and ate with all with all of them,” Pettine said Saturday night. “That’s the only meal we didn’t pay for.” The workout was set for 8 a.m. Saturday morning, so the Clevelanders and Manziel could make it home comfortably for Easter. One problem: no receivers. So a high school buddy, Shanahan and Burkhardt—in jeans and sneakers—were the pass-catchers. After the workout, which included some clanks off Burkhardt’s hands, the agent said to Manziel: “I’ve seen you better.”

“I’d be better,” Manziel said with a laugh, “if you could catch.”

“One thing I liked about our meeting,” said Pettine. “We talked about being prepared to handle the pressure and the demands of being an NFL quarterback, and he told us, ‘I’m equipped to handle it. I think I’ve handled it already.’ I think he’s right.”

One day after being selected, Manziel came to Cleveland and received his very copy of the Browns’ playbook. Having a playbook will be different for Manziel, as Texas A&M didn’t give out playbooks—just weekly game plans. Alas, Manziel has reportedly been studying it as he prepares to compete with Brian Hoyer this summer.

Other notes from King’s column:

  • The Browns were seconds away from turning in the card with Sammy Watkins’ name on it at No. 4. Ray Farmer stated that Justin Gilbert has just as big of a chance as being Patrick Peterson as Watkins does Randy Moss and that the team has no regrets on making the deal with Buffalo.
  • King stated that Farmer’s draft, if the players turn out to be who they feel they’re getting, is “executive of the year” material. Check out this quote from Farmer on not getting a wide recevier: “I’ll be candid here. The real position to get a receiver would have been at 35, and we thought of it. There were receivers there we liked a lot. But we loved [Nevada tackle] Joel Bitonio at 35. He was clearly the highest-rated player for us then. Not another guy of his caliber, or even close, there. We stayed true to our board. Then we hoped one of the receivers we liked would have fallen to 71, but they were gone then. That’s the heartbreaking part of the draft. You like so many guys, and they get picked, and you say, ‘There goes another one.’ It hurts, but you can’t have everyone you want.”
  • Manziel is already eying up the teams that passed on him as they appear on the Browns’ schedule. The only question will be if he’s going to be the one under center when they come to town.

(Photo: Adam Hunger/ USA Today)

But who was the Browns’ best pick? While We’re Waiting…

 WFNYBanner www

Who was the “best” pick for the Browns? When I clicked on the latest from Todd McShay, I was completely expecting Justin Gilbert or one of the second-day selections to be given the nod. Johnny Manziel would be the obvious choice, no? Well, McShay felt otherwise.

For starters, the Browns offer a great scheme fit for Manziel in Kyle Shanahan’s offense, given Shanahan’s experience at adapting his playbook for Robert Griffin III in Washington, playing to RG III’s strengths as a mobile quarterback and allowing him to make a smooth transition from a spread college scheme to an NFL offense. But perhaps just as important, they did a great job of managing their first-round draft strategy. They kept the defensive coaching staff happy by getting the cornerback they wanted in Justin Gilbert, and picked up a 2015 first-round pick from the Bills in the process.

No matter where he went, Manziel was going to face a lot of attention, but there will be less pressure on him in Cleveland, given the way everything played out in the draft, than he would likely have faced in most other situations.

For what it’s worth, the two players not named Manziel who I happen to be the most intrigued with? Terrence West and Pierre Desir. Must be the small schools.1


I’m not shocked to hear that David Griffin is likely to be retained as the Cleveland Cavaliers’ general manager. His biggest enemy would have been Dan Gilbert’s desire to make a splash and hire a name rather than a mind. Having been fortunate enough to speak with Griffin in several one-on-one capacities, I’ve never once left thinking that he could not excel as the GM of an NBA franchise. Had he not been kept in Cleveland, he would have gotten a shot somewhere else—he’s well respected within the analytics community as well as by those who appreciate reasonable conversations around trade time. His predecessor erred mightily with the latter.


Fans of the whole latenight television landscape may have heard this already, but Larry Wilmore will be taking over for Stephen Colbert. Larry is best known as the “Senior Black Correspondent” on Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Following in the footsteps of guys like Colbert and John Oliver, Wilmore will be manning the desk for a full show which will be titled Minority Report. Not familiar with his work? Check it out here.


Want to write forESPN The Magazine? No sweat. All you have to do is gradaute summa cum laude from Yale, land a gig at Fortune right out of school and rack up a litany of awards. (For real though: I love hearing that Sports-focused mags are adding more investigative types. Everyone wins.)


And just because (it won’t be long before people start tearing him down): Johnny.




  1. And could Christian Kirksey be Mike Pettine’s new Kiko Alonzo? So many questions. []