IN three months, Johnny Manziel went from completely off the Browns’ draft board to the player they had to have.
And three years later, the sudden spike in interest is still a mystery, perhaps to none more so than a person with intimate knowledge of the Browns’ prior thought process.
Joe Banner was the Cleveland CEO before his firing on February 11, 2014, shortly before that May’s draft.
When Banner left the organisation, Manziel already had been written off as a risk too big to take. The team was concerned with his makeup — his brash style that had grated on some — and his ability, too.
“At the point that I left, we would not have picked him based on the information we had,” Banner told The MMQB in a podcast.
“I’m not quite sure if after I left, that they did some additional research that made them comfortable with some things we were not comfortable with when I was there, or if they just widened the definition of what was OK.
“As I said, I brought there and had practised a more conservative philosophy. I think it’s even more relevant when you’re dealing with a quarterback, team leader, face of the organisation, the message you send is very clear when you pick players. … To me it’s a great mystery [why Manziel was taken].”
When the Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M strolled to the stage, the 22nd pick of the draft, flashing his patented cha-ching fingers, Banner was stunned.
“I was sitting home watching the draft having absolutely no idea who they were gonna pick,” Banner said. “And based on what we knew when we left, I was beyond shocked when I heard the pick they made.”
It wasn’t just that Manziel, who took college partying to a new level, had polarised himself to many. It was that Banner’s Browns had doubts he was any good.
“Frankly when I left, we had some concerns about his talent,” said Banner, now a front-office consultant with the Falcons.
“We weren’t sure he was that accurate, we weren’t sure he could stay healthy, and we weren’t completely sold on the mental acumen part of it. And then of course there were off-field issues that we were aware of that were concerning. So something changed dramatically in the 60 days or 80 days from the time I left until they picked him.”
Banner said when he left the organisation, the Browns had Teddy Bridgewater slotted as the top quarterback, followed by Derek Carr. Bridgewater fell to 32nd overall and Carr 36th — Blake Bortles (3) was the only quarterback taken before Manziel.
Maybe it was a homeless man who convinced the Browns front office to take the plunge on Manziel, as owner Jimmy Haslam originally explained.
Maybe it was Manziel himself, who reportedly texted then-Cleveland quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains as he slipped in the draft, saying he wanted to “wreck the league” with the Browns.
“When I got that text, I forwarded it to the owner and to the head coach [Mike Pettine],” Loggains told ESPN Radio, via cleveland.com. “I’m like, ‘This guy wants to be here. He wants to be part of it.’ As soon as that happened, Mr. Haslam said, ‘Pull the trigger. We’re trading up to go get this guy.”’
In that scenario, one text would have overridden years of scouting that Banner was a crucial part of.
The monumental bust Manziel would become, as his off-field horrors somehow overwhelmed his on-field ineffectiveness, was impossible to know then. Still, no one wants the blame for the train wreck Manziel became.
“There are very few decisions made in anybody’s draft in a vacuum. The GM very, very, very rarely says, ‘Hey, I’m taking this guy and there’s nothing anybody else can say about it,’” Ray Farmer, the GM who drafted Manziel, told CBS Sports last year. “The head coach doesn’t do it, the owner doesn’t do it. In that case, I would tell you that there were a lot of conversations that happened and the selection was made.
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