Cleveland Browns Throwback Thursday: Enduring damage from Johnny Manziel affair
When Johnny Manziel crashed and burned, he left a radioactive impact crater in Berea that the Cleveland Browns have still not fully recovered from.
The fallout from the botched career of Johnny Manziel damaged the Cleveland Browns franchise in ways that most of us never anticipated. When Manziel crashed and burned, he left a radioactive impact crater in Berea that the organization still has not fully recovered from.
It hurt the organization, and it hurt us fans. It was much more than just two years of chaos, and it was as much the fault of the team as it was the player himself.
Looking back, the Browns draft room in 2014 was not as crazy as you might think. It can be compared to that of the highly pedigreed Dallas Cowboys, who also had a high grade on Manziel. Will Brinson of Cbssports.com describes how badly Jerry Jones, the old oilman, wanted to draft Manziel, who comes from an oil family also.
When it came to their pick, Jerry wanted to take Manziel, who was ranked at about 16th overall, but he was smart enough to not make a decision that 100 percent of the staff experts disagreed with. After no one seconded the decision to draft Manziel, a disappointed Jerry demanded, “So no one in this room wants to take Johnny Manziel?”
Stephen Jones finally replied, “Dad, we need to take Zack.” That would be guard Zack Martin of Notre Dame, who is only a six-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler. Good call.
The Browns, however, had no Stephen Jones to save the day.
Jimmy Haslam III, who is also an oilman, teamed with Ray Farmer to go over the line. A new GM is more susceptible to the palpable excitement of the owner. So the Browns gave up the 26th overall pick plus the third round 83rd overall pick to Philadelphia for Manziel at 22nd overall. From what we know, the Browns had attached a high grade to Manziel, but not as high as Derek Carr, who would go to Oakland in the second round.
The Browns, like Jerry Jones, were willing to ignore the information that was out there that Manziel had a problem partying. Not that partying is necessarily a red flag. For example, Joe Namath was famous for staying out all night and playing with a hangover and still starring. Kenny Stabler and Brett Favre did okay for themselves, too.
However, that does not mean that Manziel was able to do the same thing. His situation was evidently much more severe and definitely into the territory where football and mild-altering substances could not coexist.
At any rate, Manziel became a Cleveland Brown. Manziel had left Texas A&M two years before his scheduled graduation, and it showed. He was in no way ready to play. Brian Hoyer was doing a bang-up job at quarterback in the early going, with a 7-4 record but the team slumped when Alex Mack went out.
With the team’s record at 7-6 and still having a shot at the playoffs, the decision was made to start Manziel, based on the idea that the rookie might re-ignite the team and make a bold run for the playoffs. That scenario is less probable than something Mr. Roarke might have come up with for the Fantasy Island television show.
However, Manziel was awful, throwing for only 80 yards in his first start (not on one pass, that was his entire game total), and then going only 3-of-8 in his second start before getting injured. Hoyer did not get his job back, however. Instead third string Connor Shaw got the next start to ensure a 7-9 final record, with five straight losses to close out the season.
Whose decision was it? To this day we do not know how much was Jimmy Haslam III, how much was Ray Farmer and how much was miscommunicated. It got so bad that Ray Farmer had gotten fined and suspended for improper texts during the game. In any case, it was totally wrong. They lost the respect of Kyle Shanahan, who resigned rather than put up with the chaos.
Brian Hoyer, with a 10-7 record as starting quarterback, was allowed to leave as a free agent. Alex Mack was still obligated to the team through 2015, but it cemented his decision to leave.
Manziel spent some time in rehab prior to the 2015 season, and for a time showed great progress, first as Josh McCown‘s backup and ultimately the starter. Again, no one is sure exactly who made the decision to start Manziel over McCown, but it was not coach Pettine, and the Browns allowed Manziel to keep his job even when he showed up at the practice facility under the influence.
That should never have happened. It was crazy to allow him to play. The twin mistakes of drafting Manziel and then pressuring the coaches to play him inescapably led to Farmer and Pettine having to leave as well.
It was just reporters at Dawg Pound Daily complaining. Bernie Kosar was a little more graphic, claiming that the antics in the front office involving Manziel made him want to throw up. Tim Couch said the same thing, a little more politely.
Pettine really was not at fault, and we are left to wonder whether Farmer’s erratic behavior would have happened without Manziel catalyzing his unacceptably chaotic behavior. In any case, the organization was tainted thenceforward because of the obvious meddling from the front office and ownership. Pettine has re-emerged as a successful defensive coordinator with the Green Bay Packers, but as far as we can tell, Ray Farmer is still just playing golf. It was bad.
Adding up the total of the concrete damage, the Browns, first of all, blew a valuable first-round draft pick as well as a number three. They also lost an extremely talented offensive coordinator who is now in the Super Bowl as a head coach.
They lost a good coach in Pettine. They lost an All-Pro center in Alex Mack. They lost Brian Hoyer, the only quarterback to have a Browns career won-loss record four games above .500 since Bill Nelsen (that is not a typo by the way, and you are free to look it up). Thus the direct damage consists of a first-round draft choice, a number three, a Pro Bowl lineman, a capable starting quarterback, and two respected coaches.
What is all that worth? You may make your own estimate, but it is high — in the range of multiple number one picks.
The indirect damage is comparable. In the post-Manziel period, Cleveland became radioactive because of the poor performance of the front office and ownership. It meant that coaches and front office candidates wanted to avoid working for the Browns, and certainly, player agents would want to steer most players away from Cleveland.
There is a real “loser’s tax” that causes teams like the Browns to pay more for established players. For example, Jamie Collins was paid less than a million dollars a year by the Patriots, then earned $13.5 million per year, counting bonuses, for two years playing for the Browns, and then last year he re-signed with the Patriots for $3 million. Similarly, Kevin Zeitler is a very good offensive lineman, but he too was given a contract that was probably above market value.
Dwayne Bowe‘s contract at $6.5 million per year for two years, also raised some eyebrows. Of course, there are other factors that influence the amount of money that the Browns have to pay. It’s not just the Manziel effect, but nevertheless the “loser’s tax” is real and amounts to millions of dollars per year.
Winning — even a little bit — goes a long way to solving the problem, and great credit is due to John Dorsey who made enough right moves that communication lines have reopened with the agents of prominent players including Odell Beckham, Jr., Olivier Vernon, and Sheldon Richardson. A year or two earlier,and they might not have been willing to play with the Browns. There were other problems with the salary cap that we will not get into at this time, but Dorsey brought back a certain sense of credibility.
With a new general manager, there may be still some aversion to the Browns on the part of certain agents and potential candidates for staff positions, but will likely be not nearly as bad as it was a few years ago. Dorsey made enough good decisions that qualified persons are willing to come here, and players are willing to play here.
A plan can be put in place to restore the personnel and scouting functions of the team to a high level.
The point of this article is not to bash Manziel, who is a young man struggling with personal problems that threaten his well being and perhaps even his life. The main point is to underscore the importance of putting a system in place in then trusting people to do their jobs.
When the owners own, the general manager manages, the coaches coach and the players play, things are going to work out all right. When you get people crossing lines and attempting to do other peoples’ jobs, it is a recipe for chaos and failure.
Manziel taught the organization a number of lessons. We shall see if they have learned from those lessons.