May 8, 2014
A day that will live in infamy…..for the Cleveland Browns
It was exactly three years ago today that the 2014 NFL draft kicked off.
The Cleveland Browns were in a prime spot to control the entire draft with multiple picks in the first, third and fourth rounds. Having the 4th and 26th overall picks in the first round, they also were in prime position to come away with two players that were going to elevate a roster with already five Pro Bowlers.
Three years later, the Browns are still at the bottom of the league but with a strong 2017 draft, there’s a glimmer of hope towards the future.
Let’s look back at the infamous 2014 draft.
As the night started, the Browns held the fourth pick and were in a great spot to come away with an elite playmaker on offense or defense.
Jadeveon Clowney, Greg Robinson and Blake Bortles were the first three selections off the board to the Texans, Rams and Jaguars respectively.
This left the Browns with Clemson wide receiver Sammy Watkins, Buffalo linebacker Khalil Mack and Texas A&M wide receiver Mike Evans to select.
The Buffalo Bills came calling however and offered up a 2015 first round pick to move down five slots to the ninth overall pick. The Browns took that deal and Buffalo selected Watkins. Mack went fifth overall to Oakland and Evans went seventh overall to Tampa.
Then, Cleveland swapped selections with Minnesota to move up one spot to eighth overall to select Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. It was a shocker to all of Browns fans and the local media.
The organization did not meet with Gilbert until within a week before the draft when general manager Ray Farmer flew down to talk to Gilbert. He came back impressed and then when he was available still at 9, head coach Mike Pettine told Farmer he could make him an elite corner.
Poor work ethic and a tendency to sleep through multiple alarms got Gilbert on Pettine’s bad side rather quickly. Not to mention he had horrible technique for a defensive back drafted in the top ten. His one highlight was a interception returned for a touchdown against the Indianapolis Colts towards the end of his rookie season.
He was traded to the Pittsburgh Steelers at the end of the 2016 preseason and saw limited time with them before they released him in the offseason.
The Browns passed up on All-Pros Aaron Donald and Odell Beckham for Justin Gilbert.
Can’t get worse right? WRONG
As Browns fans waited for the next selection at 26, the draft coverage focused in on Texas A&M Johnny Manziel’s freefall down the board. Once Dallas passed him up at 16 for offensive guard Zack Martin, many wondered when he’d come off the board.
Now I was told leading up that there was no way the Browns would draft Manziel. That was reaffirmed when former Browns CEO Joe Banner told NFL reporter Albert Breer that before Banner was removed from the organization in February 2014 that he along with general manager Michael Lombardi and then assistant general manager Ray Farmer did not have Manziel on the board because of the rumored off the field issues he had at Texas A&M.
After failed attempts to move up for Michigan tackle Taylor Lewan (11th overall to Titans) and Brandin Cooks (20th overall to Saints). Browns were sitting at 26 and we all know what happened next.
Although it’s never been confirmed, Browns owner Jimmy Haslam demanded that the Browns find a way to get Manziel. And don’t forget the infamous exchange of texts between Manziel and then Browns QB coach Dowell Loggians where Manziel told Loggians to “come get me, let’s wreck this league.”
Ray Farmer has since taken the blame for this selection and granted it partially is his fault because he didn’t stand his ground and tell Haslam that it was a potential mistake to take Manziel but Haslam made Farmer’s bed and ultimately, Ray chose to lay in it.
The Browns traded up to the 22nd overall pick, the same spot that they drafted Brady Quinn in 2007 and Brandon Weeden in 2012. Roger Goodell’s announcement of the selection set off roars of excitement across Northeast Ohio and even with a certain snarky member of the Cleveland media.
Now I’ll admit, when they took Manziel. I said that I’d be behind him if the organization thought he was the answer. I thought he could sit behind then starter Brian Hoyer until he was ready to play.
Manziel said all the right things to the media but he was still partying non stop when he didn’t have to be with the team. In the preseason he looked like a quarterback that needed a lot of work and started the season as backup to Hoyer.
Hoyer and the Browns started out 7-4 and were in a spot to potentially make the postseason. However, the rumors were spreading that the front office wanted Manziel on the field despite Hoyer’s record. Not to mention Hoyer was heading towards free agency and was looking for a big money contract.
Hoyer struggled against Indianapolis and Buffalo, so bad against Buffalo that Manziel replaced him late and drove them down the field for a touchdown against a prevent defense. His next drive ended in him getting pummeled into the ground by the Bills defense.
Manziel struggled in his first start against Cincinnati. He made a slight improvement against Carolina before “hurting his hamstring”, ending his rookie season.
Checking into rehab during the 2015 offseason, Manziel looked to fix his issues with alcohol and substances. He spent almost two months there until he left when offseason workouts began.
Manziel made strides under the guidance of veteran quarterback Josh McCown and quarterback coach Kevin O’Connell. A win against Tennessee that saw Manziel throw two touchdowns to Travis Benjamin and him looking improved as a pocket passer. Many including myself called for Manziel to continue to start. However, Coach Pettine went back to McCown who was sidelined with a concussion.
This move sent Manziel back down a bad spiral where he started his partying ways again and led to several incidents with his then girlfriend. Manziel got another chance to start but partying during the bye week led to another benching. He once again got to start again but a “concussion” sidelined him for the 2015 finale. He somehow managed to go to Las Vegas in a disguise now infamously known as “Billy Manziel.”
A new regime saw Manziel’s exit from the organization in March of 2016. He’s attempting a comeback but is seen partying on Snapchat periodically and is awaiting the results of his domestic violence case.
Now Joe Banner also confirmed to Breer that the Browns had Teddy Bridgewater and Derek Carr as the top two quarterbacks on their board prior to his dismissal. I’m sure that didn’t change between February and May. It just so happens that they were both available when the Browns selected Manziel.
Bridgewater was selected 32nd overall by the Minnesota Vikings who were trying to also move up for Manziel before the Browns did. He emerging as a top quarterback in the NFC when a severe leg injury sidelined him last season, it’s unknown if Bridgewater will able to come back and play football.
As for Carr, he was the 35th overall pick in the second round by Oakland. He started 0-10 but has improved ever since and is one of the ten best quarterbacks in football. He was the front runner for MVP last year before a broken leg ended his season and the Raiders Super Bowl chances last season.
Now this draft wasn’t all bad for the Cleveland Browns. They drafted guard Joel Bitonio in the second round and linebacker Christian Kirksey in the third round. They are significant building blocks going forward for this franchise and Bitonio was given an extension in March and Kirksey should be getting one soon as it’s his final year under contract.
Looking back three years later, this has to be the biggest blunder in franchise history. The team had a chance to take a giant leap that would’ve put them in Super Bowl contention but instead continued their position as one of the worst teams in the NFL.
The Raiders selected Mack and Carr with their first two picks and it sent the Raiders organization off like a rocket. The Browns could have made those selections had they stood pat at 4 & 26.
Even drafting guys like Evans at 4 and Bridgewater at 26 would’ve sent this organization on the right path.
It ultimately got both Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine fired at the end of the 2015 season. Obviously I think the Browns are in a better position with Sashi Brown and Hue Jackson as the leaders of this organization, and with Dee Haslam involved as a co-owner, hopefully she keeps Jimmy grounded from forcing another bad decision.
I don’t like to beat the dead horse but it just frustrates me as not only a fan of the Browns, but as someone who one day would like to run the Browns as a front office executive to see them continually make these poor decisions. I hope we’ve seen the last of those for some time.