He’s got a Heisman Trophy, a controversial reputation, and one of the coolest nicknames in all of sports; it’s not hard to see why Johnny Manziel was the centerpiece of Thursday night’s coverage of the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Even still, as this Deadspin graphic shows, ESPN’s attention on the former Texas A&M quarterback bordered on fetishistic. And although grading a team’s draft in May is like handing out awards for Best Weekend Weather Forecast on a Wednesday, there’s little doubt that, from a sheer publicity standpoint, Johnny Manziel was the big winner of the draft’s first round.
Which is somewhat odd, given that he was selected with the 22nd pick by the Cleveland Browns, and the words “Cleveland Browns” and “winner” haven’t been associated with one another in about a quarter century. Yet that’s part of what makes Manziel’s selection by the Browns so perfect: Who better to bear the burden of Cleveland’s long-overdue turnaround than the man nicknamed Johnny Football?
Beyond the acquisition of an incredibly dynamic quarterback, Browns fans can also celebrate the savvy exercised by new general manager Ray Farmer in landing the quarterback. Although there had been rumors about the Browns interest in Manziel for quite some time, the team played their cards beautifully, trading down from the fourth pick to the ninth, picking up Buffalo’s first and fourth-round selections in next year’s draft in the process. They then traded this year’s fifth round pick to move up to No. 8, where they selected Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert.
And then they waited. With Manziel shifting uncomfortably in his seat after sliding all the way down the No. 22, the Browns made another trade to secure their QB of the future, giving up their third-round pick to the Eagles in order to move up from 26th. When the wheeling and dealing was finally done, Cleveland wound up with two players in the top 25, plus a first and fourth-rounder in next year’s draft, and all they gave up were third and fifth-round selections. This is another odd sentence to type, but here goes: Very well done, Cleveland.
The moves may have afforded the Browns a rare opportunity to look good, but the slide to No. 22 literally cost Manziel millions of dollars. According to Forbes, QB Blake Bortles, who was selected by the Jaguars with the No. 3 pick, stands to make as much as $12 million more in guaranteed money than Johnny Manziel over the next four years.
Which makes his signature move -- the “cashing out” hand gesture, which he flashed upon taking the podium, causing much consternation among a certain segment of the internet -- a touch ironic. Still, if Manziel lives up to the hype, he’ll eventually earn his big payday. And if that happens, he’ll have accomplished something even more remarkable: Returning the Cleveland Browns to competitive relevance. For Browns fans who have long subsisted on little more than the hope promised in the offseason, last night’s draft was a big first step in that direction.