Welcome to Cleveland, Johnny Football; more NFL draft Snaps
NEW YORK -- Musings, observations and the occasional insight from the NFL's latest-ever draft in a raucous Radio City Music Hall. My how this exercise in reading names off a list has grown in scope in the 25 drafts I've covered ...
• Let's be clear about this. If this move works as planned, Cleveland Browns fans will someday recall the Trent Richardson trade as fondly as Yankees fans do the Babe Ruth heist. The October 2013 deal that sent the Browns' underachieving first-round pick of 2012 to Indianapolis is what landed Cleveland quarterback and presumed franchise savior Johnny Manziel in the first round of the NFL draft.
Richardson, the No. 3 overall pick in '12, garnered the Browns the Colts' 26th selection in this year's first round. And Cleveland traded that choice away to No. 22 Philadelphia, adding a third-rounder this year (83rd overall), for the right to end the fall of the former Texas A&M Heisman winner.
In true Manziel style, the Browns showed a little improvisational skill of their own Thursday night, making three first-round trades to come away with Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert at No. 8 and Manziel, the headline-name passer who at some point will become the 21st starting quarterback since Cleveland rejoined the league as an expansion franchise in 1999.
"To be here feels right,'' Manziel said after his long wait ended with a Browns jersey in his hands. "Dawg Pound, here we come. I'm going to pour my heart out for this team. I truly believe Cleveland was supposed to be where I ended up.''
Well, sure, because from the start of this draft season, one thing has been painfully apparent: There was no team more desperate for a quarterback than Cleveland, and the moribund Browns have long suffered from the lack of creativity and playmaking skills under center. In that respect, the union of Manziel and Cleveland seemed like a marriage that had to happen.
By picking Manziel at No. 22, the Browns seem to be tempting fate. The 22 slot hasn't been a lucky one for Cleveland. In fact, it has been positively ill-fated. The Browns selected Brady Quinn (2007) and Brandon Weeden (2012) in that spot, both of whom were failures in their brief Browns careers. Ironically, Cleveland made trades each time to obtain the No. 22 pick.
Not necessarily. The Browns, who have given their fans so little hope these past 15 years, should have been the team to take a shot on Manziel's unique skillset. If any team in the league needs an injection of excitement, relevance and competency at the quarterback position, it's Cleveland. Right now.
As Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers proved in the 2005 draft, it's not about how long you sit in the green room. It's where you land once you exit it, and what you do with your opportunity when it finally arrives. Manziel will own Cleveland if he becomes the quarterback who finally helps the Browns win, and at that point his draft slot will be part of his legend.
"I never put any stock into where anyone said I may go,'' Manziel said. "Obviously those teams that passed me up, that adds fuel to the fire. This is a great day for me. For me, there is no disappointment.''
That's the right answer, and for the perennially struggling Browns, this was the right pick. It was a calculated gamble that was worth taking, especially at the cost level at which the Browns invested. Cleveland is perhaps the NFL's biggest challenge for a quarterback. But Manziel has proven to be up to most challenges in his short but brilliant football career.
• Teddy Bridgewater to the Vikings at No. 32 completed the first-round trend for quarterbacks. In all three cases, the quarterbacks selected went to teams that probably won't need them to play right away. Minnesota re-signed veteran Matt Cassel, Jacksonville has Chad Henne ahead of No. 3 pick Blake Bortles, and Manziel might benefit from Brian Hoyer opening the season as a starter in Cleveland.
Getting Bridgewater to end the first round is not only good value for the Vikings, but also it pairs him with veteran offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and that's a break for the polarizing rookie from Louisville. Turner has done some of his long career's best work with young quarterbacks, and Bridgewater's development is in good hands. The Vikings might have taken UCLA outside linebacker Anthony Barr too high at No. 9, with their first first-round pick, but Bridgewater at 32 is an excellent, low-pressure spot from which to launch his career.
• Talked to one source in the league office Thursday night who said the NFL may not be quite ready to take the draft on the road next year, as has been reported to be a possibility. The league's best shot to move the draft in 2015 might be to Chicago, but a cross-country relocation to Los Angeles doesn't appear to be in the cards so quickly, the source said. There are other cities than those two who want to bid on the draft, like Dallas, but it's not known where their chances stand at this point.
The NFL may return to Radio City Music Hall next year, and it expects to know within a week or so whether the venue's schedule is going to jive with the league's plans for the 2015 draft. This year's draft was moved two weeks later than normal, ostensibly because Radio City had planned a conflicting spring/Easter season show involving the Rockettes for mid-to-late April. That extravaganza was eventually canceled due a lack of sufficient interest.
Reading the tea leaves, it's pretty clear that commissioner Roger Goodell wants to take the draft on the road as soon as possible, and doesn't want the league leveraged in any way in negotiations with Radio City. Goodell usually gets what Goodell wants, and for that reason, the draft is probably going to have a mobile plan very soon.
• The Bills gave every indication in recent days that they would be aggressive in their first draft of the post-Ralph Wilson era, and their trade up from No. 9 to Cleveland's No. 4 spot in pursuit of the draft's top receiver -- Clemson's Sammy Watkins -- certainly qualifies. I love the player they went after. Buffalo got the draft's most dynamic offensive playmaker and one of the four truly elite talents in this year's pool. But Buffalo surrendered plenty to move up five spots, sending its No. 9 pick to the Browns, plus its first-rounder and fourth-rounder next year.
I get it, though. With an ownership change on the way, who knows if general manager Doug Whaley and head coach Doug Marrone will even be around to pay for this deal once its full price tag comes due? The Bills perennially finish in last place in the AFC East, so boldness was perhaps called for in this case. Watkins' arrival also could signal Stevie Johnson's exit from Buffalo. The Bills reportedly are open to trading the veteran receiver, whose production and health suffered significantly last season.
• Boy, that Kevin Costner really had a great night. He pulled off three first-round trades, first moving down from No. 4 to No. 9 in dealing with Buffalo, then going back up a spot to No. 8 in a swap with Minnesota, and finally jumping from 26 to No. 22 to take Manziel with a slot first owned by Philadelphia. You go fake-Browns general manager. Draft Day. Draft night. Doesn't matter. Costner is a gambler who likes to move around the board.
• The Falcons benefited by sitting tight at No. 6 and wound up with Texas A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews. Atlanta is a team that believes it's ready to win now and return to playoff perennial status, and that theory gets reinforced somewhat by landing the most clear-cut and pro-ready offensive tackle in the draft. Not to mention better protection for quarterback Matt Ryan was job one for the Falcons in 2014. Early this draft season, everyone had Atlanta as the most likely candidate to trade up in the first round, but sometimes the moves you don't make are just as good as those gotta-have Julio Jones blockbusters.
• With 6-foot-5 Mike Evans and 6-5 Vincent Jackson now a receiving tandem in Tampa Bay, Bucs quarterback Josh McCown really is going to be reliving his 2013 Bears experience with twin tower Chicago receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. The jump ball possession arrow just might have permanently pointed in Tampa Bay's direction. NFC South cornerbacks, time to grow up. Literally.
• After a record number of underclassmen declared for the draft this year (102), you can't say the kids didn't represent. The first four names called Thursday night were all non-seniors: South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, Auburn's Greg Robinson, Central Florida's Blake Bortles and Clemson's Sammy Watkins.
• I consider the Saints smart and savvy to go out and find their replacement for the elusive Darren Sproles by trading up from 27th to 20th to select Oregon State receiver Brandin Cooks. Like Sproles, traded to the Eagles this spring in exchange for a fifth-round pick, Cooks is a small but electrifying talent who can do great damage when he gets the ball in space. Cooks is going to be perfect in Sean Payton's pass-happy offense, and Drew Brees just got a new toy to play pitch and catch with in 2014. The Saints had to ship their No. 27 first-rounder plus a third-round selection (91 overall) to the Cardinals to get to No. 20, but that's not an exorbitant price. I'm pretty sure New Orleans knew it had to climb over No. 22 Philadelphia to get a shot at Cooks, who was in Chip Kelly's wheelhouse with the fast-break offense the Eagles favor.
• The Rams' already scary good defensive line just got scarier. And better. Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald was the draft's most coveted defensive tackle and a player who had a breakout draft season starting with a superb week at the Senior Bowl. He's an athletic and penetrating playmaker who gives the Rams yet another weapon on a defensive line that already includes stud defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long, as well as an emerging defensive tackle in Michael Brockers.
All four of the presumed defensive line starters in St. Louis are now first-round picks, and it appears the Rams have decided their best path to compete in the rugged NFC West is by building a dominant defensive front. The slightly undersized Donald was the NCAA leader in tackles for loss (28.5) last season, with 11 sacks, four forced fumbles and three passes defensed. I still think the Rams need to score more and find ways to match the likes of Seattle, San Francisco and Arizona in terms of offensive playmakers, and I would have gone for Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins at No. 2 rather than Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson. But there are different ways to skin the cat in the NFL these days, and Jeff Fisher, with his longtime ties on the defensive side of the ball, has made his choice.
• I don't know anyone who saw the Bortles pick coming in Jacksonville, but I like it. Mainly because Henne is expected to play this year and he's plenty solid enough to win six to eight games for the Jaguars, which would represent a solid year-two step for Jacksonville after its 4-12 finish in head coach Gus Bradley's first season of 2013. If the Jaguars don't repeat their mistake with Blaine Gabbert in 2011, and throw Bortles to the wolves way too soon, they may have their quarterback upgrade locked and loaded for 2015 and beyond.
• C.J. Mosley to Baltimore. Of course. Nobody loves Alabama players like Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, the ex-Tide legend (see Courtney Upshaw, Terrance Cody and Rolando McClain via trade). And no team tends to stick to its draft grades as religiously as the Ravens, even when there are more glaring needs to be filled.
Inside linebacker clearly wasn't the biggest necessity in Baltimore, and the Ravens could have easily addressed their void at safety with both Louisville's Calvin Pryor and Alabama's Ha Ha Clinton-Dix still on the board at No. 18. But Mosley was one of the cleanest prospects in this year's draft, with a proven track record for tackling well and being in the right spot at the right time.
• Way to soft-shoe it, Gerald McCoy. Why don't you tell us how you really feel about shifting from three-technique to nose tackle in Tampa Bay? The Bucs hadn't even asked yet and McCoy felt the need to shoot down any thought of a position change with the following via Twitter: "I GUARANTEE this.... I WILL NOT. I repeat WILL NOT move to nose, regardless of who we draft!!'' McCoy looked like Daniel Snyder in the Redskins nickname debate. Pursue the zero-sum tactical strategy.
There were reports that with the Bucs considering Pitt defensive tackle Aaron Donald with their No. 7 pick, Tampa Bay would be making that pick with the idea of moving McCoy to nose tackle to accommodate Donald's best position, that being three technique. Instead the Bucs took Texas A&M receiver Mike Evans.
But obviously McCoy showed his true colors -- and they weren't pretty -- even before any selection was made. With Tampa Bay not choosing Donald (who went 13th overall, to St. Louis), the point is moot. That's why it was unwise of McCoy to needlessly take a stand on the issue prematurely. In some very real way, he exposed himself as a guy who might just think of himself first and ask questions later.
You can't issue a "never mind'' and take it back now, Gerald. It was on Twitter. Timelines don't lie.
• In the short-term at least, I know one big winner from Thursday night: Browns incumbent starting quarterback Brian Hoyer, who apparently is held in high esteem by new head coach Mike Pettine. Not only did the Browns pass on a quarterback with their first first-round pick (dropping from No. 4 to 8 to select Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert), but also they waited before moving back up from 26 to 22 to land Manziel.
But even with the ex-Heisman winner in town, Pettine all but ruled out any rookie quarterback challenging Hoyer's grip on the No. 1 job in 2014, that despite Hoyer being still very much in the midst of a rehab from blowing out his ACL in midseason last year.
"There will be competition, but I think it will be very difficult, based on my evaluation of this year's draft class, it will be very difficult for anyone in this draft class to come in and beat [Hoyer] out,'' Pettine told USA Today this week. "I really believe that. There's that certain 'it' factor he has. Just the way he's attacked his rehab, the way he's attacked learning a new offense.''
By the time Pettine was done raving about Hoyer, I had almost forgotten how desperately the Browns have been searching for a winning franchise quarterback since Bernie Kosar was released in the early '90s. Almost.
Kind of makes you wonder why the Browns reportedly spent $100,000 to commission a study of the quarterback position in anticipation of selecting a passer high up in this year's draft. I mean, with Hoyer on hand, why bother?