The Burden of Being a Brown: Johnny Football’s Next Big Task

Manziel (right) was relieved to finally hear his name called at the 1st round of the draft on Thursday.

Manziel (right) was relieved to finally hear his name called at the 1st round of the draft on Thursday. (Craig Ruttle/AP Photo)

Was the social media explosion of a welcome party meant as a way to usher in Johnny Manziel to his life as a Cleveland Brown? Or rather was it the events concerning two members of a depleted receiver corps that surpassed within 24 hours of Manziel’s selection, news that star Josh Gordon could face a season-long suspension after failing another drug test and that Nate Burleson fractured his left arm? Either way, intentional or not, the franchise was quick to show the adversity, hardship, and short-lived optimism that comes with being a Brown–without yet having played a single game on the gridiron.

Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that a franchise-changing figure like Manziel fell into Cleveland’s lap not once, or twice, but at three different points in the 1st round of the 2014 draft, and that by the greatest strokes of luck, this downtrodden Browns franchise managed to receive one more chance to reel Manziel in towards the latter stages of the round. Manziel’s draft stock fluctuated highly before he even entered his name in the draft,  but to think that the polarizing quarterback could drop so deep would be ludicrous. Cleveland was evidently not sold on Manziel as a top-pick draftee. But if the franchise agreed on selecting Manziel in the unlikely scenario of his availability in the 20’s-pick range of the draft, then the manifestation of this situation–coming after several quarterback-needy teams passed on the Aggie–seems as a result of pure good fortune, a term rarely associated with the Browns.

Then comes speculation of how, or whether, Johnny Manziel fits in the Browns organization. Considering that a litany of quarterbacks have entered Cleveland with promise and subsequently departed in disgrace, and that the franchise has failed to see the light of the postseason in 12 years, the arrival of a high-profile, spotlight-attracting, and flashy-personified player like Manziel simply electrifies not only the team, but the city as well. Yet the attention Manziel garnered during his time at College Station, and has already brought to Cleveland, is justified: the QB achieved a Heisman Trophy in his college tenure, and totaled 7,820 passing yards with 63 TD passes as well as 2,169 rushing yards with 30 TD runs, in addition to several spectacular performances on the biggest stages, all within two years of play. Thus, the aura of stardom Manziel carries with him is anything but a facade–even though off-the-field peculiarities cause the football world to raise a collective eyebrow.

Moving to the actual football field, and beyond the stimulative effect only his presence and name will have on the franchise, Manziel will undoubtedly have plenty of freedom to operate in the Browns offense, which really has no identity or specific scheme to speak of. A couple of months ago Cleveland hired Kyle Shanahan as the new offensive coordinator, his last coaching stop being with the Redskins that concluded with the firing of both him and his father, Mike Shanahan. While his offensive tactics appeared incompatible with a very similar dynamic, dual-threat quarterback to Johnny Football–Robert Griffin III–Shanahan has stated, even before the draft, that he felt confident about Manziel’s NFL prospects, and that his style will translate to the next level. Moreover, Shanahan said he enjoyed his pre-draft time with Manziel, and perhaps most important to allaying any doubt with respect to his rapport with the young QB, said that he is willing to be flexible with Manziel at the quarterback position.

Another factor that could prove beneficial to Manziel in his time as a Brown is the proverbial “chip on his shoulder”. This characteristic of the QB has been made all to well-known to the football world, but in truth works to Manziel’s favor, and now even to a greater degree following his free fall to the 22nd slot. Manziel will of course direct his focus to solely bettering his own team, but surely the uncomfortable and distasteful experience he had amid his slide to the 22nd pick will stick with him throughout his NFL career; in what has become a matter of habit, Manziel will go out to prove his doubters wrong, and especially show the organizations that passed on him the horrendous mistake they made.

On top of all this, Manziel will work to revive his quarterbacking mystique at the next level with mindset of having a top-tier defense–further bolstered, ironically, by an 8th-pick Justin Gilbert selection Manziel surely believed was his rightful placement–fit to bail him out and grant him plentiful chances to succeed. Thus, Manziel can afford some mistakes in his first NFL year, and the backlash to any points of his mediocrity or disappointment will be minimized.

Nevertheless, Johnny Manziel received his first taste of the toils that come with the Browns territory shortly after being introduced to the franchise. Not only will Manziel enter a situation filled with new faces following a team overhaul, but he will likely take his first snap without the team’s best player in Josh Gordon, burdening Manziel with difficulty from the onset of his career. But if there’s anyone that can help shed the Browns’ history-filled record of misfortune and misery, and start to put a halt to this tradition of grief, Johnny Manziel has the looks and the feel of the hero Cleveland needs, and therefore, if all goes as planned, making his selection at the 22nd slot one of the best the team will have ever made.

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