BEREA, Ohio – The euphoria didn’t last long. Never does around here.
For one glorious moment in the three-day NFL draft and a few hours that followed, this long-suffering football town was at the center of the NFL universe.
When Commissioner Roger Goodell stepped to the podium on the Radio City Music Hall stage in New York and announced that the Browns had made a trade and that Johnny Manziel – yes, Johnny College Football himself – was bringing his aerial magic show to Cleveland, the city rocked like it hadn’t in years.
Grown men squealed like little girls. Twitter erupted. Phone lines at the Browns’ headquarters lit up as fans scrambled for season tickets.
It was chaos.
It was brief.
Manziel’s selection, a pick the Browns hope finally ends their decade-long search for a franchise quarterback, was quickly eclipsed by an ESPN report that Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon failed another drug test and is facing at least a one-year suspension by the league.
Elation, then deflation.
Gordon led the league with 1,646 yards receiving last season despite being suspended the first two games for his second infraction of the league’s substance-abuse policy. It was at least Gordon’s fifth failed drug test since 2010. He was kicked off Baylor’s team for twice testing positive for marijuana and failed another test at Utah.
Browns rookie general manager Ray Farmer couldn’t comment specifically on Gordon’s situation, saying “my hands are tied for what I can say.”
However, Farmer strongly hinted the team may be without its top offensive player for an extended period.
And if so, Farmer understands why some Cleveland fans have mixed feelings following an emotional roller-coaster during the draft.
“Frustration is a natural part of it,” he said. “I think that was what was felt and heard when that announcement (about Gordon) was made, so I don’t fault the fans for their reaction. I don’t fault anyone for being disappointed. To that end, it’s our job to make decisions less painful.
“And in time, it’s no different than if a player was going out during the offseason and broke an ankle or tore an ACL playing pickup hoops. We have to build a football team that can win regardless of who’s missing. I think that’s the charge that we have. That’s my job. That’s coach Pettine’s job. To prepare this football team to win games regardless of who’s missing.”
Despite a deep class of wide receivers, the Browns chose not to draft any.
Farmer believes he improved Cleveland’s roster by drafting six players and acquiring three picks in next year’s draft. He didn’t show any first-time jitters in making five trades, the biggest in moving up from No. 26 to No. 22 to grab Manziel, Texas A&M’s star quarterback.
“I didn’t think I’d be a wheeler, dealer, that’s for certain,” Farmer said, joking that he earned a nickname when teams called the Browns. “It was definitely interesting to hear friends and colleagues say, `Is Trader Ray available?”’
Farmer didn’t waste any time on Thursday, passing on wide receiver Sammy Watkins among others and trading the No. 4 overall pick to Buffalo at No. 9 for a first- and fourth-round pick in 2015. He then swapped picks with Minnesota and took Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert at No. 8.
The 6-foot-1 Gilbert is expected to start on the opposite side of Pro Bowler Joe Haden.
The Browns picked up versatile Nevada offensive lineman Joel Bitonio in the second round and Iowa linebacker Christian Kirksey in the third. Also in third, they drafted Towson running back Terrance West, who scored 41 touchdowns last season. Cleveland selected cornerback Pierre Desir from Division II Lindenwood in the fourth – what turned to be the Browns’ last pick.
Farmer dealt his seventh-round pick to Baltimore for a sixth-rounder next year, when Cleveland will have 10 picks.
Cleveland’s plan entering the draft was to get tougher and deeper, and new Browns coach Mike Pettine feels the team accomplished both goals.
“We have a plan of how we’re going to build this team,” Pettine said. “We’re going to build it on character. We’re going to build it on toughness. What we’ve done in this draft embodies that, and that was important to us, not just to talk about it. You’re not going to stand in front of a room and say, `Hey, let’s get tougher.’ What you do is you get tough people in that room.”
Manziel is one of them.
The Browns have decided to go all in with the former Heisman Trophy winner, who brings cockiness and charisma to Cleveland.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who considered taking Manziel, likened the 21-year-old QB to an iconic king.
“He’s Elvis Presley,” Jones said.
Farmer said he’s not worried about Manziel being too big for the Browns to handle.
“We have to have a game plan and a strategy,” he said. “He does have celebrity. He’s a polarizing personality to some degree, the legend of Johnny Football. There’s a swell around him and part of our job is to help him learn to deal with that in a professional manner.”