BEREA — As Johnny Manziel waited, the Browns maneuvered.
Rookie general manager Ray Farmer had already made two trades and one pick Thursday during the first round of the NFL Draft — Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert at No. 8 — before he hijacked the conversation across the league and the sports world.
Farmer sent a third-round pick (No. 83 overall) to Philadelphia to move from No. 26 to 22 for the chance to take Manziel.
Johnny Football is headed to Browns Town.
“I truly believe leaving here tonight that the situation did work out for me. I’m in a great place,” Manziel, the electric quarterback from Texas A&M, told Cleveland media on a conference call a few minutes later. “I’m very excited to be part of Cleveland and the Dawg Pound and the city and the love they have for the Browns.”
Manziel, the most polarizing and discussed player in the draft, spent nearly three hours backstage in New York’s Radio City Music Hall waiting to hear his name called. When it finally was, the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner — the first freshman to win college football’s biggest award — put on a Browns hat, did his signature money sign in which he rubs his fingers together in the air and walked across the stage to embrace Commissioner Roger Goodell.
“My style of play obviously is pretty exciting and I will continue to try to get better,” Manziel said. “I feel like we can be successful. More than anything we want to win games. There are a lot of really good forces on the team. There is success to be had in the future.
“The team obviously wants to win and wants to win now. I’ve been a winner everywhere I’ve been. I’m ready to work extremely hard.”
The 2014 Browns draft will be remembered for Manziel. But before he brought his exhilarating style — and the circus — to town, Farmer made a pair of other trades, drafted Gilbert and acquired a first-round pick in 2015.
Farmer filled the team’s biggest needs on both sides of the ball, but Gilbert was immediately overshadowed when the Browns made their second pick.
The Browns had the chance to take Manziel (5-foot-11¾, 210 pounds) twice in the top 10, but Farmer waited patiently. He read the situation correctly and predicted Manziel would slide down the board.
When he was still there in the 20s, Farmer jumped ahead of Kansas City and Cincinnati. He converted on third down.
“We definitely like his ability to perform and make plays,” Farmer said of Manziel. “He’s passionate, relentless, played fearless, competitive.
“We added a guy to our roster to help us win.”
The pick energized a fan base that lives for the draft but hasn’t had a winning season to celebrate since 2007. It also thrust the franchise into national relevance.
Manziel is a celebrity who’s a regular on TMZ and hangs out with LeBron James and Drake. He was suspended for a half of the opener for signing autographs for a memorabilia dealer and drew other negative headlines off the field. The Browns, including owner Jimmy Haslam, met with Manziel during the weeks before the draft and concluded he loves and knows football.
Rookie coach Mike Pettine added he believes Manziel will be well-received by his new teammates.
“I think you’re going to see a guy that’s going to come in and go to work, he’ll compete right out of the gate and immerse himself in wanting to learn,” said Pettine, who was with the Jets when Tim Tebow played in New York. “He’s not walking into the building with an entourage. He’s walking in as a teammate.
“And I think when you talk to the people at Texas A&M, the people who have been around him before, once he’s inside the locker room, he’s one of the most well-liked guys on the team.”
Pettine said last week during minicamp it’s hard for a rookie quarterback to win games and he’d prefer not to start one. He hasn’t changed his mind just because Manziel is on the roster.
“It’ll be a competition. I meant that when I said it,” Pettine said. “I don’t think you can hand jobs to people when they come in.
“There will be pressure to play him, but we’re in the business of evaluating who will be the best quarterback for the Browns.”
The incumbent is Brian Hoyer, a North Olmsted native and St. Ignatius graduate. Farmer texted Hoyer to let him know Manziel was coming and got the reply he expected: Bring it on.
“It’s as you would expect from a guy who’s a competitor,” Pettine said.
The Browns chose Manziel over Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and Fresno State quarterback Derek Carr. They may have wanted Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles, but he went No. 3 to Jacksonville.
The Browns then sent the fourth pick to Buffalo for No. 9 and first- and fourth-rounders in 2015. They traded a fifth-rounder this year (No. 145 overall) to Minnesota to move up one spot and assure themselves of Gilbert.
As Manziel waited with family and friends while 21 other players were taken, the chip on his narrow shoulders grew. But he didn’t get ahead of himself when asked about beating out Hoyer for the starting job.
“I don’t go into it like that,” Manziel said. “Brian obviously is a very good player who I really do respect, and he’s a teammate of mine now. I’m going in to try and show these guys that I’m obviously here to compete and see what I bring to the table.
“Obviously, that’s the coaches’ decision, and whatever happens in that regard will happen. That’s a teammate of mine, a guy who played extremely well last year until unfortunately he was sidelined by an injury. I’m just going to go in and get a chance to meet Brian and work with him. We’ll be together a lot. That’s a teammate of mine.”
Opinions vary greatly whether Manziel’s scrambling, improvisational style will translate to the NFL. He’s undersized and doesn’t have an elite arm, but he made plays and won games for the Aggies in the Southeastern Conference, the toughest league in America.
Manziel played 26 games in two seasons and completed 69 percent for 7,820 yards, 63 touchdowns and 22 interceptions. He rushed 345 times for 2,160 yards and 30 touchdowns.
“I don’t know if (his size) was really a problem for me,” Farmer said. “The game is changing. Either you evolve or get left behind.”
Manziel had been connected to the Browns for months, in part because Haslam liked him and wasn’t shy about it. Some people around the league suggested before the draft Haslam may assert his authority and demand Manziel be taken.
“Jimmy is just like he’s been the entire time,” Farmer said. “He asks a lot of questions, wants to be involved, makes his opinions known like we all do.
It’s a collaborative effort.
“At no point during the draft did Jimmy try to influence the decisions that were made. At no time did he try to push, shove, dictate what we were doing.”
The Browns will be unable to match the excitement of Day 1, but he draft continues through Saturday. Rounds 2 and 3 are tonight, and the Browns have a pick in each round.
Manziel is also expected to fly into town and be introduced at a news conference.
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