October 24, 2014

Medina
Partly sunny
46°F

Browns commentary: General manager Ray Farmer stuck to the plan

Elvis has entered the building. He wasn’t joined by any receivers.

After three days of trades, picks, reports, no-comments and huge emotional swings in Cleveland, the NFL Draft concluded Saturday night. The Browns opened the marathon with fireworks — cornerback Justin Gilbert and quarterback Johnny Manziel in the first round — then moved to the mundane.

General manager Ray Farmer showed no hesitation in his first draft running the show.

He proved to be a mover and shaker with a league-high-tying five trades while demonstrating the resolve to stick to his plan.

Despite an ESPN report that No. 1 receiver Josh Gordon faces an indefinite suspension that would cost him the entire season for failing a marijuana test and the reality that a broken arm will sideline No. 2 receiver Nate Burleson until training camp, Farmer refused to budge from his board to take a wideout.

To drive home his philosophies, Farmer traded pick No. 218 in the seventh round for Baltimore’s sixth-round pick in 2015. The Ravens took Wake Forest receiver Mike Campanaro.

Farmer, who said he surprised himself with the number of trades and added he was dubbed “Trader Ray” by other GMs, understands the fans’ reaction to the Gordon news but had a message.

“Frustration is a natural part of it,” Farmer said Saturday night. “I don’t fault anyone for being disappointed. 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 or doing something different. We have to build a football team that can win regardless of who is missing.”

The Browns made one pick Saturday, Lindenwood University (Mo.) cornerback Pierre Desir (6-foot-1, 198 pounds) at No. 127 in the fourth round. Then they were done; the rest of the picks traded away.

The final haul was six players at five positions — after opening the draft with 10 picks — and first-, fourth- and sixth-rounders in 2015. The selection everyone will remember is Manziel at No. 22 — the same spot as Brady Quinn in 2007 and Brandon Weeden in 2012.

The draft slot can’t predict performance, and Manziel is on a different planet than his predecessors.

“He’s not just a quarterback, he’s a celebrity. He’s Elvis Presley,” Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said. “More than anything, I do believe he’s going to be an outstanding NFL quarterback. He’s got a chance to knock it out of the park. We all know this.”

Dallas passed on Manziel at No. 16 despite having him No. 1 on its board because of Tony Romo’s oppressive contract. The Browns have Brian Hoyer under contract for one more year at a modest $1 million, and had no hesitation in adding Manziel. In fact, they traded a third-round pick to move up four spots to ensure they got him.

Manziel has already changed the vibe around the organization and raised its perception nationally. Whether he can reverse the fortunes on the field won’t be known for months or years, and will be intensely argued every second of the way.

The questions about his size, durability and talent to succeed in the pocket haven’t been answered. Neither have those about his commitment to football and ability to avoid trouble off the field.

Manziel seemed sincere Friday when, in front of a packed media center, he said he wanted to leave the Johnny Football persona behind him. The proof will come when he turns down offers to party from LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Drake in order to get a good night’s sleep so he can get to Browns headquarters by 7 a.m.

Farmer and first-year coach Mike Pettine wouldn’t have drafted Manziel if they weren’t convinced he was dedicated. They need him to succeed and will give him every chance.

Coordinator Kyle Shanahan knows how to build a scheme that takes advantage of the particular talents of his quarterback. He will design plays to get Manziel out of the pocket and away from the clutter that bothers shorter quarterbacks. He will utilize the quickness and instincts that captivated America, won a Heisman Trophy and made Manziel a first-round pick.

Manziel will need more help than that. He needs receivers to catch his darts and rainbows.

Farmer proceeded during the draft as if receiver wasn’t an issue, not choosing one from what was widely called a draft incredibly deep at the position. Thirty-three receivers were taken by the 31 other teams, and it’s only the second time since 2004 the Browns didn’t select one.

“I would tell the fans that are in panic mode because we didn’t draft a wide receiver that patience really tells the tale,” he said, adding that Seattle won a Super Bowl without high-profile wideouts. “There’s plenty of opportunity to add players, to change the roster and to really make a difference.”

As much as ESPN will keep its sole focus on Manziel, the Browns’ draft wasn’t all about Johnny.

And it definitely wasn’t all about Gordon, although the absence of perhaps their best offensive player would have a profound impact. The Browns may have realized that after a suspension last year and at least five failed drug tests through his college and two-plus-year NFL careers, they can’t rely on Gordon.

The draft was primarily about Farmer and Pettine putting their stamp on the roster in their first attempt.

They like tall cornerbacks, as evidenced by Gilbert and Desir. They addressed needs at corner, offensive line (Nevada’s Joel Bitonio at No. 35) and inside linebacker (Iowa’s Christian Kirksey at No. 71). They might’ve gotten a steal at No. 94 with Towson running back Terrance West, who rushed for 2,509 and 41 touchdowns as a senior.

Most of all the Browns were determined to add toughness. Pettine mentioned the attribute when discussing just about every player picked by the Browns. He was particularly effusive when discussing Bitonio, who’s expected to slide inside to guard.

“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.

“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.”

Then you pair them with a tough, little, playmaking, headline-grabbing quarterback … and call it a draft.

Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.