Browns owner says Manziel not the starter
By George M. Thomas
CANTON, Ohio -- Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam stated unequivocally that rookie Johnny Manziel will not be handed the starting quarterback's job.
The Browns drafted Texas A&M's star quarterback with the No. 22 pick Thursday night after making a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Manziel ended up as the second quarterback selected in the draft behind Blake Bortles of Central Florida, who went to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Given Manziel's numbers -- 7,820 passing yards, 2,169 rushing yards and having a hand in 93 touchdowns -- Northeast Ohio reacted accordingly.
Fans lined up to buy Manziel's jersey at the team shop at FirstEnergy Stadium before it opened Friday morning. The Browns sold or renewed more than 2,400 season-ticket packages and the team's website traffic increased exponentially.
In a Monday appearance at the Hall of Fame Luncheon Club in Canton, Haslam dosed the area with a touch of reality during his Q&A session with members of the audience.
He said Cleveland native Brian Hoyer, who is ahead in his recovery from surgery on his anterior cruciate ligament, is the Browns' starter.
With Manziel comes fame, fortune when he signs his contract, and an unmistakable aura. But the starting position has to be earned.
Haslam said that in discussions with team officials, Manziel has been told what Northeast Ohio is -- hard working and blue collar. He's also been told what it isn't -- Hollywood.
"Mike Pettine says it very well: 'Johnny, right now you're our backup quarterback and you need to act as such,' " Haslam told the audience.
But even Haslam isn't ignorant of Manziel's alter ego.
"I think there is a Johnny Football aura out there, and there's nothing wrong with that," he said. "It is what it is."
But he also said that Manziel has been receptive to the Browns' message.
"I think you will find a hard working serious guy that doesn't want to be a three-year-in-the-league flash and out who makes a lot of money on endorsements," he said.
However, the reality of pro football is the backup quarterback is always the most popular guy with fans. What happens if Hoyer -- who Haslam said is a good football player and is tough, the kind of guy wanted in the position -- struggles early in the season?
"I think that's why you want to have a football coach that thinks long term and is tough, who is going to do the right thing for the team. That's the kind of coach Mike Pettine is," he said.
Along with 6-foot Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert, the drafting of Manziel on Thursday proved to be one of the highlights -- from an excitement point of view -- of the Browns' draft weekend.
But the bubble soon burst Friday when reports surfaced that wide receiver Josh Gordon faced a potential season-long ban for violation of the league's substance abuse policy, a significant blow to the Browns' offensive fortunes.
League policy prohibits the team from talking about the issue, but it doesn't sound as if Haslam is prepared to write Gordon off.
"All of us have made mistakes at that age (22) and we're counting on Josh to be a good football player for the Browns for a long time to come," he said.
"I've been very pleased with his professional growth over the last year and the way he handles himself."
According to reports, Browns officials knew of Gordon's situation and still didn't draft a wide receiver, something that baffled fans.
"I think coach Pettine's philosophy and (General Manager Ray Farmer's) philosophy is the two most important positions on the field is cornerback and quarterback," Haslam said. "So we felt it was very important to get a another lock-down cornerback, so we feel very comfortable with that selection."
He chose that moment to also correct a Monday morning report that said he used his influence in the draft process.
According to a report from ESPN Cleveland (WKNR), the Browns originally planned to draft Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, but just seconds before deadline a card with Bridgewater's name was replaced with a card with Manziel's, name.
Haslam denied it.
"I thought it was very important that we take a quarterback this year," he said. "We picked the top-rated quarterback on our board when he was available. That was solely Ray's call, not my call."
Haslam and his team will have to wait to see what fruit this draft bears, and Haslam is realistic regarding the Browns' status in the league, at least with respect to scheduling.
One 4 p.m. start and one prime-time game on the NFL Network tells him that.
"That's our fault." Haslam said. "It's a direct reflection of how well you play and when you're 4-12, you don't get the good games, so we've got to fix that.
"We've got to be better. When we're better, we'll play at a different time. Hopefully Johnny being a good quarterback will help us do that."