Better known in Northern Ohio as the “Browns’ Super Bowl”, Haslam, Pettine, Farmer and company came into the draft loaded with extra draft picks, including two first round picks. In addition, they had a ton of Salary Cap space, had maneuvered to eventually re-sign Free Agent players Alex Mack (C), Billy Cundiff (K), and Craig Robertson (LB), opted to let T.J. Ward (S), and starting Guard Shawn Lauvao leave via free agency, outright released D’Quell Jackson (LB) and both the starting and back-up Quarterbacks Brandon Weeden and Jason Campbell.
Leading up to the draft, they filled some of the holes created by free agent defections and outright releases by signing free agents Karlos Dansby (LB), Donte Whitner (S), Ben Tate (RB), Andrew Hawkins (WR) and Paul McQuistan (G).
From a fan’s perspective, the Browns’ draft strategy was crystal clear. There was only one quarterback returning from 2013 and he, Brian Hoyer, was in the midst of rehabbing an ACL injury sustained against Buffalo. Beyond that, Hoyer was generally regarded as a journeyman back-up quarterback. Having the 4th overall pick, the Browns, realistically, could have their choice of any of the top quarterbacks in the draft.
And then the bomb dropped. News broke that Josh Gordon, who had just finished leading the NFL in reception yards (playing in only 14 games due to a suspension in weeks 1 and 2), had failed yet another drug test and was staring a yearlong suspension right in the eyes. This changed everything. Do the Browns still spend #4 on a quarterback or do they go after the top wide receiver – Sammy Watkins?
. . . clack, clack, clack
Answer: None of the above. They traded down to #9 with the Bills (who did select Watkins at #4) and picked up a second 1st round pick and an additional 4th round pick in the 2015 draft. They then traded back up one spot to #8 and selected a cornerback – Justin Gilbert – to play opposite of Joe Haden.
Well, the Browns still had the #26 pick obtained from the Colts for RB Trent Richardson. Rumors of Jerry Jones’ Cowboys selecting Johnny Manziel with the 16th pick proved to be wrong so as late as the #17 pick, only Blake Bortles had been taken off the board (selected by the Jaguars with the 3rd overall pick). Once the next five picks were made, Ray Farmer waited no longer. He traded the 26th pick and a 3rd round pick (obtained from the Steelers the year before) up to the 22nd pick and selected QB Johnny Manziel. Heisman Trophy winner “Johnny Football” was coming to Cleveland!
Ray Farmer then filled some holes beginning in the second round by selecting Tackle Joel Bitonio (projected as a Guard at the NFL level). In the third round, he added LB Christian Kirksey and some running back depth with Terrance West. Then, in the 4th round, another cornerback in Pierre Desir. The Browns never did draft a wide receiver opting instead to sign veterans Miles Austin and Earl Bennett (who was later released) after the draft.
. . . clack, clack, clack