May 8, 2014

After a wait, it’s Johnny Cleveland

Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel takes his fall in the NFL draft in stride, says it’s still “a great story.”

First, it was the Houston Texans.

Then, the Jacksonville Jaguars. Then, the Cleveland Browns. And on it went with even the Dallas Cowboys passing on him.

Johnny Manziel surely didn’t lose count, though he insists that wasn’t the case.

The Texas A&M quarterback sat in the green room as 21 teams called other players’ names. The look on his face, as well as his body language, told the entire story: He was anything but happy.

The Browns, after passing on him twice — at No. 4 and again after trading back to No. 8 — finally traded up to get him. Manziel became the 22nd overall choice, as Cleveland traded up from 26, leaping the Kansas City Chiefs.

“It’s a great story,” Manziel said. “It’s great for me to end up there, the team that has fans that are as passionate as I am on the field and play with a lot of heart. Those guys are very passionate about a team that hasn’t had an incredible amount of success, and they still are very diehard, very loyal. That means a lot. At the same time, it means a lot this team traded up to take me.”

Manziel to the Cowboys, though, seemed like a match made in football heaven. The Cowboys are the team Manziel grew up rooting for. He and team owner Jerry Jones have established a relationship over the past two years, too, with Manziel even attending the NCAA Final Four in Jones’ suite.

The Cowboys, though, went with Notre Dame offensive lineman Zack Martin.

“I don’t know if the world could have handled that, honestly,” said Manziel, who wore a blue suit. “…I took every pick the same. Obviously, my relationship with Jerry and getting to know him a little bit over the past has been well documented. But I feel like they got a great player, and they did what they needed to do to help better their team.”

Manziel’s fall served as the biggest surprise in a draft of surprises.

The first two choices were minus drama as the Texans made South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney the first defensive player selected first overall since they took Mario Williams in 2006. That year, Houston passed on Texas quarterback Vince Young much to the chagrin of some fans.

St. Louis followed by taking Auburn offensive tackle Greg Robinson.

Then, Jacksonville selected a quarterback not named Manziel, taking Central Florida’s Blake Bortles with the third overall choice, and Buffalo traded up to No. 4 to nab Clemson receiver Sammy Watkins.

Not only was Manziel not the first quarterback off the board, but he wasn’t the first — or the second — Aggie.

A&M offensive tackle Jake Matthews went to the Atlanta Falcons at No. 6, and Aggies receiver Mike Evans followed to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a pick later.

Manziel gave the Aggies three first-round picks for the first time since 1994, though they had hoped to have all three go in the top 10.

It was a long wait, almost three hours until he got the phone call from Browns general manager Ray Farmer.

The crowd erupted when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell announced the selection, and Manziel did his trademark “cash out” sign — rubbing his thumb and fingers together — as he walked onstage.

“I felt going into this that everything would work itself out, and I was a true believer in that,” Manziel said. “Obviously, there were some spots where I thought I might end up, but when it didn’t happen, there was no list or no bitterness or grudge there.”

Browns fans already are in love with Manziel, even changing his nickname. They interrupted his press conference with chants of, “Johnny Cleveland!”

“It’s cool,” he said, smiling. “I’m ready to get to Cleveland.”

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