Within a twenty-four-hour period, I took the time to watch the much talked about Netflix documentary Untold Johnny Football and the only 2023 Preseason Cleveland Browns home game versus the Washington Commanders. Last Thursday evening I was parked in my recliner and armed with a bowl of Cheez-Its and a sugar-free energy drink. I needed every bit of my favorite snack to subject myself to the awful memory of the Johnny Manziel tenure with the Cleveland Browns. What most people don’t remember is that the number seven draft pick that year was Oklahoma State cornerback Justin Gilbert. He was even more of a draft bust than Manziel. He just wasn’t in the same spotlight as Johnny Football. Gilbert played as many snaps for the Cleveland Browns as to how many minutes Johnny Manziel studied game tape. Which was zero zilch nada. That first round of the Cleveland Browns 2014 NFL was a colossal failure. The failure of both players wasn’t attributed to the dysfunction of the 2014 Cleveland, they were a mere symptom of it.
The documentary showed that when Johnny Manziel worked out for the Browns prior to the 2014 NFL Draft. He was suffering from a hangover. He partied so hard the prior night with his receivers, they couldn’t make it to the workout the next morning. Manziel had to throw passes to his agent and fellow coaches. Coincidentally, Justin Gilbert was drafted in the top 10 that year and no one from the Browns front office bothered to interview anyone from Oklahoma State much less the player himself. It was later discovered that Gilbert was struggling with mental health issues and as human beings, we all hoped that he got the help he needed. But you don’t spend a top-10 draft pick on the guy. Also, you don’t invest in another first-round pick on a quarterback with rumored alcohol and work ethic issues. It seemed as if the 2014 Cleveland Browns front office looked at recent mock drafts and picked these two players based on that alone. No other due diligence was done. It was no surprise that the Browns hit the reset button after the 2015 season. The change was needed, and rock bottom was hit with the 2017 season.
In the 2014 preseason game against the then-Washington Redskins, Johnny Manziel was fined $12,000 for giving the Washington sideline the one-finger salute. It was indicative of the Browns’ dysfunction that year. Fast forward nine years later to last Friday night, I was one of many people that braved the long weather delay to get an in-person glimpse of what the 2023 Cleveland Browns will look like. They were playing the same team that Manziel showed his immaturity to. That team has been renamed the Washington Commanders. And what I saw from the starters was the exact opposite of dysfunction. I witnessed a starting defense minus Myles Garrett record a sack and a safety. They were able to pressure the quarterback without the NFL’s top pass rusher. I saw an offense without Nick Chubb run the ball effectively and make plays. I have always cautioned myself about analyzing pre-season games in the NFL. In the pre-season, you want to see the team execute plays. You don’t want to see procedure penalties. You don’t want to see missed assignments. And most importantly, you want to see your quarterback play well. Deshaun Watson looked confident and sharp with his play. I would have liked to have seen his only drive end with a touchdown. But it didn’t, I also would have liked to have seen Cade York make his field goal attempt. I truly believe coaching, patience and perseverance will turn York around this season. The game last Friday showed how far the Cleveland Browns have come since the 2014 NFL Draft.
ESPN’s William Clay has ranked the Cleveland Browns Roster in the top five of the NFL. Other national NFL pundits are taking notice of this team as well. Will any of this translate to playoff football in January of 2024? Only time will tell. To be bold and honest, my January 2024 plans will involve me parked in my recliner with my favorite snack enjoying every second of it.