CANTON, Ohio – The Cleveland Browns have been busy shooting down reports that owner Jimmy Haslam ordered the team’s selection of quarterback Johnny Manziel, and Monday it came from Haslam himself.
Speaking to a packed house at the Hall of Fame Luncheon Club, Haslam said he needed to address "a rumor…that I had influenced the decision."
Haslam admitted to thinking "it was very important" that the Browns select a quarterback but said it was general manager Ray Farmer’s decision to first trade down with Buffalo and that it was Farmer’s decision to trade back up and select Manziel at pick No. 22.
"It was solely Ray’s call, not mine," Haslam said.
Earlier Monday, a report on the website of ESPN Cleveland — one of the team’s official radio partners — cited a source saying the Browns had a draft card with Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater’s name on it ready to turn in but 10 seconds before the pick was submitted, a new card with Manziel’s name was submitted at Haslam’s request.
Asked directly about that report at the team’s annual charity golf outing on Monday morning, Browns coach Mike Pettine called it "beyond laughable."
Haslam turned down interview requests after his speaking engagement.
In an interview taped Monday morning that aired Monday afternoon on the team’s internal radio show that airs on ESPN Cleveland, Haslam called the report "absolutely absurd" and said the Browns selected Manziel because he was the team’s highest-rated available quarterback, not because "he was from the SEC or (any reason) that he would help us at the box office."
During his address and subsequent Q&A session in Canton, Haslam said he did not attend any of the private workouts the Browns’ football decision makers held with prospects before the draft and told the crowd, "I’ve never watched tape. I don’t at all feel I’m an expert of football."
He did say he was aware of Manziel’s fame on and off the field and his success in two seasons at Texas A&M, where "he produced 93 touchdowns" and became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy in 2012. But even if Haslam has never watched coaches tape, he’s certainly watched Manziel.
"When you ring up 500 yards on Alabama two years in a row, you clearly can play football," Haslam said, adding that the Browns didn’t select Manziel for his "Johnny Football persona" but selected him "in spite of it."