Clearly undaunted by a Johnny Manziel draft afterparty that featured models, champagne fights and the rapper Drake — who wrote the lyric, “Draft day, Johnny Manziel/Five years later how am I the man still’’ — Cleveland embraced its new football brat like a raging rock star. In less than 12 hours, fans bought 2,300 season tickets for the heretofore hopeless Browns, guaranteeing every home game will be sold out next season. They collected copies of a local newspaper that blasted a front-page headline, “HERE’S JOHNNY!’’ They rejoiced as if Johnny Football personally would exorcise every five-decades-old demon that haunts the poor creature known as the Cleveland sports fan, including the departure of LeBron James and various The (Fill in the Defeat) crises through the years.
Trying to downplay any thought that he actually might be God, Manziel arrived in his apppointed dominion and said, “I think I’m Johnny Manziel. Johnny Football is what I am in the media and I’m accepting of it, but at the same time I know who I am. It doesn’t make me lose sleep at night.”
Juxtapose the hysteria to the scene in Jacksonville, where a quarterback who was taken 19 picks before Manziel — No. 3 in the entire draft — was greeted by a comparative yawn. At 6-5, Blake Bortles is 5 1/4 inches taller than Manziel, but beyond that, there are many reasons to believe Bortles won’t be nearly as productive and not remotely as dynamic and nationally magnetic. The NFL community remains skeptical of whether he’ll accomplish any more with the Jaguars than the last supposed QB savior, Blaine Gabbert, whose name also started with a B, as in Bust. Worse, management doesn’t have faith that Bortles is ready to start immediately, which should be standard procedure for the first QB selected in any draft, given the instant success of Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in their rookie seasons or, in lower rounds, Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. The journeyman Chad Henne will start until Bortles is ready, assuming he’s ever ready.
“This is not a quick journey,” said Jaguars general manager Dave Caldwell, now best known as the man who passed up Manziel for Blake Bortles. “It’s a marathon. Well, hopefully not a marathon. We want to build for the long term. Johnny’s a heck of a football player. Johnny’s game isn’t going to change a lot from Year 1 to Year 2. We felt Blake has some development from Year 1 to Year 2. This first year is going to be critical for him to develop.
“With Johnny, he’s always going to be Johnny. He’s going to be electric, he’s going to be dynamic, he’s a great player. But for our system and what we want to do offensively, we felt like Blake was the best fit.”
The best fit for who, exactly? It’s not fair making disgruntled Jaguars fans, assuming any are left in a town so bored that the upper deck is covered with a tarp, wait two more years for a quarterback who may or may not be able to play. Bortles was terrific at Central Florida and great in the BCS victory over Baylor, but dubious arm strength is a unique issue for a No. 3 pick in a draft. Isn’t life too short to wait for Blake Bortles, especially when Manziel is selling the season-ticket packages in Cleveland that could have been sold in Jacksonville? Why don’t “football men’’ like Caldwell realize, in the most successful and prospering sports league of all time, that thousands of empty seats should be a bigger immediate prority than the potential upside of Bortles? When the franchise is bleeding, you don’t even consider a possible tourniquet in Manziel?
“Obviously, I have things I need to work on,” Bortles said. “I’ve never looked at an NFL playbook, so there’s going to be challenges that I’m going to have to overcome, but I can’t wait to get there and work to be the best I can be and start competing.”
If Blake is the next Blaine, while Manziel is the next Brett Favre, the Jaguars may as well summon the moving vans and head to Los Angeles. Not a single fan will remain.