Ray Farmer is in his first season as the Browns’ general manager. He recently discussed his feelings on the state of the team, its lightning-rod rookie quarterback and trying to be patient and prudent in an age that craves immediate gratification. Farmer joined the Browns as assistant GM in March 2013 after seven seasons (2006-2012) as Kansas City Chiefs director of pro personnel. He spent four seasons (2002-05) as a pro scout with the Atlanta Falcons, where he saw firsthand the emergence of Michael Vick as a star. Here are Part 1 and Part 2 of Farmer's interview.
The fascination with your quarterback, is it at the level that you anticipated or is it more than you expected?
Farmer: I think it’s right where I expected.
See, I say your quarterback and you know who I’m talking about (Johnny Manziel), even though he’s not even your starter.
Farmer: That’s OK. That’s an outside perception. Again, he’s drafted in the first round. Of course he’s got a great future with this franchise. I’ll ask, how long did it take Aaron Rodgers to play? He was drafted in the first round. Michael Vick was the first pick in the draft; how long did it take him to play? It’s a part of it. Guys grow up in different times.
As far as the fanfare and attention that Johnny gets, I will tell you that it’s interesting. It really is. I just find it fascinating that, why does everybody love this young man? Or why is everyone so fascinated by who he is or what he does? Yeah, he’s had success at the college level, no different from several other players who’ve won Heisman Trophies or been good. But somehow he has gone beyond that, and maybe it’s the information age of how things are so popular. Everybody is a member of the media to some point. Everybody’s got a camera phone; everybody’s uses Twitter. But I just think it’s fascinating.
I was in Atlanta when we had Michael Vick, and the Vick experience was rocking and rolling. Life was good. The reality is that [Manziel] is different, and for whatever reason that people find him different, it’s definitely made things interesting around here. People are more excited about Cleveland in part because of him. That’s a good thing. It’s fine that they follow him around and what to know what he’s doing. I would say -- and I’m not him, I don’t live in his shoes -- but it’s interesting when a man loses his anonymity and how that can potentially affect him.
What have you seen?
Farmer: It’s weird when you can’t walk out of your house without people wanting to look at you ... follow you or talk to you.
How have you seen it affect him?
Farmer: I don’t have anything to judge it on, other than how he’s been when he’s been here. I have the history of what people have told me when he was in college, but a college campus is much different circumstance than it is in the National Football League or any professional sport. The closest I have is, Grant Hill was in school when I was at Duke. It was like seeing Muhammad Ali walking around campus. G’s a normal guy. You can talk to him and hang out with him. But when other people saw him, it was like it was a catastrophic event and they want to spend some time with him.
I think Johnny is experiencing that same thing. For him, I think it’s becoming old hat. But I will tell you it’s very interesting when a person loses his anonymity. That’s probably the easiest way for me to classify it. It’s hard for some people to grasp it, but I would say, who would any of us be if we walked out there and everybody knew our name, what we looked like, and wanted a piece of us at 20-21 years old?
You made a comment I was curious about. You said the Michael Vick experience was different. How so? Vick was a pretty big phenomenon when he came out.
Farmer: Mike didn’t play his rookie year. It wasn’t a big deal [to the public], for whatever reason, but it wasn’t. Now fast-forward that to the next year. We win nine games [in Atlanta]. We go to the playoffs and win the first [postseason] game ever in Green Bay. People were fascinated by Mike; Mike had a rabid following. People were crazy about him, but it was different in that the media presence in Atlanta was not as great at that time as far as people wanting to come to training camp, wanting to be a part of what’s happening, as it is today with Johnny. It’s just different. Why that is, I don’t know. Mike was drafted first overall, did not play substantially as a rookie, and people didn’t put a great focus on it and I think it helped his maturation.
The thing is, I don’t think everyone understands that these players aren’t all the same. They’re different. Position players might play right away. Quarterbacks may not. A corner may not; I gave you Ronde Barber as an example. Guys come along at different speeds.
I’ll leave you on Johnny with this: In your time with him, have you seen anything that has led you to believe he can’t be what you envisioned when you drafted him?
Farmer: No. I think he is right where he’s supposed to be. I laugh because it’s four weeks into his first training camp, and everyone is waiting to see Steve Young run out the tunnel. I don’t know where the reality in that lies. Look at Steve Young’s past: USFL, Tampa [Bay Buccaneers], San Francisco behind Joe Montana. And it still took him time to get on the field.
But now, with the instant gratification that everyone is looking for, four weeks is just too much time. It should’ve happened eight weeks ago. So four weeks before the draft he should’ve been ready to play. I just don’t see any reality in that. It’s like anything else. If you’re learning a foreign language, guess what, you’re not going to go to Spain tomorrow and in four weeks feel like you’re fluent in the language and just start talking. It just doesn’t happen like that. You may be able to communicate, but not effectively.