Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones loves him some Johnny Manziel. He's made no secret of his admiration. So when the Cowboys didn't take their chance to grab the Heisman-winning quarterback at No. 16 overall in May's draft, many at Radio City Music Hall were shocked.
On Sunday, Jones revealed to NFL Network (via Clarence E. Hill Jr. of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram) just how close he was to rocking the football world:
I want you to know that almost as I was handing in the card, it was that close to putting that Manziel card in. It was that close. I looked over to my son, Stephen, our chief executive officer, and I said "I took the right pick." ... He was the top player by three players on our board at the time that we were sitting there looking at him.
The Cowboys selected Notre Dame offensive tackle Zack Martin instead. Manziel would later fall to No. 22, where the Cleveland Browns executed a trade with the Philadelphia Eagles to move up and land the former Texas A&M star. He enters Browns training camp in a position battle with veteran Brian Hoyer for the starting quarterback job.
Even though Hoyer remains the favorite in Cleveland, there was no question who'd be under center in Dallas. Tony Romo is in just the second year of a six-year, $108 million contract. The structure of his contract makes it virtually impossible for the Cowboys to move on until at least the 2016 season—and that's assuming there is no restructuring of the deal.
Jones acknowledged that Romo's presence was the overarching reason Manziel isn't in Dallas. The 71-year-old oil tycoon said his "expectation" was that Romo will remain under center for the next "several years."
That, of course, did not stop the always talkative Jones from heaping further praise upon Manziel.
"Manziel is special," Jones said. "I know him personally. I know that he is going to be a success in the National Football League, and it was a hard decision. And it is one that I will probably have for the rest of my career think about."
NFL Network's Ross Tucker didn't buy Jones' explanation:
Early indications are the Cowboys may have made the correct decision regardless of how Martin turns out. Manziel, 21, spent his offseason being tracked across the nation as he enjoyed his national celebrity. He was seen partying in Las Vegas with celebrities, and his off-field behavior became as much of a storyline as his on-field play.
Manziel's actions have brought an increased level of scrutiny to Browns training camp, and he admitted Friday to making some "rookie mistakes," per Pat McManamon of ESPN.com. Manziel said, "There were some things I wish I could have gone back and done a little differently."
Browns owner Jimmy Haslam addressed the subject Saturday, via Mary Kay Cabot of The Plain Dealer. "I don't want to wear this subject out," Haslam told reporters. "Johnny said it himself. He made some mistakes. We expect better from him. I'm sure he'll perform now. We're anxious to see what he can do on the field, which is what really counts."
Manziel's first couple days as a professional have not gone as planned either. Lindsay H. Jones of USA Today pointed out that Hoyer has clearly won their head-to-head battle over the first couple days of camp, writing, "it wouldn't be close." Hoyer, 28, excelled in a short sample last season before tearing his ACL.
If Manziel is unable to beat out Hoyer, it'd be difficult to see how he'd make much of an impact against Romo. For all of the criticism Romo receives (some fair, some not), he remains wildly productive as a whole. He threw for 3,828 yards and 31 touchdowns against 10 interceptions last season. It was his eighth straight season compiling a quarterback rating over 90.
It was also, unfortunately, his fourth straight season failing to lead the Cowboys to the playoffs. While Romo is far from the top of the blame list, it will be interesting to see how Jones' decision plays out over the long term. If Manziel is as successful as Jones thinks, Cowboys fans may have a Randy Moss situation for a new generation.
For now, though, it looks like Dallas made the prudent decision.
Follow Tyler Conway (@tylerconway22) on Twitter.