Browns’ owner supports GM Farmer, stands by Manziel
BEREA (AP) — Browns general manager Ray Farmer may still be in trouble with the NFL. However, his boss has his back.
Owner Jimmy Haslam said Wednesday that he’s given his “full support” to Farmer, who is at the center of a league investigation for sending text messages to the sideline during games.
Meeting for 50 minutes with select media members, Haslam said he has no plans to fire Famer, adding that the GM has told the team he made a mistake in sending the texts, a violation of league rules.
The Browns face suspensions, fines and the possible loss of draft picks because of Farmer’s actions, confirmed for the first time by Haslam.
The league has yet to announce any punishments from its probe.
“He made a mistake in sending those texts,” Haslam said. “Ray feels terrible about it. Ray’s a guy who has utmost integrity. Ray has the organization’s and my full support, and despite the fact that he made a mistake here, it does not affect his standing with the Browns.”
Haslam said he has not seen any of the texts and doesn’t believe Farmer’s motives for sending them were unscrupulous.
“I don’t think Ray intended to gain any unfair advantage and he’s learned from his mistakes,” Haslam said, refusing to address the issue further.
Farmer, who not publicly commented during the league’s investigation, was promoted last year when Haslam fired CEO Joe Banner and GM Michael Lombardi. The texting controversy caps a turbulent first season for Farmer which included his two first-round draft picks — cornerback Justin Gilbert and quarterback Johnny Manziel — underachieving and having off the-field issues.
Haslam still believes Farmer is the right person for the job, and said the young GM’s recent missteps do not outweigh his accomplishments.
“You have to look at an individual’s body of work,” he said. “We’re comfortable with Ray’s body of work. Ray’s smart. I think he’s an exceptional human being. As bad as I hate this (text situation) for the organization, I hate it more for Ray Farmer. I can tell you it eats him up every day.”
Haslam spoke with reporters in a conference room at the team’s training complex. Wearing a watch with the Browns orange helmet on its face, Haslam addressed several burning issues with his team, including the perceived dysfunction in the front office and Manziel, who recently checked into rehab.
Haslam praised Manziel for seeking treatment for an unspecified condition and said the team will continue to support the 22-year-old.
“I applaud him for raising his hand and saying, ‘I need help,”’ said Haslam, adding the team did not order Manziel to get counseling. “Our primary interest is making sure that he gets well, fixes himself — however long that takes. We hope Johnny can get that straightened out because we feel he’s a really good athlete and can help our team.
“But the first thing he’s got to do is get himself fixed.”
Haslam said the Browns still believe that Manziel, the former Heisman Trophy winner from Texas A&M who entered the league with a partying reputation, can develop into a solid starter.
“It’s way too early to give up on Johnny,” he said. “We certainly haven’t given up on him. Everybody’s way too harsh. He’s an easy guy to pile on and for everybody to give up on. I hope like heck he can get himself straightened out.”
Manziel’s rookie season was rocky. After serving as Brian Hoyer’s backup for 13 games, he played poorly in two starts, raising suspicions about his ability to play in the NFL. Following the season, Manziel acknowledged letting his teammates down and being a distraction. He entered rehab on Jan. 28.
While standing by Manziel, Haslam said the team remains committed to finding a franchise quarterback. The Browns have had 22 starting QBs since 1999, and Haslam said re-signing Hoyer is one of the many options the team will consider during the offseason.
Haslam recently went on a retreat with Farmer, coach Mike Pettine, team president Alec Scheiner and legal counsel Sashi Brown with the goal to strategize, discuss role responsibilities and bond. Haslam said it was the most productive week during his time as owner and he came away feeling confident about the team’s direction.
“I don’t at all want people to think we think everything is great,” he said. “We do work together. It’s not dysfunctional. We’re not at all satisfied and it’s not hunky-dory. OK? All I want to convey is we do get along.”
Among other topics:
— Haslam is disappointed in former Pro Bowl wide receiver Josh Gordon, recently suspended for one year without pay for multiple drug violations. Haslam said the team has no immediate plans to release him.
— The Browns will consider moving their training camp in the future — possibly to Columbus, Ohio — but it will remain in Berea this year.
— Despite an abundance of salary-cap space, Haslam said the Browns will “play less” in free agency.
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