The 2014 NFL Draft will go down in history as one of the great all-time drafts. There are already 13 Pro Bowl players from the first round and several of the guys who didn't make it have had huge impacts. But it's also a draft that will live in infamy because of the Browns taking Johnny Manziel, a move that set the franchise back even further than they already were.
But what really makes the draft memorable is the Browns nearly didn't have a chance to take Manziel, because the Cowboys wanted to take him. One report featured a situation where Cowboys president Stephen Jones "snatched" the draft card with Manziel's name on it out of Cowboys GM/owner Jerry Jones' hand.
There is no debating this fact: Jerry himself admitted he was extremely close to drafting Manziel.
But there are new details surrounding the scene in the Cowboys war room that were revealed by Stephen during a profile of the younger Jones by Austin Murphy of Sports Illustrated earlier this month.
According to Stephen, Jerry had Manziel in his top 16 prospects and was pushing early on to draft the Texas A&M prospect.
The morning of the draft, Jerry wanted to run through the Cowboys prospects and tried to get Stephen to agree to take Manziel.
"I'll never forget that morning," recalls Stephen. "Jerry said, 'Let's go through the [prospects] again, make sure we all see eye to eye on how we've got 'em ranked.'" If Manziel was still there at 16, the patriarch added, "I assume we'd take him--wouldn't we?"
Replied Stephen, with some delicacy, "Well, I don't think we would."
"And Zack," Stephen reminded his father. Indeed, Dallas had Notre Dame guard Zack Martin higher on its board than Manziel. But Jerry wasn't making any promises.
So the draft rolled around and sure enough, none of those defensive players was left on the board. But Martin and Manziel both were. Everyone in the free world knew that Jerry was pushing to try and draft Manziel. It had been rumored leading up to the draft.
That's when things got awkward, with Jerry trying to drum up the requisite support to pull the trigger on Manziel. Jerry would describe himself as "lonely" sitting there, wanting the quarterback according to Murphy's story.
"So there we were, staring at Johnny and Zack Martin," Stephen says. Jerry went around the table trying to wrangle support for Manziel, but he came up empty. "Lonely is the right word," Jerry says. "I don't think there was another soul in the room" who shared the owner's enthusiasm for Johnny Football. Instead, Jerry suggested his team trade out of the pick. "But no one was calling to trade," explains Stephen. By this time the boss "was not happy," says the son. Exasperated, Jerry finally asked, "So no one in this room wants to take Johnny Manziel?"
That's when Stephen looked at Jerry and, according to his recollection of the moment, said "Dad, we need to take Zack." Jerry caved and the Cowboys pulled the trigger on the Notre Dame guard. It's worked out pretty well, with Martin becoming part of a dominant offensive line that's road-graded for the Cowboys over the last three years, two of which featured the league's leading rusher (DeMarco Murray in 2014 and Ezekiel Elliott in 2016).
Even in the moment, Jerry sounds miffed, having apparently told Stephen the decision to take Martin was "right down the middle."
"Son, I hope you're happy," Jerry said. "But let me tell you something: You don't get to own the Cowboys, you don't get to do special things in life, by making major decisions going right down the middle. And that" -- taking an offensive lineman over Johnny Football -- "was right down the middle."
Even in the moment everyone agreed it was the safe play, so it's not as if Jerry's opinion was that far off. Taking the hulking offensive lineman from Notre Dame who was going to shift to guard is the least sexy draft move of all time.
Taking Manziel? That is the bold, Jerry Jones-style play. But it would have been the wrong move. Manziel busted out of football in less than two years and is currently trying to stay sober and make a comeback.
Martin just wrapped up his third season of playing at a Pro Bowl level. The trickle-down effect of taking Manziel can't be overstated, either. The line would be substantially worse and the Cowboys probably never take Dak Prescott. The 13-3 season in 2016 is something that probably never happens if Stephen doesn't play it right down the middle.