CLEVELAND -- Although many mock drafts are projecting that the Cleveland Browns will take former Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel with the No. 4 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, "Johnny Football" may not be coming to the North Coast after all.
According to first-year Browns coach Mike Pettine, who spoke to the media after an autograph signing at the Cleveland Auto Show Monday, the team did not have a formal interview with Manziel at last month's NFL Scouting Combine.
"We didn't speak to him," Pettine said. "I didn't, personally, as part of the formal interviews, but as we go through, not to talk about a specific guy, but as we evaluate those positions, we'll make sure that whatever access we need to get to that player and have interaction with him, we'll make sure we get that done."
The Browns' coaches and front office have been evaluating the roster since Pettine was brought on board at the end of January. Since then, the team has released eight-year veteran inside linebacker D'Qwell Jackson and elected not to place the franchise tag on safety T.J. Ward, who will become a free agent at the beginning of the new league year later this month.
"I think there were a lot of factors that went into it," Pettine said of Jackson's release. "We had long discussions about it. We reached out to D'Qwell and his agent and we just really couldn't come to a middle ground with where we saw his role and where he saw his role. We felt, and he felt as well, it would be better to happen sooner than later. He's a special NFL player. I think he's making his third visit right now, but we felt that was in everybody's best interest.
"You can't ask a guy to be leaders. You can't force guys to be leaders. That's not something we're going to do. You can't do that, but to me, that's also the role of coaches. If you don't have natural leadership in the locker room, then, the coaches have to become that. Once the roster's assembled, we'll see what's there from a leadership standpoint and act accordingly."
With the NFL Scouting Combine in the rearview mirror and free agency set to begin in a matter of weeks, the Browns' coaches and front-office personnel can continue shaping the roster and readying the team for training camp.
"We've gotten past the combine and completed our objectives there and have a pretty good plan moving forward between now and free agency and that's working toward getting the players in and starting to get excited about the draft," Pettine said. "The combine gets you juiced up about that. You get access to those players. You get to interview them. You get to see them on the field. It's an exciting time. We've got a lot on our plate, but I think we've got just the staff to handle it.
"I think our staff's very excited about it. There's a lot of pieces in place, but I also think we realized there were some areas where we needed to add depth. That's why with the cap space that we have and the number of draft picks that we have that it's so appealing. We'll be able to turn over some of those spots that we feel there might be some needs."