ESPN reports that Johnny Manziel and the Cleveland Browns have parted ways. It’s a bad break-up that many saw coming, bringing an end to a relationship no one truly thought would stand the test of time. As with many failed marriages, the soured relationship between Manziel and the Browns is one that had various red flags along the way. Some of us looked at the pairing as far back as NFL Draft Day 2014, having never bought the hype.
What were the six major signs the Johnny Manziel/Browns pairing was headed for failure? To quote Maria from The Sound of Music, “Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start!”
Johnny “Football” Manziel. Now that it’s all over, we can look at this and laugh, because who has “Football” for a middle name while taking themselves seriously? Who trademarks a nickname like “Johnny Football” while not having Unitas as a last name?
I’d say this might have been the first red flag that the Browns breezed past in their desperation to hope aboard the hype train.
The team drafted Manziel as a first round (No. 22) pick on Draft Day 2014 after trading with the Philadelphia Eagles for the opportunity. Retrospectively, not only was this a wasted pick, but it was a sign that the Browns’ priorities weren’t in order. Cleveland Browns had (and still has) quite a few issues that they needed to address. That first round pick was a golden opportunity to get dibs on the best possible player to do that.
Johnny Manziel arrived in the NFL, all hype and no proof that he would deliver goods — and some people were a little too okay with that.
It wasn’t wrong of the Browns to go for a quarterback, certainly not a top pick (which, we have to admit, he was when he was first drafted). However, as Manziel was immediately benched by former head coach Mike Pettine, some began to suspect that the franchise may have chosen a dud rather than a promising professional.
Was the public wrong to believe Johnny Manziel would start for the Cleveland Browns? Of all the NFL positions, the quarterback role is the most precarious; a bad quarterback can often mean a bad season. Many blame the decision to start Johnny during a crucial game against the Cincinnati Bengals as what ultimately killed the team’s playoff aspirations for the 2014-15 season.
Few teams want to take the risk, preferring to trade for professionals already in the league than risk an unproven college player. There are very few college quarterbacks that are “NFL ready” the very first season. A combination of rareness and high visibility makes this a nightmare position to draft for — but an exciting process for observers. The Johnny Manziel draft was no exception.
And yet, off he went to the bench, a red-shirted backup quarterback option. Cleveland fans and non-Cleveland fans alike were puzzled. Who puts “Johnny Football” on the bench? If one had to guess, it would be a coach who wasn’t seeing the qualities in Manziel that makes one a reliable starter — or even a reliable backup quarterback.
As things started to sour, it was slowly leaked to sports media outlets that Johnny Manziel wasn’t the promising football player the Browns expected him to be. To quote an ESPN special report, read the following.
“More than once, teammates corrected the play call in the huddle, or headed to the line hoping things would work because the call was wrong. Sometimes, the offense would get lined up wrong because Manziel forgot to read the whole play or got the verbiage wrong (saying ‘left’ instead of ‘right,’ for example).”
Learning the correct plays and play call wasn’t optional behavior for Johnny. He couldn’t simply “wing it” the way he had in college. Manziel was now at the professional level, and he needed to know this stuff. Not only was he struggling to grasp this crucial aspect of the NFL, but he also seemed preoccupied with something that would hasten his downfall: partying at every available opportunity.
It’s not like NFL players don’t have fun. Look at the Patriots’ Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski. He’s a fun-loving frat boy type, but when it’s game time, he definitely shows up for his team. Perhaps that’s why he’s not given nearly as much grief as Johnny Manziel was during his turbulent time with the Browns.
In fact, the criticism of Manziel’s off-field behavior started before his rookie season. Many questioned his decision to fly to Vegas rather than get to work familiarizing himself with the Cleveland Browns’ playbook. As an answer to naysayers, Johnny Manziel posted an image of the Browns’ playbook on Instagram, as if to say, “I can party and study at the same time!” We now know that this was and remains far from the truth.
Following a disastrous rookie season, where the public learned just how far off the rails Johnny’s partying had taken him, Manziel attempted to get himself back in everyone’s good graces with a much-needed trip to rehab.
Do old habits die hard or was this merely a publicity stunt? Anyone who’s had a problem with alcohol or knows someone who struggles with alcoholism can vouch that the act of going to rehab alone isn’t enough to overcome one’s personal demons. While it’s a step in the right direction, rehabilitation requires a sincere commitment. Perhaps Johnny Manziel entered rehab in early 2015 with the real hope of getting his personal and professional life back on track.
He had the support of the Cleveland franchise (at least publicly) at this point. Many football fans and pundits had hoped that this would signal a turnaround. Still, it may have been selfish of everyone to expect this issue to be resolved quickly. Manziel might have been better off staying in rehab rather than returning to the NFL — and to the various temptations that would allow him to spiral even further out of control.
The rehab saga should have been a sign that the Browns should have thought about replacing Johnny Manziel as quickly as possible. There were professional trade options they could have looked at that didn’t involve another Draft Day pick of an unproven or mediocre quarterback. However, the team had invested (both figuratively and literally) far too much to move on from Johnny Manziel. Instead of emotionally supporting him while covering their rears by buying a reliable quarterback, the Browns ultimately doubled down.
And then things got ugly.
The few times that Johnny Manziel started during his second season weren’t the utter disasters we experienced during his rookie season. Even so, it wasn’t enough to help the Cleveland Browns avoid a disastrous 3-13 finish. Incredibly, the story of Johnny’s second season wasn’t so much about the disappointment on the field as it was the disappointment off the field.
Manziel was caught up in two separate domestic disputes with his former girlfriend Colleen Crowley. The second of the two conflicts was allegedly so violent that Crowley suffered hearing loss. It was also during this highly controversial period the Browns learned Johnny had lied about his sobriety and reformation: He was back to his careless behavior and partying ways.
Johnny Manziel had made fools of the Cleveland Browns at a time when their football season was going horribly wrong. They trusted that their investment wouldn’t let the team down, and he did so — hard. This public humiliation and the inexcusable behavior proved to be the final straw.
At this point, it wasn’t a matter of if the Browns were going to dump the troubled Manziel, but instead a matter of when.
We got the answer to the “when” question on March 11, when it was officially announced that Johnny Manziel had been waived by the Cleveland Browns. As previously reported, the Browns likely picked the date because they could do so without having to risk exceeding the NFL’s salary cap.
The inevitable question now that this bad relationship is over is, “What happens now?” For Johnny Manziel, this could very well be the end of his time in the NFL. ProFootballTalk, quoting Deadspin, writes that calls are being made to blackball the quarterback.
“With the Browns (finally) dumping quarterback Johnny Manziel, the next question becomes whether someone else will give Manziel his latest second chance.”
“Former NFL player Heath Evans, who currently works for the NFL as one of its on-air NFL media analysts, thinks that all teams should be prevented from doing so.”
It could be that Johnny “Football” Manziel will go down in history as the most hyped NFL disappointment. He just might be remembered as a man, as demonstrated through these various warning signs, whose failure to adapt to professional football came down to his own poor choices and behavior.
[Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images]