About a year ago, I wrote this. And nothing has convinced anyone of anything yet.
To be cliché, not much has changed, yet everything has changed. Miraculously, Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel is still on the team. He hasn’t committed any notable crimes, and he hasn’t regressed…
Given the current disposition of the Browns, it’s anyone’s guess how their offseason will unfold. Current general manager Ray Farmer is rumored to be on his way out, given his subpar draft record and embarrassing “textgate” infraction. Head coach Mike Pettine may or may not be back, as his team clearly took (several) steps back in many areas this season. While the Browns still have one more game on their schedule, the oft-repeated question of “What do we do with Johnny next year?” is sure to become louder and more prevalent, as the Browns face this difficult – and seemingly annual – decision.
To be fair, Manziel has improved considerably on the field. As of this writing, he has played in nine games, compiling 1,500 yards passing, with seven touchdown passes and five interceptions. He has also rushed for 230 yards, including 108 yards against the playoff-bound Chiefs this past Sunday. While these numbers aren’t necessarily outstanding, they show vast improvement over the green kid who once turned the wrong direction to deliver a routine handoff. There’s little question that Manziel’s awareness and instincts have begun to approach an acceptable NFL level. While we may never know whether Manziel is capable of starting, he’s at least offered some hope that his draft position and physical tools may yet prove of value…if not to Cleveland, than elsewhere.
Manziel has also proven to be oblivious to the media-driven age that we live in, having posted videos of himself presumably drinking alcohol on various social media outlets (this after spending a lengthy amount of time in rehab last spring). In one case, shortly after Manziel had been named the starter for an upcoming game against the Baltimore Ravens, a video surfaced and was brought to the attention of the Browns’ front office. When questioned about the video directly, Manziel told his coach it was old footage; a claim that was quickly disproven by the date stamps on the video itself. Manziel, benched as a result, was forced to sit and watch a battered Josh McCown and an overmatched Austin Davis suffer through a close but winnable game, one that Manziel certainly could have used to begin establishing himself. Through time and injury, Manziel has once again laid claim to the starting job through his mere presence alone, as he’s the only quarterback on the roster that’s remained healthy all season. He’s got one game left to prove he’s worth it…to somebody.
By all reports, Manziel has been a diligent, tireless worker inside the Browns’ facility. He has arrived early, stayed late, watched film, asked questions, worked out, and done all of the things one would expect a second-year aspiring quarterback to do.
So; it appears that’s still the overwhelming question while bearing all this in mind: Is Johnny worth it?
Is he worth the near-constant media attention? Is he worth the time and subpar performances he’s sure to deliver as a work in progress? Is it worth sacrificing a third first-round pick in the last four years on another quarterback? Is it worth the notion that this kid may never pan out as a starter?
We just don’t know. Manziel hasn’t provided much to say one way or the other. If you’re a believer that he should be thrown overboard because of his very-public persona, you may have a point. If you think his lying to his coach is deplorable, then clearly, you’ve had enough of this “experiment”. Manziel loves the spotlight and appears willing to sacrifice his word to remain within it, so it may be in the best interest of the Browns to jettison him and start over. There are other areas of the team that require attention, so the Browns could very well sign a journeyman quarterback or two, draft a mid-level quarterback to groom for the future, and hope for the best. Occasionally, this approach actually works. Most of the time, it doesn’t.
Should the Browns’ brain trust decide he is worth it, there’s obviously a number of things that would have to change, beginning with Manziel’s social media habits. It’s one thing to drink with your buddies in the comfort of someone’s home, away from the roving eyes of the camera-toting public. But when you’re posting videos of questionable behavior yourself? That’s just ridiculously ignorant, but should be correctable by instituting a ban on social media during the season, as many teams in many sports are starting to do. But there’s still the judgement issue. If deprived of social media to assuage his need for attention, where else would Manziel turn?
Still, this is a 23 year-old kid who’s been doing nothing more outrageous than you or I have (well…ME anyway). The fact that his moments keep appearing alongside news of Caitlyn Jenner is, of course, the (substantial) difference. If we were to judge him outside of the circus he’s created around himself, I suspect we wouldn’t see a whole lot of difference from ourselves at 23. We’ve all known people that have exhibited worse judgement than Manziel has, but they’ve remained safely anonymous and outside the public realm, where most “real” people live. Manziel doesn’t have that luxury.
So, for all the “haters” that will demean Manziel for being immature, clueless, inconsiderate, and dishonest, you’re absolutely right. For all the “apologists” that stress his newfound work ethic, his age, and his obvious strides at the position, you’re also absolutely right.
In closing, I’d just like to remind everyone that no matter what Manziel or the Browns do, it’s not our decision to make.
But it is ours to judge.
Happy New Year, AFCN!