Oh, it wasn’t even a year ago when Texans fans were clamoring for the team to take Johnny Manziel with the #1 overall pick in the draft; when Jerry Jones had to be physically restrained by his son from writing the Aggie legend’s name on the draft card; when the homeless guy who ordered Browns owner Jimmy Haslam to draft Johnny F—ing Football got his wish after Manziel’s long draft-day slide, late in the first round.
Of course, things didn’t turn out great for JFF in his first year, after he failed to wrest the starting job from the middling Brian Hoyer, suffered a handful of embarrassing quarters of football in his limited tenure under center, and eventually found his season ended for a suspension after missing a team meeting.
Now that the Browns season is over, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan (who quit) and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains (who was fired) are gone, the stories from inside the Cleveland camp about how badly he JFF’d up the team’s 2014 season are coming out. And they’re not pretty.
ESPN ran a story on Friday revealing the extent of the dysfunction in Cleveland surrounding Manziel, replete with insider sources of both the on-the-record and anonymous variety.
As one player put it, Manziel throughout the entire 2014 season was a “100 percent joke.”
Some said it should not have been a surprise, that the Browns were well aware what they were getting.
“During the draft process, not one person interviewed by the team said he was going to grow up,” said one source directly involved in the drafting of Manziel. “You can’t blame Johnny. This is who he is. The team knew that.” […]
[The last week of the season], Manziel stood in front of about 20 media members and outlined his plan to become the Browns’ answer at quarterback. He wanted to be “the guy” for Cleveland, he said, and would do so by taking his job more seriously. He was more animated than he’d been all year, eager to declare his intentions.
Four days later, stories in the Browns’ facility began to circulate. Manziel was not present the morning before the season finale. Team security drove to Manziel’s downtown home to check on him. The Browns were packing up for the season finale at Baltimore on Dec. 28.
Two team sources said security found a player who they felt clearly had partied hard the night before. One source used the words “drunk off his a–.”
If, at the beginning of the season, a poll had been taken by NFL fans about which rookie was most likely to miss a team meeting because he was “drunk off his ass,” Manziel would have probably scored about 70% of the vote. In retrospect, the 30% who might have believed in Manziel actually end up looking kind of foolish. But when you’re talking about anonymous sources in this story—especially anonymous sources who were apparently in the draft room—it’s hard not to suspect that Shanahan, who as the team’s key offensive assistant, would almost certainly have possessed the knowledge that ESPN’s source is said to have had, might be one of them. And if he jumped to Atlanta (where he’s serving in the same role for the Falcons) to avoid Manziel, it’s possible that he’s not the most objective source here.
Nevertheless, anti-Manziel sentiment is running rampant.
Part of that is probably because the schadenfreude-obsessed sports media hasn’t got much to talk about this week besides how Tom Brady likes his balls. But also it’s exciting for people when their stereotypes are confirmed, and Manziel did nothing to alter the image of Johnny Football, the party hound who’s more interested in buddying up with LeBron than getting ready for Sunday. (The sort of elbow-rubbing that ESPN notes may not be an option for him if he’s no longer an icon.)
Manziel led the NFL in jersey sales in July, before taking a training camp snap. His off-field star power is uncommon for most rookies: His super-friends include Drake and LeBron and Bieber.
“What Johnny has to understand is [if] he has another year like he just had, he’s not going to be famous anymore,” one NFL team exec said. “LeBron James is going to lose his number.”
In any case, the ESPN story opened the floodgates. Haslam, to the likely disappointment of the homeless guy, declared that the big question in Cleveland is whether the 2015 season’s quarterback is even on the roster right now. And the blogs have gotten even more harsh. SBNation ran a post on Friday declaring that it was “time for Browns to admit mistake, move on from Manziel,” urging the team to ditch a first-round draft pick after seven quarters of football. That’s a bold demand to make, but this is the time for bold—borderline absurd—demands among the sports press.
There are no shortage of pundits snarking on Manziel at this point. That’s part of the deal when you come into the league with as much hype as Manziel, but it seems like the ESPN report gave license to voice a lot of sentiment that was bubbling under the surface for a long time.
The Austin-based pseudonymous sports parody blogger PFT Commenter took on the dumb Manziel reactions in his column for SBnation this morning, referring to former Baylor star wide receiver Josh Gordon’s failed alcohol test, which’ll see the Browns player suspended for the 2015 season:
Now after the news broke my first thoughts were that obviously this is Robert Griffin’s fault. Griffin was Gordon’s teammate at Baylor and undoubtedly exposed him to the type of indifference and entitled attitude that would lead him down this path but I’ve got news for you folks. Its also Johnny Manziel’s fault.
Over the course of the past couple years I’ve become somewhat of a breaking news expert, breaking stories like Marc Trestman getting fired, and Terry Bradshaw making fun of Peyton Manning- you know- the important stuff. Well I got a hot tip on Saturday before the news came out that Gordon failed his alcohol test saying that partyboy Johnny Manziel was tossing back a few cold ones with none other then Mr Gordon himself.
The source said they saw Josh Gordon and Johnny Manziel at a “rave” in Austin, TX on Friday night- Manziel was sticking it to Mack Brown by hanging out a window and proving that the words Manziel, Austin, and Safety don’t belong anywhere near each other, and Gordon was spraying beer on people down below- spilling beer? Now thats what I call alcohol abuse folks!!!
The joke there is only a few steps to the left of the posts from other blogs pointing out that Manziel and Gordon were in Aspen together before Gordon’s suspension. In other words, we’re rapidly approaching Peak Manziel, when everything bad that can happen to a football team will be attributed to Manziel, no matter how thin or tenuous the connection.
It remains to be seen, of course, whether Manziel is actually good at football on the NFL level. And as long as that’s a question, it’s reasonable for leadership in Cleveland to be keeping their eyes open on potential upgrades at the position (one suspects Jerry Jones would give up something in order to bring the QB back to Texas). But the overblown reaction to Manziel and one ESPN profile whose anonymous sources likely includes a couple of coaches who have a vested interest in making Manziel sound like a monster is still ridiculous. But it’s going to be a long off-season, and we expect that “Should the Browns dump Johnny Manziel” is going to be a headline we see a lot of over the next seven months.
(AP Photo/Tony Dejak)