On Thursday, Jan, 22, 2015, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam had to admit his team still needs a quarterback. You know you’re an NFL franchise in deep trouble when you have three quarterbacks on your roster and not able—or willing—to identify one of them as your starter for the coming year. As reported by Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Haslam “stressed Thursday night that the Browns are on a mission to find a championship-caliber quarterback and that they have no idea if Johnny Manziel can be their man.”
That statement could potentially spell “The End” on the compendium documenting the rise and fall of Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel, in his first year after exiting college, early, for a chance at the big time. And yet, it didn’t have to be this way.
To Browns fans, Haslam said, “We’re going to continue to work really hard to find that quarterback who can make us a championship team.” What’s more, the Browns’ new offensive coordinator, made a statement in his first press conference Thursday that has made even more headlines. Mary Kay Cabot reported John DeFilippo saying: “We’re not sure if our starting quarterback is in the building right now or not.”
DeFilippo also later added the caveat that he was “eager to work with Johnny Manziel,” but that was a requisite bon mot, due to the exit of DeFilippo’s predecessor, who was outspokenly “not eager” to work with Manziel. Not to worry, Kyle Shanahan was hired to run the offense in Atlanta days later.
Meanwhile, it did not go unnoticed that Cardale Jones, who quarterbacked The Ohio State Buckeyes to a national championship, received same-night praise from Ohio’s favorite native son, LeBron James. The same man better known as Johnny Manziel’s big brother, co-agent, and great pal on Twitter. LeBron, it was reported, rushed onto the sidelines to personally congratulate Cardale right after the big Ohio State National Championship inaugural win.
Have LeBron James and Maverick Carter moved their attention forward to search for the next big college quarterback to sign? They’re in business to make money, not hang out with a bunch of friends. Time is money and both businessmen have been around long enough to know that lesson well.
If so, King James and the Maverick will have to wait a year for their next, new big Buckeye catch, the goose that might lay the golden egg. But what about Johnny? Their biggest coup last year? The same guy who they courted in college, courtside at Miami games; carried him high in preseason, included him in their movie premiere entourage last year for their movie division’s output, prophetically titled “Survivor’s Remorse.”
Johnny Manziel never counted on not being everyone’s first choice in Texas on draft night. Then again, he never counted on not being a favorite choice in Cleveland either. In fact, his time at Texas A&M never prepared the youngster for his life after the bright lights were refocused onto the next biggest thing, as is the way of the world of pro sports.
The Aggie athletic machinery didn’t care; they are just about to finish part two of the Kyle Field rebuild expansion made possible, many have said, as a result of the achievements of Johnny Football. There’s that, plus Texas A&M’s entry into the SEC, where football fans fly, drive, caravan and camp out to follow their teams around the southeast United States.
Those who kept heaping the lion’s share of the Aggies’ football successes on Johnny seemed to forget the contributions of Head Coach Kevin Sumlin and his staff for the most part. The same people also forgot that there was the offensive tackle (Jake Matthews) giving Johnny plenty of time and daylight to throw those passes or run through to escape down the field. There was also a future rookie of the year candidate (Mike Evans) catching passes, some of which were barely catchable.
The other talented Aggie players—who were not Johnny Football—were considered stars, but only to their future NFL teams, who chose them No. 6 and No. 7, respectively, in the same draft. Around Aggieland though, their names were for the most part relegated to the “Oh, yeah, he’s good,” and “Man, did you see how high he jumped to grab that pass?” And then the chatter moved back to Johnny again. Yet, NFL scouts don’t pay much attention to anything but production numbers and film.
Whatever decisions Manziel makes in the months between now and the 2015 draft to bring in fresh talent had better be the smartest decisions of his life. The actions he takes and focus he can commit to pursuing professional football as his “primary career” rather than being a celebrity without a masthead will determine his future in the NFL.
Could be he wanted to be traded long ago and was smart enough to craft a character whose unpredictability and penchant for making headlines would find him gladly traded to a team that plays in better weather most of the season. So far, that strategy hasn’t worked, or has it? Yet where would he go? What team has not been aware of his every off-field activity and on-field production? It’s a darned shame, really. The past year, he’s the one who has directed his actions and activities. Nowhere to look but into the mirror.
Ask any five-year-old in Texas who their favorite player is, the answer is bound to be “Johnny Football.” Now, ask any NFL fan in Texas that same question. Ask anyone in Cleveland. Their answers will not be the same. Therein lies the heart of the matter. You’re only as beloved as your last great victory. That’s one thing Manziel couldn’t learn in an online class and if others tried to advise him of same, he wouldn’t listen.
All season long, Manziel was benched so Hoyer could start, the only form of discipline the Browns seemed to have left in their quiver. Connor Shaw’s limited play early in the preseason was decidedly better than Manziel’s. The young South Carolina quarterback did a more than respectable job for the Browns late in the season after Hoyer was injured and Johnny pulled his hamstring. And yet, today, the starting quarterback may or may not be in “that building.”
Connor Shaw, the third-string Browns quarterback, likely will see more playing time than Manziel will in the season ahead, if both remain there without being traded. While Johnny was snagging headlines in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Shaw’s name didn’t see much ink print. He’d graduated high school in Georgia early to enroll in the University of South Carolina.
Johnny also graduated early, from Kerrville, Texas’ Tivy High School, to enroll early at A&M. Johnny’s red-shirt freshman season at A&M allowed him to concentrate on his studies, and he did very well in his studies, it was well known. But when Johnny won the starting job for the Aggies, not a sure thing until season opener, everyone knows the rest of that story. He couldn’t wait to be pro-eligible and get out of College Station, and everyone remembers that. It’s just youthful exuberance talking though, nothing that is unsurprising for a kid under 21 (at that time).
The difference is that the 23-year-old Connor Shaw (facts noted on University of South Carolina’s website) started as a true freshman quarterback, played in nine games, completed almost 70% of his passes and was the team’s fourth-leading rusher. Playing in his sophomore year Shaw set new records as the starter, moved to a bowl game win over Michigan that year, and by his senior year, became the “winningest quarterback in school history.”
More importantly, Shaw earned his degree in sport and entertainment management, even graduating a semester early. There is the biggest difference between the two rookies on the Browns’ roster this year. Two chronological years, a college degree plus two more years spent on a college campus. Shaw is also married and the couple are parents of a baby girl, so any off-field time is spent with family.
Shaw’s biggest concern recently, per his Twitter account, was on whether or not he and his wife and infant daughter might not be welcome in a South Carolina church sanctuary at the same time (some churches are picky about where infants are welcome, on the chance that they might cry and interrupt worship). Turns out the church welcomed the family with open arms. That’s the biggest controversy Connor Shaw stirs up. The Browns just have to love this guy.
Surely so, because the Browns have had enough of the “incident reports” at Cleveland’s The Loft: “was there an entourage or was there a party?” dilemma where police had to be called to break up a fight where Johnny was center of the (unwanted) attention, again. The rinse-and-repeat cycle with which Manziel faced reporters, promised to grow up, wanted to be “the guy” for Cleveland and faithfully vowed to make amends, was the same guy who assured people every week that he knew what he was doing.
Then Manziel failed to attend a mandatory team meeting and Browns’ security detail had to show up at his residence because he was not answering his cell phone. Lots of discussion ensued and heightened media consideration as to whether or not a party was thrown on the Friday night preceding the Saturday morning walk-through of a game weekend. “The guy” had just added more question marks as to his future value to the Browns’ organization without even stepping on the field. Brings to mind the old Baby Boomers’ favorite Highlights Magazine monthly column, “Goofus and Gallant.”
So, at the end of the day, what is the future of Johnny Football in Cleveland? For the past eight months, all of the Cleveland, Ohio, media and the Internet at large have finally become excited about the Browns, after years and years of cellar-dwelling. Drafting Manziel was the first, guardedly, bright spot to come their way in years. They made millions in ticket sales and merchandising. That was a big win.
The Dawg Pound became transfixed about the fate of the Cleveland Browns, from the 2014 NFL draft day, beginning when the Browns finally picked Johnny Manziel as their 22nd pick of the first round until today, when the Browns again look forward to 2015’s NFL Draft Day as they are still in search of a starting quarterback.
And the Browns still have Connor Shaw, and they’re still talking to Hoyer, but he wants the chance to compete as a starter. As things are right now, Shaw could become the guy, and before dismissing that as impossible, remember how many NFL starters sat on a bench for a while as well. On New Year’s Eve last month he tweeted “’14 was a miraculous year! From becoming a husband & father to achieving my life long dream in the NFL. Humbled & Blessed. Cheers to ’15!”
At the very least Shaw has a better shot at starting if the Browns don’t add a new QB into the mix in a few months, which they seem destined to do. Rather than look for another quarterback, the Browns might consider beefing up their offensive line, to benefit anyone who starts for them.
But what are they going to do with Johnny? Keep him because they have too much money tied up in him already? Likely there’s enough clauses broken in the iron-clad (sorta, kinda) contract that was developed for their new talent. The Snickers commercial shows Manziel as a sort-of character, Johnny JamBoogie, in a workout video while another actor steps in, wearing a Browns uniform, to give him the Snickers so he can morph and be himself again. Maybe life can imitate art again.
Talented college football players have just completed a one-year course of study in the business of professional athletics from afar watching the Manziel scenario play out. The first semester’s curriculum was “Welcome to the NFL: This is Not your Father’s Oldsmobile,” and the second semester was “The NFL stands for National Football League, or “Not a Fool’s League.”
Marcus Mariota is NFL-ready, to be sure. So is Jameis Winston, from a playing standpoint (if you overlook a few interceptions and a Pop-Warner style beginner’s fumble in the big bowl game) but with all the character issues now being more important than ever to pro teams, Jameis won’t very likely be picked early in the draft.
Johnny Football was responsible for selling more season tickets to Cleveland fans, each of whom wanted him to succeed ever as much as the Aggie faithful, who still consider him beloved today. One regent wanted to rename the school’s football field for him early on, but as it turns out that would have been a bad move. Yet again, just a month ago, the same regents wanted to rename the Academic building for the governor, and students acted quickly to put a quick kibosh on that plan. But those Aggie regents, well they’re exuberant if nothing else and passionate about football, and they have the best seats in the house, always.
But speaking of great seats, there sits Johnny in the Loft, if he’s currently still in Cleveland for the winter as he made a little video saying he was going to stay there and learn how to handle the weather. Wonder how many teammates want him to drop by and visit in the off season. Was he able to make new friends and bond with his fellow team members? Haven’t seen any photos of one other Cleveland Browns player out and about on the town with Johnny, come to think of it. It’s lonely at the top, but there’s also, as the wise man says, no “I” in team.
Manziel’s gone mostly radio silent on Twitter, which is a good thing, although he currently has 1.3 million folllowers, at least 1,000 of which are likely awaiting his next missive, so he’s still somewhat of an influencer of social media. Two days ago Johnny tweeted “I love @chipotletweets and 1,800 people retweeted that and 3,300 people favorite the tweet.
To those not on Twitter, that’s a really bad day at the office for a Manziel tweet. When all is said and done, he has 3 years left on his contract, a new gig with Arnold and Patrick Schwarzenegger and their muscle mix and whatever else was on the table during the season. And he may or may not be the guy in the building to start for the Browns.
What’s not a given is what the future holds for Johnny. It’s something that he is the only one to control, to be able to turn it around from failure to success and from individual to team focus. The saddest thing of all is that young Manziel really never saw this day coming, when the team owner would tell the world that he was looking for a quarterback. You can just hear the echo in the Loft as Johnny would have surely said out loud, “But what about me? I’m here.” Yes, he is, but who among the Browns’ owners and coaches cares today?
One solid NFL season, to come, would prove that Manziel has what it takes, and there may well be a team who believes he can be their No. 1, after he’s become a more humble, wiser quarterback for the experience. He has to show up, stand up, and play up, to prove that he’s not, as many in the South would say, “just a hot mess.” Time is running out. There’s no time left for indecision.
Is it already too late? Will the Browns give him another chance or find a way to trade him? The only way he’s going to find out is to get in “that building” that DeFilippo is talking about, and show him skills like he’s never shown a coach before. He is capable of becoming the Phoenix rising from the ashes. And the Browns currently have the No. 12 pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. The clock is ticking.