Given Johnny Manziel’s immaturity and complete lack of interest in committing himself to football instead of partying, his voluntary entry into rehabilitation for undisclosed problems appears to be a blatant attempt to throw a Hail Mary and save his career with the Cleveland Browns. In fact, considering his reputation, his entire career as a quarterback in the NFL is in jeopardy. For a Heisman Trophy winner and first round draft pick to have self-destructed to this degree in one season is hard to fathom. Somehow he managed it.
Are we to believe that Manziel woke up one morning after an especially rough night and realized that things had to change for his professional career to validate the “Johnny Football” nickname and not be used as a derogatory term of ridicule to be used in the same sentence with the phrase “Johnny Bust?” Or did he come to a different realization that being catered to, spoiled and babied while a schoolboy star in Texas wasn’t going to transfer to Cleveland as he began his pro career?
That the Browns are openly vacillating on his future made clear that something had to change. The key is whether it’s real. Rehab and perhaps converting to Christianity are the last, desperate measures that athletes, celebrities and politicians try to use to salvage their careers. Given the frequency of recidivism for drug and alcohol problems in general and with high-profile people in particular, it should be taken with a significant amount of hesitation before 28 days in a program is suddenly evidence that Manziel will be clean and sober and stay that way.
The personal problems and lack of dedication are one layer of what Manziel faces, but even if he was as clean-cut and determined as Tim Tebow, there’s still the looming question as to whether or not he’s good enough to be anything more than a journeyman backup in the league. In that sense, he’s like Tebow without the likability to get him chance after chance even if he doesn’t deserve it.
The hype machine and college success that created this image of Manziel as a future “star” doesn’t eliminate the obvious flaws in his game. Were he a prototype, 6’5”, 220 pound pocket passer with a rocket arm, he’d have the capital to act like a colossal jerk, party his brains out, alienate teammates, coaches, front office people, fans and media and get away with it.
He’s not a prototype and he’s not getting away with it. There are two layers to Manziel’s challenges in rebuilding his image and career: one, he doesn’t seem to want to work very hard; two, he might not be talented enough to be anything more than a bare minimum, game-managing starter even if he works 20 hours a day. That’s two strikes. The attitude is strike 2.2; the partying is strike 2.5; rehab is strike 2.8.
He’s running out of strikes.
When he was drafted, Manziel tried to mimic Tom Brady’s bravado by proclaiming his own future greatness, but he failed to do what Brady did and put in the work to make that a reality. Brady believed it. Manziel said it because it sounded good. There lies the difference between a Manziel and a Brady. Both have the bravado, but Brady had the ability and was, more importantly, willing to stay home at night and study his playbook in between workout sessions. Manziel’s eyes are apparently too bleary and bloodshot to read the top two lines of an eye chart, let alone a complicated Kyle Shanahan playbook. Shanahan’s gone now. While initially that appeared to be an accommodation to Manziel, it now appears that Shanahan simply didn’t want to deal with a player who couldn’t play and didn’t want to bother trying to maximize what limited skills he has.
Manziel may not have the ability and clearly expects everything to be as easy in the NFL as it’s been throughout his life. His commitment is wanting. He’d like to have the fringe benefits of being a football star without having to actually perform. If you told Brady that he could have the star status and a faltering career or a superlative career without the star status, he’d take the latter. That’s why Brady just won his fourth Super Bowl and why Manziel’s career might end before it starts.
Fans and media love a rise, but they love a fall even better. Manziel puts forth the impression that he doesn’t understand the difference between being on a big screen TV in an arena and being an exhibit in a zoo. He had every opportunity to win the starting job in training camp and didn’t. He got a chance to play late in the season, was atrocious and got hurt.
A minuscule amount of that is why the Browns are presenting a laissez faire attitude regarding Manziel. It’s his off-field behavior that’s the problem and that an offense will have to be tailored to what he can do, placing the team in a position where they’re drafting and signing players to cater to him and perhaps setting themselves back for an even longer period than they would if they cut ties with him or found a replacement, keeping him as a sideshow on the sideline wearing a baseball cap and holding a clipboard.
From the Browns’ perspective and contrary to prevailing sentiment, it won’t be a huge disaster if they have to move on from Manziel so quickly into his career. He wasn’t the first overall pick in the draft. He wasn’t even their first overall pick. For a 22nd pick in the first round, it’s easier to shrug, chalk it up to experience and move on rather than lament a massive mistake and make it worse by not accepting the truth: he might not be able to play and he’s definitely not invested in his on-field career.
So we come to the entrance into rehab. Seeing the situation deteriorating and the Browns basically telling him that he needs them, not vice versa, he or someone close to him decided that he had to take the tack of contrition instead of doubling down on bluster. Like everything with Manziel, it might be another shallow attempt at pretense. If that’s the case, his career is headed in the direction of other notable players who were famous for being famous and faded out before they realized the opportunity they’d blown. Then he’ll really begin to spiral. Then, it’s likely that he’ll really need rehab.