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The Case For The Cleveland Browns (Still) Keeping Johnny Manziel

The Case For The Cleveland Browns (Still) Keeping Johnny Manziel

Gennifer Harding-Gosnell
[intro-text size=”25px”]The bigger they come, the harder they fall. Johnny Football barreled into Cleveland with the force of a batteram into a crack house. Manziel’s No. 2 jersey topped NFL sales within days of his being drafted to the Browns. The Dawg Pound believed.[/intro-text]

Two years later it’s a much different story. The man who wanted to “wreck this league” appears to be doing everything necessary to wreck his career. Some suggest it’s intentional, that he wants out of Cleveland and has found a shitty, but potentially quite effective, way to make it happen while possibly eyeing a move to the Cowboys in his home state of Texas. Cowboys fans have put in their two cents already; a website has been created to encourage Cowboys’ brass to make a move to get Manziel, while New Jersey governor/Cowboys fan Chris Christie has threatened the Tri-state area with an earthquake, saying he would “throw my body in front of the Johnny Manziel train if it heads toward Dallas.” Even a move there is starting to look impossible after the latest reports that Manziel has been handed a restraining order against the ex-girlfriend and will be investigated for assault by Dallas police.

No doubt that Johnny is polarizing; you love him or you hate him, and the number of Browns fans of the latter opinion grows by the day as his troubles off the field continue to add up. The debate to keep him or get rid of him almost isn’t even a debate anymore; most Browns fans are feeling inclined to just let Jerry Jones have him. Two of PressureLife’s Browns-loving writers take on the debate, for whatever still remains of it….

POINT:  Gennifer Harding-Gosnell thinks the Cleveland Browns should keep Johnny Manziel.

The Browns’ history with quarterbacks is famously abysmal and Manziel’s run has been no exception, but our other options are nothing to write home about either. Josh McCown is 37 years old and admittedly not a starter-caliber player. Austin Davis, Connor Shaw, Pat Devlin – they have not shown they’re lesser players than Manziel, but they have also not shown that they’re any better. Many heads in Cleveland are turning toward potential draft picks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz, whose NFL abilities are still obviously unknown. Browns fans often throw Teddy Bridgewater’s name out, that we could have had him instead, but who’s to say Bridgewater would have thrived in Pettine’s system?

Two of Cleveland’s three wins this year came with Manziel. He consistently had the support of his teammates. Despite his immaturity, he is intelligent; he scored a 32 on the Wonderlic test (Brady scored 33; Rodgers 35), and showed significant improvement in each successive turn in the driver’s seat, proving he learns quickly. Even Pettine regularly admitted Johnny was putting in the work they asked of him. His play never showed a lack of preparation; his missed connections were the fault of his receivers and poor decision-making all young quarterbacks need to overcome. His ability to scramble and make big plays, the skills that won him the Heisman, showed up on the field, including 108 yards of rushing against Kansas City. He’s not just a one-trick pony either; being a smart runner is great for a team like the Browns whose protection tends to be inconsistent, but when he’s throwing from the pocket and has an open receiver, he sees him and connects the ball to him with incredible speed. There’s a lot of potential there for a new head coach to be excited about.

Which brings me to Hue Jackson. He’s going to be a different coach, a different person than Pettine was. No one outside Berea can be certain what the relationship between Manziel and Pettine was really like, but it says a lot that Pettine wasn’t keenly aware of the baggage Johnny was really carrying around. Pettine and former Browns’ OC John DeFilippo also opted to not try to change Johnny’s throwing mechanics when it was revealed that his ¾ throwing motion was causing elbow soreness.  DeFilippo stated it was “really hard” to change a quarterback’s throwing style this far into his career. When does something being “really hard” become an excuse to not do it, especially in the NFL? And at 22, Johnny wasn’t that far into his career that his mechanics couldn’t be improved. The Browns’ coaching staff appears to have lacked the awareness, the resources and possibly the motivation to see Manziel improve as a player or a person; the reactive approach seems to have failed whereas being proactive may have saved them all a bit of trouble.     

Hue Jackson is a different guy. He’ll lead with a different style, implement a different system. Maybe it will work and maybe it won’t, but if Manziel and Jackson aren’t given the opportunity to try, we’ll never know. Even the Johnny-haters in the Browns’ fan base believe he’ll go to another team and flourish, so why not give him the opportunity to flourish here with what is, essentially, a new team?

Off-the-field issues are the main reason fans want him gone, but the reasons given tend to be personal opinions formed with zero personal knowledge. “He’s a douchebag” says someone who doesn’t know him personally. Unfortunately, being an asshole isn’t reason to get rid of him; lots of wankers play in the NFL. “He doesn’t want to play here” says someone who’s never asked him. Even if he doesn’t want to play here, if he doesn’t play well while he is here, no other team will be interested; he has no choice but to play well, which is ultimately to our benefit should he stay or go.

“He’s immature,” says a fan without acknowledging that he entered the league two years shy in age and experience than a typical rookie quarterback. “He’s a spoiled rich kid,” other fans say. And what do we know about rich kids? They are often more vulnerable and less prepared to handle the normal pressures of adulthood. His age, his background, the sudden spike in fame, the creation of the “Johnny Football” persona and the further launch into the NFL – the fact that he would have trouble handling it should have not only been expected but prepared for. It appears as though it wasn’t.

Now, suddenly, the words “mental illness” are trending in the Johnny Manziel social media world; fans are making less fun and showing more genuine concern. His ex-girlfriend stated in her report to the police  last weekend that Manziel’s behavior was “as if he were on some kind of drugs, but was also adamant about Jonathan not being intoxicated,” a typical appearance and behaviour of someone in the middle of a mental episode. Two days later his father shares with the media that his son is “suicidal” and “won’t live to see his 24th birthday” if he doesn’t get help. The Browns rang Manziel this week and received no response. “We’re not worried about Johnny Manziel the football player,” says Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, “we’re worried about Johnny Manziel the person.”

“Johnny Manziel the person” seems to no longer exist, only “Johnny Football.” The expectations, the pressure, the scrutiny, the media covering your every move, the public forum that is social media leaving your whole life to be picked apart by everyone from bloggers and writers like me to the most vile of Twitter trolls – no wonder he wore a disguise trying to go out in Vegas. But we all find out about it and take the piss out of him for that, too; it’s all bollocks.

Armchair-psychologists have declared him an addict though a diagnosis of such has never been publicly stated. A person with substance-abuse addiction is quite different than someone who depends on alcohol and drugs as self-medication to alleviate symptoms of an illness. Though I have no official diagnosis to work with either, the evidence we know to be true suggests mental illness far more than addiction.

Keeping him on the team, and hopefully ditching the “Johnny Football” persona in favor of “just Johnny Manziel,” means saving his arse, but more importantly, it could save his life. The NFL in general still falls short of ideal dealing with issues of mental illness. The Cleveland Browns have the opportunity to set the bar for how to handle these things the right way. At the absolute least, they could wait, give Manziel a month to receive a diagnosis and begin treatment in a psychiatric facility (not a rehab clinic) and then consider cutting him if he’s non-compliant when the salary cap increases on March 9 and they have room to swallow the $4.3 million they will lose releasing him, with the real intention of giving him a month to get stabilised. Brett Favre gave up abusing Vicodin when it caused him a seizure in 1996 and then went on to become, well…Brett Favre. New York Jets’ receiver Brandon Marshall was diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder in 2011 and has become the NFL’s strongest mental health advocate, in addition to his stellar playing career comeback. These things can be overcome.   

Drafting Manziel may have been an absolute mistake by Browns’ upper management, but to be fair, if we expect Johnny to take responsibility for his own behavior, why is Browns’ management not expected to take responsibility for theirs? Haslam wanted him, staff drafted him, the Cleveland Browns’ organization has a responsibility now to see it through to its end no matter how ugly it gets.

People become suicidal when they feel their case is hopeless, that there is zero chance life will ever get better. If Manziel truly is suicidal, offering to maintain his spot on the team would give him some hope. As Browns fans, I think we can all empathize with the need for feeling hope.


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