If you’re Johnny Manziel, you should never set expectations. Unfortunately Manziel, who was recently named Cleveland’s starting quarterback, did just that when he assured the team he would be on good behavior heading into the Week 11 bye.
“I let him [Mike Pettine] know I wouldn’t do anything that would be a distraction to this team or an embarrassment to the organization,” Manziel said to reporters last week.
A few days later, TMZ obtained footage of Manziel partying at nightclubs in Texas, allegedly on consecutive days last week. Sources told TMZ that Manziel “boozed” with friends all night long.
He didn’t harm anyone. There were no fights, no DUIs, no verbal sparring. But it was enough for Mike Pettine to demote his starting quarterback to third string, a clear signal that Manziel’s career with the Browns is tenuous at best.
Pettine released a statement Tuesday expressing his frustration with Manziel.
“I’m especially disappointed in his actions and behavior because he has been working very hard. The improvements from last year to this year have been tremendous but he still has to consistently demonstrate that he has gained a good understanding of what it takes to be successful at the quarterback position on this level. It goes well beyond the field. We are going to continue to support him in every way possible, but at this point, we’ve decided it’s best to go with Josh [McCown] as the starter going forward.”
In the statement, Pettine sounds like a caring parental figure. But in reality, almost every move Pettine has made—from naming McCown the starter at the onset of this season to his reluctance to immediately name Manziel the starter once he showed flashes in Week 9—suggests that he doesn’t want to hinge his career to Manziel.
Many, myself included, previously thought Pettine handled the Manziel situation like a stubborn authoritarian. After an off-season largely spent in rehab and an impressive preseason, Manziel seemingly deserved a leash this season, an easel with which to gain critical experience and potentially live up to that spark plug franchise quarterback Cleveland thought they drafted at No. 22 in 2014. It seemed as if Pettine was depriving a currently tortured fan base of their future.
But Pettine was right. If Manziel doesn’t have enough self-awareness to lay low during a bye week—particularly after he promised to do so—how can he be expected to assume the responsibility of starting quarterback in the NFL? To be a decision-maker? A leader?
Other players in the NFL are known partiers; Rob Gronkowski certainly comes to mind. But Gronk typically leaves his hedonism to the off-season. He’s also a tight end, not a quarterback. And fair or not, you can’t argue that Gronk’s partying ways has had an iota of negative impact on his performance.
Despite being given a rare opportunity to reverse his trajectory this season, Manziel is now stigmatized as a partier first, and football player second. It seems implausible at this point that he could waltz into the Browns locker room, or any locker room for that matter, and command respect.
Cleveland will trudge forward this season with a Josh McCown, a limited journeyman who is coming off a rib injury. Even with winnable games this week against Baltimore and in Week 14 against San Francisco, the immediate future for the 2–8 Browns looks almost as bleak as it does for their third-string quarterback.
It’s tough to envision Manziel turning it around in Cleveland at this point, certainly not while Pettine is the head coach. But he has two things going for him: youth and a mass lack of talent at the QB position. Yet to seize wherever that next chance may be, Manziel simply has to grow up. He has to know that cameras are lurking.
So next time Manziel promises good behavior, how about leading the paparazzi to a poetry reading. Or better yet, an all-nighter… studying a playbook.