The Browns promised last month, without explicitly saying it, that they would release Johnny Manziel when the new league year began. It took about a day and a half longer than expected, but that inevitable move finally came Friday.
“We’ve been clear about expectations for our players on and off the field. Johnny’s continual involvement in incidents that run counter to those expectations undermines the hard work of his teammates and the reputation of our organization,” Cleveland executive VP of football operations Sashi Brown said in early February. “His status with our team will be addressed when permitted by league rules. We will have no further comment at this time.”
New coach Hue Jackson did expand upon the issue eventually, using his press conference at the combine to echo Brown’s comments: “I think we all know and understand that we made a statement two weeks ago about Johnny Manziel, and I’m going to stand by that and I think his future on our team will be addressed here pretty soon. ... But I want to make sure we all understand that that behavior will not be tolerated. That’s all I want to say about it. I want to leave it at that. Our organization is going to take a stand, and we’re going to move on from those kind of situations as we move forward.”
Manziel’s collapse is just the latest and most high-profile headache for a Cleveland franchise that has long been unable to find itself a quarterback. The No. 22 pick in the 2014 draft, Manziel actually did show some signs of improvement when given a chance to play this past season—he threw for 1,500 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions plus rushed for 230 yards in 10 games (six starts).
Any on-field progress, though, was overshadowed by his constant missteps off it. Hardly a week passed without photos emerging on social media showing Manziel partying, despite his time in rehab last summer. Worse yet, Manziel has a case pending with a grand jury related to a domestic violence incident involving his ex-girlfriend in late January.
As the Browns cleaned house yet again following the 2015 season, it quickly became clear that Manziel had played his last down in Cleveland. What’s left to be determined is if he has seen his last NFL action, period.
The Browns’ front office no doubt called around the league prior to cutting Manziel, just in case another team felt like taking on their problem child. To no one’s surprise, no suitor emerged—and that’s despite a handful of clubs desperately searching high and low for a starting quarterback.
Manziel could be facing an NFL suspension for that incident with his ex-girlfriend, another hurdle in front of him as he tries to land another gig (assuming he wants one). Also worth noting as Manziel hits free agency: His agent dropped him just after Texas police released a report in which Manziel’s ex-girlfriend claimed he hit her multiple times.
Long story short, Manziel is on the brink of going down as one of the NFL’s all-time disappointments, and that is hardly the worst of his current worries.
The playmaking abilities he showed in college combined with the marginal improvements he displayed last season could earn him another look in the league, although interest likely would not pick up until well after the draft. There simply is no need for any team to take on the risk at the moment, not with five months of off-season ahead. Coaching staffs have enough to worry about right now without trying to keep track of a new depth quarterback.
And from Manziel’s perspective, the best thing for him may be to steer clear of an NFL roster anyway. His stint in rehab did not help him stay on the straight and narrow, and the Browns obviously couldn’t do the job either. Manziel has legal and personal issues to address before a franchise can trust him.
Will he ever reach a point where that trust is rebuilt? We’ll see. There will be many teams that won’t touch him—now, next month or ever. The Browns have at least started trying to wash their hands of this debacle.