- Jeremy Fowler, ESPN Senior NFL Writer
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CLEVELAND -- After a poor performance in seven quarters as a rookie and a 10-week stint in treatment, trade rumors and public discourse about lost trust seemed inevitable.
Johnny Manziel has been floated as a trade piece for Sam Bradford efforts on a Bleacher Report video blog, as Jason Cole says the Cleveland Browns "tossed around" the idea as part of a bigger package.
Trust has become a buzz word attached to Manziel since left tackle Joe Thomas told ESPN Cleveland 850 the quarterback essentially lost trust "among the guys on the team last year."
Similar issues will persist until two things happen: Manziel gets right off the field (which he’s clearly trying to do) and gets more accurate on it. That's how all of this goes away.
The Bradford possibility still isn't going away, and with two first-round picks, the Browns would be foolish not to entertain all possibilities. But a Bradford deal never has felt imminent, or anything close. Getting the Browns' No. 19 overall pick gives Eagles coach Chip Kelly the 19th and 20th picks, which is probably not enough to get Marcus Mariota. Colleague Pat McManamon has maintained the Browns never included Manziel in talks with the Rams about Bradford.
Thomas’ comments hold weight because they come from a team leader.
Thomas was supportive of Manziel in his quotes, but highlighting a lack of trust suggests a problem has bubbled for a while. An ESPN.com story chronicling Manziel’s rocky rookie season explained how some felt Manziel did not display a full commitment to the job while dealing with the pull of his off-field persona.
Center Alex Mack isn’t one of those people, based on comments this week to Sirius XM: "I think he can be the long-term answer in Cleveland at quarterback and I don’t think he has to earn my trust back." Not sure what the direct question to Mack was, perhaps something related to Thomas’ stance. When speaking to Mack in late March, he said he felt Manziel was at the facility a lot as a rookie and put in the necessary work. Mack expects a "quarterback battle" between Manziel and Josh McCown.
Saying Manziel can be the long-term answer requires more than trust from Mack -- it requires a level of faith too. It’s worth noting Mack already was done for the season when Manziel became the starter in Week 15, but he has seen Manziel in training camp, practices and team meetings.
These offseason quotes are easy to dissect, but they won’t matter to Manziel if he shows the necessary changes.
The postseason messages from coach Mike Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer still ring true about Manziel: Only his actions will validate his own words, or disprove the words of others.
The Browns will have Manziel back and work him into the quarterback room. The next six months will help the Browns assess what they truly have in Manziel, who seemed a prime candidate for a proverbial redshirt year despite the off-field problems because of his inexperience in pro-style sets.
Trust can’t be regained by simply asking for it back. Manziel knows that, of course.
On-field production is the only way to command leadership in a locker room, but this is a process. Positioning himself to maximize his potential will be an important step.