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Browns, Johnny Manziel need more from each other to make marriage work

4/13/2015

CLEVELAND -- This was not a celebrity doing Bikram yoga twice a week and calling it rehab. No Malibu hideouts. No nightclub pictures going viral every week.

For 10 weeks, Johnny Manziel disappeared into a gray existence to look for answers.

What awaits him after his release from a treatment facility last week is entirely up to him.

Every indication from those who have corresponded with Manziel the past two months is that he is in a good place mentally, and upon his return, the Browns will get a renewed person eager to become a productive pro.

That latest point had been expressed by Manziel himself, only his words became hollow because he hadn’t followed his own plans to change while still a rookie.

He must follow them now, as soon as he steps into the Browns’ facility, which could be as early as midweek. Manziel is expected to attend the start of offseason workouts April 20.

The Browns want Manziel to succeed. Any talk of the team's planning to cut the former first-round pick seems misguided. All along, the Browns basically have had two quarterback plans -- one with Manziel and one without. That doesn’t mean they don’t want the first plan to work. If Manziel shows he can be accurate on the field and grounded off it, there’s a chance for him here, though serious questions remain about Manziel's ability to make plays from the pocket in an NFL offense.

Writing him off after seven quarters was always too soon, just as making him the savior after seven months was always too early.

This is a second chance Johnny Football made possible by putting a torch to the first one. A third might not exist. This isn’t like Josh Gordon, who will keep getting chances because of his natural ability. The leash will be shorter for Manziel because of the polish and leadership required of a quarterback.

Make no mistake: The Browns play a role in this, too. They can do more.

This question arose more than once from sources interviewed for a January story chronicling Manziel’s rocky year: Did the team do enough to keep Manziel accountable?

As an avalanche of social media photos grabbed unwanted attention during Manziel’s offseason, coach Mike Pettine expressed disappointment but made clear the team wouldn’t micromanage players away from the field. Essentially, Manziel was treated like one of the guys.

Normally, that’s a quality stance.

But Manziel was never one of the guys. He became a mushrooming presence who needed help from himself. Maybe Manziel needed micromanaging.

Some in the building provided advice or guidance, specifically general manager Ray Farmer. But until teammates and owner Jimmy Haslam ripped Manziel, Gordon and fellow first-round rookie Justin Gilbert for missing team activities in Week 17, the public warnings to Manziel were scarce, as if the team hoped he would mature organically.

That hope fell off the table Jan. 28, the tipping point, when Manziel checked himself into a treatment facility, he said, to become a better family member, teammate and friend.

The Texas Rangers once dedicated a personnel staffer to Josh Hamilton in efforts to help the talented but troubled outfielder. It isn’t fair to directly compare Manziel’s case to Hamilton’s, but it is fair to wonder if a similar approach would be useful for Manziel.

Expect the Browns to create an offseason plan designed to help Manziel succeed while letting the franchise learn everything it needs to know about him. It should be fairly clear within the next six months whether Manziel is cut out for this. If he plays in 2015, things won't get easier in an offense that still needs more playmaking, despite the additions of Dwayne Bowe and others. For the sake of Manziel, Josh McCown or whoever starts, the Browns need to inject more playmakers into the offense through the draft later this month.

It’s easy to forget the Browns weren’t the only team enamored with Manziel during the past year’s draft process. The Vikings certainly were.

But the Browns were bold enough to draft him 22nd overall, despite obvious risks.

After easing his way back, perhaps Manziel will remind us of what teams liked about him in the first place, burying that red flag somewhere on the treatment facility grounds.