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Before the NFL draft, I wrote that the Houston Texans would forever regret it if they didn't take a legendary Texan nicknamed Johnny Football with the No. 1 pick. I stand by that.
Now I'm beginning to wonder whether I will forever regret the Cleveland Browns taking Johnny Manziel with the 22nd pick. So much has happened since the moment the Texans opted for Jadeveon Clowney, and little if any of it bodes well for a 21-year-old rock star of a quarterback I believe can be a perennial Pro Bowler.
This was my immediate reaction when the Browns traded up from 26 to 22 to all-time steal Manziel: He one day will be even bigger in Cleveland than his buddy LeBron James ever was. No fandom has ever gone crazier over a 22nd pick than Cleveland's did. For Browns fans, who haven't had a long-running star QB since Otto Graham in the 1940s and '50s, it was as if Elvis had come back to life as a quarterback and gyrated right out of Cleveland's very own Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
But now, according to several league sources, it sounds as if the Browns' front office and coaching staff were dangerously split on Manziel. ESPN Cleveland reported that Teddy Bridgewater's name initially was written on the card to be handed in to commissioner Roger Goodell -- although new Browns coach Mike Pettine and new general manager Ray Farmer have denied that.
|Cleveland Browns fans were excited to welcome their new draft picks to town.|
But from what I've heard, Farmer and new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan weren't completely sold on Manziel. Yet, as Manziel began to fall through the first round -- even Jerry Jones passed on him at 16 even though he was the highest player left on the Cowboys' board -- Manziel texted new Browns quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains. He's only 33, served as Tennessee's offensive coordinator in 2012 and 2013, and hit it off with Manziel as the Browns evaluated him.
Loggains, an Arkansas native, divulged in a Thursday interview on ESPN Arkansas 96.3 that Manziel's text to him read: "I wish you guys would come get me. Hurry up and draft me so we can wreck this league together." Loggains said he forwarded the text to Pettine and to owner Jimmy Haslam, who clearly was impressed that a Heisman Trophy winner with a Hollywood aura was so excited about playing in Cleveland, Ohio.
Loggains said Haslam's reponse was: "Pull the trigger. We're trading up to get this guy." Good for Haslam. Yet, according to Loggains, it took the owner overruling others on the staff for Manziel to be a Brown. The others might not be too happy with Loggains for going public with this. This could deepen the staff divide on Manziel.
So I'm left with the queasy feeling Manziel wanted to be a Brown far more than the organization wanted him. Remember, the Browns passed on Manziel twice, at No. 4 and 8. Now comes a report from CBS Sports that, during the draft, the Browns offered Washington a fourth-round pick for quarterback Kirk Cousins, surely at the urging of former Redskins coordinator Kyle Shanahan. Washington reportedly held out for a second-rounder, though, and the deal fell through.
Here I go again: A Redskins source told me two years ago that Mike Shanahan (and coordinator son Kyle) weren't nearly as sold on Robert Griffin III as owner Dan Snyder, who pushed to trade up to No. 2 to take him. I was so convinced about RG3 that I predicted he'd turn out to be even better than Andrew Luck -- and he certainly outplayed Luck in their rookie season.
But predictably, RG3 never quite clicked with the Shanahans. Subtle friction flared into open warfare. RG3 just wasn't Their Guy. Now, it's possible Manziel won't be Kyle's Guy. You either really, really love the way Johnny Football plays -- or you just don't. Loggains clearly does, but coordinator Kyle Shanahan will be the one running the offense and calling the plays.
Manziel has a high football IQ, pride twice his size and a sixth sense for playmaking that will quickly offend an NFL playcaller with a big ego or blue bloodlines to a father with two Super Bowl rings. Good luck, Johnny.
As I preached on "First Take" before the draft: Whoever takes Manziel must be all-in. Yet it sounded as if owner Haslam was trying to placate the anti-Manziel faction in his organization when he told a Pro Football Hall of Fame luncheon in Canton, Ohio, that Manziel has been told he's the backup (to Brian Hoyer) and that he should "act like the backup" because Cleveland "isn't Hollywood."
|In December, Johnny Manziel was already sharing screen time with Megan Fox on "The Tonight Show."|
No, Mr. Haslam, you want Johnny Manziel to walk into the locker room for tomorrow's rookie minicamp as if he owns the team, and you want him to immediately start backing it up on the field. You want Johnny Football to start treating Cleveland as if it's the new Hollywood, national media destination because he believes this franchise is headed through Cincinnati and Baltimore and Pittsburgh toward its first Super Bowl.
Johnny Cleveland can make you Jimmy Football, if you let him, Mr. Haslam.
Yet: I must admit, Haslam's message to Manziel might concern his after-hours behavior even more than his rookie humility. I've now heard from several sources that the main reason Manziel fell to 22 had more to do with his partying/drinking than his height/durability/scrambling.
One story that made the NFL rounds just before the draft: The Texans had asked Manziel to lie low and remain on his best behavior. Yet, about a month before the draft, Manziel attended the Masters where he appeared to have too much to drink.
For the record, he was with his dad and uncle, and Jordan Spieth, who led the Masters through seven holes on Sunday, is one of his closest friends.
But I've said on air several times over the past two years that Manziel's drinking disturbs me. I'll also be the first to admit I overreact to alcohol abuse because my father drank himself to death by the time I was 22 (cirrhosis of the liver, thanks to vodka and Coke from breakfast to bedtime) while my mother finally saved herself by going to Alcoholics Anonymous. Forty years she has stayed sober, yet she will not miss a weekly meeting because, she says, she has a disease.
I watched my mother's brother drink himself to death at age 38, and my grandmother sometimes had to send me to the basement when my grandfather came home -- he was a raging bull of a drunk. I know alcohol, and I don't drink.
I've been around Manziel enough to say I do not see can't-stop alcoholic tendencies in him. Not yet. But his highly publicized lapses in judgment sometimes involved senses dulled by strong drink.
From the police report after the bar-district fight that landed him in jail his freshman year at Texas A&M: "[Manziel] appeared to be so intoxicated that he could not answer my questions about the incident."
Manziel, a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy, got sent home by Peyton and Eli's father, Archie, for staying out all night on Bourbon Street and missing a morning session, according to several reports.
Heisman winner Manziel risked another fight by showing up at a fraternity party on the campus of archrival University of Texas: the school he had dreamed of playing for, and the school that didn't recruit him. Hard to believe he was completely sober.
|Johnny Manziel has gotten attention in the past for his partying.|
In a piercing ESPN The Magazine piece by Wright Thompson that appeared in July on ESPN.com, Manziel's father, Paul, indicated that Johnny drinks to deal with the stress of being Johnny Football -- a scary sign. Thompson reported that Manziel's parents and coach Kevin Sumlin mandated that Johnny visit an alcohol counselor, which he did for six or seven weeks last season.
Yet Manziel said at the scouting combine that he did not see an alcohol counselor, only a life counselor. So, once again, I cringed the morning after the draft at this picture in the New York Post: life-of-the-party Johnny, at the New York hot spot Avenue, chugging from an oversized bottle of Champagne.
One reason it probably was best Jerry Jones didn't draft Manziel: Dallas hot spots have seduced many a Cowboy into downfalls.
Yet Manziel has told me several times that alcohol is not an issue for him, and, in response to a question I asked him this week, he texted that not a single team before the draft asked whether he would undergo alcohol counseling -- including the Browns.
Obviously many pro athletes before Manziel have been able to regularly get drunk without letting alcohol take over their lives or hurt their on-field performances. But few have been a Texas legend and a national phenomenon at 21. Manziel sold more jerseys the weekend after he was drafted than RG III, Luck and Tim Tebow combined. He's Bieberesque.
Remember, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is filled with cautionary tales of 20-somethings who kept trying to escape the pressure of living up to their runaway fame until they permanently escaped -- from Janis Joplin to Jimi Hendrix.
I know Manziel got sick and tired of private investigators from NFL teams digging into his private life. I know he loves/hates the pressure of being Johnny Football. What if he and Kyle Shanahan begin to clash and the stress closes in on him in a cold place far, far from southeast Texas? Here's hoping Johnny Football doesn't become derisively nicknamed Johnny Walker.
Josh Gordon, the NFL's breakout star last year, campaigned on "First Take" for the Browns to take Manziel. Then, the day after they did, this story punctured the euphoria: Gordon has again fallen to his demons and faces a potential season-long suspension for again testing positive for marijuana.
Terrible break for Manziel. Maybe getting drafted by Cleveland was, too.