Johnny Manziel is a 21-year-old celebrity who happens to be a football player, and he’s in the news again.
Whether he’s guilty of anything besides being a celebrity or not, that he hasn’t appeared in a game in 11 weeks but is back in the news for an alleged late-night fight while the Cleveland Browns are 7-4 and competing for a playoff spot isn’t a good thing. Backup quarterbacks are supposed to be neither seen nor heard.
First, there’s zero proof Manziel did anything wrong. That’s important. This is a free country, and the freedom to let Friday night turn into 2:36 Saturday morning is certainly one many of us have exercised at one time or another.
Evidence points to Manziel usually choosing another.
The Browns have a right to wish he’d choose differently.
Monday brought news that Manziel was headed home early last Saturday morning when he apparently ran into an overzealous fan in the lobby of his apartment complex. That fan says he approached Manziel, professed his fandom and admiration, and possibly got a little too close.
It’s all in the police report, starting with the police response at 2:36. Punches were thrown. A security guard apparently got injured as bodies went flying. The police talked to folks on both sides once things calmed down.
There’s a videotape, presumably. When it comes to the truth, it sounds like something that won’t be all that difficult to sort out.
It also sounds like something that could have been avoided.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, not long after Cleveland Scene Magazine reported that Manziel was involved in a fight, Browns general manager Ray Farmer said, "Tthe time of the incident is concerning to us. We continually stress to all of our players the importance of sound decision making in an effort to avoid putting themselves in these types of situations."
Farmer’s statement was for the media. It sounded like a message for Manziel.
A message that sort of said: "Game film > surveillance tapes."
Manziel hasn’t made these kinds of headlines in several months — tough weather for inflatable swans in Cleveland in November, truthfully — and he’s said the right things since losing a training-camp competition for the starting job to Brian Hoyer. Manziel made two cameos early in the season but hasn’t played since, and when asked he’s said he’s learning and working and rooting for Hoyer.
Johnny Football — yes, his nickname officially made the police report — is competitive and anxious, and the Browns expect him to be ready if he’s called upon. Too, Hoyer’s contract expires at the end of the season and a decision, at least on some level, awaits. History says first-round picks like Manziel get their shot sooner than later.
Still, there are questions and concerns. There’s a track record, and the Browns still signed up and traded up for him last May. After his first full week on the job, Manziel flew to Las Vegas.
By now, Farmer, head coach Mike Pettine and the Browns can be fairly confident in knowing what Manziel is going to be doing on Friday nights.
They still have no idea how he’ll do on Sundays.
The Browns pay Manziel a lot of money to help their team, and whether Manziel needs that money or not he has an obligation to give the Browns his best. Maybe he shows up early and stays late and does everything he’s asked during the three full practice days per week, and maybe he’s getting better with all of the invisible things quarterbacks do and learn and process during the practice week that become very visible on Sundays.
That has to be the hope, anyway. Maybe he’s going to get on the field, whenever that chance comes, and light it up.
Here’s the perception: The Browns are in the thick of a playoff race and Manziel seems bored.
This is the 24th month of Johnny Football being a thing, of Johnny Manziel being anything but a regular kid. Fair or not, overzealous fans or unfair expectations or just the reality of the social media age, Manziel owes the Browns his best.
Really big games and really tough decisions are looming. Trips to the offices of the head coach and GM aren’t supposed to be on the rookie backup quarterback’s itinerary.
Manziel should know, too, that nothing good happens after 2:34 a.m.