After three years as “Johnny Football,” Johnny Manziel took a major step back from his well-earned moniker and reportedly decided to enter an inpatient rehabilitation facility last Tuesday. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, he informed family, friends and the Cleveland Browns of his decision and began treatment Wednesday.
It’s unknown which facility Manziel went to or how long his stay will be, but it’s reportedly near Cleveland and many treatments last roughly a month, depending on the patient’s affliction.
The decision has been hailed by many as a step in the right direction for Manziel, who’s had several alcohol-infused run-ins with the law as far back as six years ago when he was still in high school, the newspaper reported.
The Browns expressed full support for Manziel’s choice, and they expect him back for training camp this summer, with his participation in offseason team workouts, or OTAs, still up in the air.
And though Manziel wasn’t expected to be named the franchise’s starting quarterback on the first day of training camp, the 22-year-old’s life-altering decision comes at a critical time for the Browns.
Playing in arguably the toughest division in the NFL, the Browns roared to a 7-4 record through the first 12 weeks of the 2014 regular season and were on pace to make the postseason for the first time in 12 years, all with Brian Hoyer under center and star receiver Josh Gordon suspended for repeatedly violating the league’s substance abuse policies.
Those postseason hopes along, with Hoyer's form, faded in the final third of the season, even with Gordon making his return in Week 12. But armed with one of the deepest, talent-laden defenses in the league and the playmaking Manziel waiting in the wings, the Browns represented one of the most dangerous young teams in the NFL.
Yet even with the Browns displaying such promise on the field, Manziel showed little to no progress in practice and teammates reportedly called his first year in the NFL a “100 percent joke” in a lengthy profile ESPN released last month. Manziel would say after the Browns wrapped their campaign that he needed to make some “decisions” about himself and that he was looking forward to next season.
In five games, Manziel completed 18 of 35 passes for 175 yards, two interceptions and a fumble, while rushing for 29 yards and one touchdown. Teammates specifically told ESPN that Manziel seemed ill-prepared for taking over for Hoyer late in the Week 13 loss to Buffalo and his first and only start in Week 15 against Cincinnati, a 30-0 blowout loss.
Now the Browns have to seriously consider where Manziel fits into their future. Hoyer, who showed flashes of quality play during the season, is a free agent and extending his contract was a hot topic throughout the regular season. And after Manziel, only Connor Shaw remains on the Browns depth chart at quarterback.
The list of free agent quarterbacks available this offseason includes mostly veterans, who are unlikely to desire a placeholder role until head coach Mike Pettine believes Manziel is ready to take over. And in a way, that might keep Manziel’s future in Cleveland alive.
There’s former Atlanta Falcon and New York Jet Michael Vick, as well as Mark Sanchez, Matt Hasselbeck, Kyle Orton, Tavaris Jackson and Christian Ponder. It’s a list of veterans and busts that might make another go-round with Manziel well worth the risk for Cleveland.
Manziel roared to fame as a superstar quarterback for the Texas A&M Aggies back in 2012, famously upsetting the No. 1-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide on their home field and becoming the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy.
Adoring fans and a superstar’s lifestyle came with the fame, and Manziel was hounded by the media as much for his wild partying and antics away from College Station as his fleet-of-foot playmaking abilities in the professional playground that is the SEC.
NFL general managers and scouts, those responsible for evaluating a player’s potential at the next level and simultaneously acting as the gatekeepers to the world’s most exclusive football club, openly questioned whether Manziel could keep up the “Johnny Football” lifestyle and schedule and still compete at the highest level.
The Browns wound up selecting Manziel with the No. 22 overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, presumably believing Manziel would either give up his party-centric lifestyle altogether or find that almost-impossible balance that most college kids struggle with those first few years after the party has ended.
But throughout his rookie season, Manziel earned far more press for his partying than his work in practice and on the field. He is not guaranteed a starting role on a team that has failed to reach the playoffs since 2002, and the prospects are slim for the Browns to overcome the Baltimore Ravens, Cincinnati Bengals, and Pittsburgh Steelers should they get little production out of their starting quarterback. The running game finished No. 17, so a creative quarterback might be critical to compensate for the season-long loss of Gordon.
Manziel is consider among the most creative quarterbacks in the NFL, but how patient will the Browns be with an undersized playmaker if he shows signs of faltering? The Browns are not expected to draft a quarterback in April, but it wouldn't be surprising if management decides to pull the plug early on the Manziel experiment.
As he seeks help for his troubles, Manziel may need to consider how much is riding on this upcoming season. His highly public career could be in jeopardy if he struggles in his second year. The importance of this rehab treatment might make or break his career.