1. LeBron and Manziel
The Cavaliers weren't the only team in Ohio ecstatic that LeBron James is coming home. Some in the Browns organization were as well.
One member of the Browns coaching staff said he smiled wide and long after seeing the Decision II. Why? "There will not be a better mentor for Johnny than LeBron," he explained.
There are three parts to this LeBron-Manziel story.
The first is reality, and the reality is that while Manziel has attracted attention, he really has done nothing wrong. It's the offseason. He hasn't been arrested. It's not like he's knocking out women in elevators. He's partying. He likes women. He drinks. Stunning.
Second, according to that person on the Browns staff, Manziel is all business when he's around the complex. I can't stress that enough. In terms of work ethic and preparation, everything I hear from officials is positive. Wide receiver Andrew Hawkins recently said the same thing on SiriusXM NFL Radio:
Johnny's all business, man. I can't speak for all the other stuff because all I know is the Johnny I see in his playbook all day and trying to learn the plays and pick up an NFL offense, which is extremely hard for anybody, much less a guy who left college early. He worked his butt off, and I think that is all you can ask of him.
The third part is the trickiest. It's appearance.
In this Twitter-ized, social media world, appearance counts. This is where some on the Browns believe James can help Manziel.
James has been in the public eye since he was a teenager. "The Decision" TV special was a misstep—a massive one—but think about it: James hasn't been photographed on a swan or getting blasted or rolling up a dollar bill, y'all. James has lived his public life, for the most part, impeccably.
James has been one of the most famous athletes in the world and has rarely been photographed in embarrassing positions. He's smart about his public image while also enjoying his stardom. This is the lesson he can teach Manziel.
The Browns envision the tightening of the relationship between the two men and James showing the rookie how to live a public life in a way that Manziel can both be himself and not become a headline.
That's the hope from the Browns, I'm told. They have their fingers crossed.
2. Hoyer has perfect attitude
One last thing on Manziel: His backup has an infectious attitude that I love.
I don't think Brian Hoyer has a chance in hell to beat out Manziel. I think all Manziel needs is to be partly competent and he'll open the season as the starter. But I love Hoyer's attitude. When asked what he thought of the circus surrounding Manziel, his answer was splendid, per Daryl Ruiter of 92.3 The Fan:
"I'm not really focused on my teammates, what they do in their off life, so that's none of my business," he said. "They can make those decisions on their own. All that matters is that we come back ready to go for the season."
3. DEA has long been investigating NFL over pills
This week, the New York Daily News' Michael O'Keeffe had what appeared to be an interesting scoop. The Drug Enforcement Administration was investigating painkiller use by NFL players. Good story, interesting details. There was one problem: The DEA has long been investigating painkiller use in professional football.
I know this for a fact. Let me explain. Let's go back to the year 1997. I was covering the Giants for The New York Times and wrote a detailed look at painkiller abuse in the NFL.
"The game is played with pain," Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly, who had recently retired, told me then. "If you can't play in pain, you should be playing golf, like I'm doing a lot of now. I think that's the mentality of players. There's a lot at stake. Big contracts, the pressure of losing your job—a lot of things force some guys to do things that maybe they shouldn't do. I know I played in a lot of games that I should not have been playing in, but I did.''
In my story, players talked openly about their addictions to the drugs. Several described how if the team cut back on their access to pills, they would obtain drugs like Vicodin from pharmaceutical sales representatives in exchange for tickets to games or by promising access to locker rooms or parties with NFL players. It was not uncommon for players to exchange Vicodin or Percocet for tickets to home or away games.
One Giants player told me then that a veteran kept a bag full of pills. Prior to the last game of the year, the guy had run out.
"Before the game," the player said, "guys, like they had done before each game, came to him for the pills. But he was out of them. There was almost a riot. I couldn't believe it. Guys were like, 'How the hell could you run out?' It was like he was a drug dealer. Then somebody took the bag and started licking the residue at the bottom of the bag. I'm not a doctor, but when a guy is licking the bottom of a bag, I'd call that addiction … "
He was licking the bottom of the bag.
There were many other insane examples of painkiller abuse. Remember, these are from 1997.
After the story's publication, I received calls from a DEA spokesperson and a DEA investigator. They wanted me to provide names of the players I interviewed. I politely told them to go to hell. I never heard back from the agency.
So they have been looking into this issue for a long time. Probably even before then. And the abuse of painkillers goes back before the 1990s. It extends into the '70s and '80s.
Some former players call the NFL a drug cartel. I'm not sure it's that. What I am certain of is that the DEA and perhaps other government agencies have been looking at this issue for many years, and they haven't been able to do anything to stop it.
They can't. No one can.
You can stop painkiller abuse from being an epidemic, perhaps, but it cannot be stopped entirely. That's because pain is an inherent part of playing football.
As long as there is constant pain, there will be painkillers, and as long as there are painkillers, there will be addiction. There will be abuse.
4. Favre pill addiction
Two of the best quotes about painkilling addiction come from that story, and the quotes remain pertinent today.
Said one Pro Bowl offensive lineman: "Some guys have genuine needs, but at the same time you see a lot of sharing and abuse. I know guys who are immune to Percocet. They take 15 to 20 of these pills a day because it doesn't faze them. They've built up a tolerance, but they need to take them to be able to function because their bodies are addicted to them. No one on the outside ever has any idea of these addictions until someone cracks up a car because they're high on them, or they run over somebody or they almost die from a seizure like [Brett] Favre did."
Favre, who fought painkiller addiction, told me: "There are a lot of players with painkilling addictions who don't know it and even more who know but don't want to admit it."
5. Brutal offseason for Ravens
Details from the arrest of Ravens corner Jimmy Smith are, well, not very pretty.
Even uglier is that the Ravens continue to have players involved in offseason incidents, via Aaron Wilson of The Baltimore Sun:
This marks the fifth arrest of a Ravens player this offseason. That includes the following cases: running back Ray Rice (felony aggravated assault, Atlantic City, N.J., accepted into pretrial diversion program), offensive lineman Jah Reid (misdemeanor battery, Key West, Fla., accepted into pretrial diversion program), wide receiver Deonte Thompson (felony possession of marijuana, Gainesville, Fla., case dismissed) and rookie running back Lorenzo Taliaferro (misdemeanor destruction of property, drunk and disorderly, Williamsburg, Va., case pending with July 31 court date).
That isn't great, and knowing the Ravens front office—composed of good people with a conscience—they won't put up with this type of nonsense for much longer.
6. Will Vernon Davis hold out?
All indications are that 49ers tight end Vernon Davis will hold out. For now, I'm told, that is his plan. But let's be clear: That could change.
I'm not so sure—nor are others watching this situation closely—if Davis will walk up to that holdout abyss and actually take the leap. Andre Johnson? Hell yes. He would. Davis? I'm not as certain. This will be interesting to watch.
7. Suspension decisions coming
This week, there could finally be some important decisions from commissioner Roger Goodell regarding two high-profile NFL names.
Ray Rice: I'm still hearing a two- to three-game ban.
Jim Irsay: It will be something significant like a lengthy, multigame suspension and seven-figure fine.
8. Name change
Now U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is in on the case. But I'm sure he's just some liberal, pinko rapscallion.
9. Candlestick Park is gone
It was a dump. In many ways, one of the worst stadiums in the NFL. The turf was terrible. A muddy mess. It was one of the few stadiums that both the media and opposing teams hated. I covered numerous games at Candlestick, and the only stadium that was worse was the old Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia—a true dump.
But there was always something about the place that was enthralling. It was a terrible stadium with character. It was home for Joe Montana and Jerry Rice and Bill Walsh. So many legends played and were made there.
The last "game" was played at Candlestick this past weekend, via the San Francisco Chronicle's Vic Tafur. Former 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo put Candlestick in perspective.
"This stadium may have had some issues and quirks, but it had character and personality," DeBartolo said. "There will never be another Candlestick Park."
Thank God, and too bad.
10. Pam Oliver
Allow me one moment of reflection on one of the greatest pros I've ever known in Pam Oliver. She was demoted from No. 1 sideline reporter by Fox. If you don't know Oliver, she's a true professional. And yes, I know she once took shots at Jets fans, but hell, Jets fans take shots at Jets fans. Sometimes, those shots are well deserved.
Her career has mostly been defined by class and treating others in the media with respect. Among many of us who know her, she is actually cherished. She's a legend. Not saying we should feel sorry for Oliver. She isn't fighting in Afghanistan. She'll be fine. She's just a good person. That's it. That is all.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.
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