'The Johnny Manziel Combine': NFL Teams Determined Not to Get Fooled Again

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterFebruary 26, 2016

Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel is surrounded by the media as answers a question during a news conference at the NFL football scouting combine in Indianapolis, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)
Michael Conroy/Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS — The assessment was blunt. So, so damn blunt.

"This is the Johnny Manziel combine," the NFL team personnel exec said. 

How so?

"The Browns weren't the only ones fooled by Manziel during the interview process here," he said, speaking of the combine two years ago. "We spent time with him, and we completely misjudged him.

"He charmed us."

Obviously, he charmed the Browns, too. And while some teams did see Manziel as a tremendous phony at the combine, others did not—and based on interviews at this year's combine, those teams deceived by Manziel have used the experience as a teachable moment.

No, there won't be any type of mass introspection from NFL teams. Some would still draft a character from Better Call Saul if he could throw a football with great accuracy. These front offices aren't trying to save rainforests; they are running businesses.

There will also still be teams that see the interview process as extremely valuable. So no, this isn't to say that teams will stop drafting bad guys—or stop interviewing them at the combine. That would be silly.

Yet, I do sense a change this year. Not a titanic one, for sure, but a change. And that change is to make sure to not get bamboozled by a sweet-talking conman.

One general manager I spoke with here made two things clear.

First, players are better than ever at mastering the interview process—making those interviews increasingly worthless. He was very specific in talking about Manziel.

"I've been amazed at how smooth and practiced the players have become in just a few years," he said. "It's different from even just five years ago."

He said in the past few years, it's been increasingly difficult to mine the truth from players about controversial aspects from their past. While some players tell all and are sincere—he gave Jameis Winston as an example—others are great at fooling teams.

There has always been an element of this, but the GM argues it's worse now than ever before.

Second, teams are trying to find a better way to interview players—have been for a while—but nothing they've tried so far has worked.

One of the problems with combine questions is the teams themselves. Some of the questions asked are just nonsensical and serve no purpose other than to agitate. This week, for instance:

The NFL continues to evolve—for the better, in many ways. The sport continues to push for harsher treatment of players who run afoul of the law or rules. In the past, acts of domestic violence were ignored by football. Not as much now. In the past, football didn't care if a player failed drug tests. Or tried to knock another player out with a cheap shot to the head. Now, football cares more than ever.

This continues to put pressure on teams to not be so casual when it comes to character. Teams in the past few years have tried to draft better when it comes to character, but they have been far from perfect.

To a handful of teams, Manziel represents a sort of weird defining line. Teams felt lied to by Manziel—rightly or wrongly.

I was told by sources from two different teams that members of the new Browns regime have been open in saying that Manziel was almost a model for what they don't want to do at the combine. No player was going to charm them. Not this time. Not this regime.

Michael Conroy/Associated Press

Coach Hue Jackson told reporters at the combine, speaking of Manziel and accusations he may have assaulted his girlfriend: "I want to make sure we all understand that that behavior will not be tolerated as we move forward, and that's all I want to say about it. Our organization is going to take a stand, and we're going to move on from those kind of situations as we move forward."

No matter how much teams attempt to use the combine interview process, there will always be players who fool teams—or teams that are so in love with a player, they allow themselves to be fooled. Manziel was one example. Randy Gregory was another.

NFL teams knew that Gregory had failed two drug tests while at Nebraska. He was asked repeatedly about those tests by NFL teams at the combine, according to two of those teams.

One front-office executive said Gregory told his team: "You will never see my name associated with that stuff again." That stuff being marijuana.

Gregory would go on to fail a combine drug test. He was recently suspended four games by the NFL after testing positive for marijuana three times, an NFL source confirmed. That means, counting the combine last year, Gregory has failed four drug tests in a year.

Gregory fooled the Cowboys, and the Cowboys fooled the Cowboys.

Just like Manziel fooled the Browns, and the Browns fooled the Browns.

They're trying not to let it happen again.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.