Why Can't the NFL Stop Thinking About Johnny Manziel Even After It Banished Him?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMarch 3, 2017

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 15:  Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns looks on from the sideline during a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field on November 15, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  The Steelers defeated the Browns 30-9. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)
George Gojkovich/Getty Images

So many of us are still obsessed with him. The NFL is. The media is. Fans are. We are obsessed with a man who did almost nothing as a pro except hit the club. 

This week, that obsession continued during the underwear madness and testing apocalypse known as the NFL Scouting Combine.

It seems no one can quite get enough of Johnny Manziel.

In meetings with some of the players in Indianapolis, including quarterbacks, teams have asked about their thoughts on Manziel, according to two agents who represent those players.

Some were asked how they felt Manziel handled pressure. Some were asked, if they were Manziel, how would they have handled things differently?

Every combine, teams express their concerns about how players, especially quarterbacks, will handle the transition to NFL life. This year is no different.

"There's a lot of pressure in this business, especially on the quarterback position," new 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said, though not speaking specifically of Manziel. "So, how are they going to handle pressure? How are they going to handle adversity? No matter how good you are, everyone is going to tell you how bad you are at some time during the year. So, all that stuff goes into play when you're talking about, to me, one of the most scrutinized positions in sports.”

When asked what he was most looking for in a quarterback, Shanahan said he looked beyond a player's physical skills.

“Really, how quick they process things," he said. "You can tell talking to people who's capable of processing a lot, but the smartest people aren't always the best quarterbacks either.

New Niners coach Kyle Shanahan says he will focus on a quarterback's decision-making abilities when assessing prospects in the draft.
New Niners coach Kyle Shanahan says he will focus on a quarterback's decision-making abilities when assessing prospects in the draft.Michael Zagaris/Getty Images

"You can overprocess things. So, it's [about] how quick they react in the pocket. ... Are they fearless? If they're watching the rush at all ... it's very hard to make the reactions you need to make in this league with how quick these windows close. You want to see how quick their decision-making is ... in the pocket when they're under duress.”

Privately, teams admit finding the right QB will be difficult this year. Several team officials said this quarterback class is average at best, with one scout describing it as "miserable."

The lack of elite quarterbacks has teams trying to get creative in their research, including using Manziel as a test question of sorts.

In a truly NFLian twist, however, Manziel has emerged not only as a measure of what not to draft but also as a potential addition for some teams, according to the NFL Network and several team sources.

This is not the first time Manziel has been used as a sort of cautionary tale. But it comes at an interesting time with teams increasingly focusing (or saying they want to focus) on drafting players of character, and balancing that desire with wanting to win.

"We are going to research every player," said Colts general manager Chris Ballard when asked how he balanced character risk versus talent. "We are going to vet every player hard. We are going to go A to Z to see what the problems are and see if it's something we want to manage. That's going to come as an organizational decision from Mr. [Jim] Irsay and from the rest of our ownership down to our marketing. How is it going to impact our fans? We have to weigh all of that before we make a decision on a high-risk-character guy."

And yet there are still no guarantees. There are numerous examples of troubled players who entered the NFL, and many who did far worse than Manziel. His crime (before getting into real trouble with a domestic violence charge for which he could be cleared later this year) was basically acting like a putz in college.

NFL teams have drafted domestic abusers and drunk drivers and barely thought twice about it.

But something about Manziel caused consternation, and even anger, within some NFL teams. They despised his laziness, cockiness and lack of study habits when he was with Cleveland. They still do.

Manziel convinced the Browns to draft him 22nd overall in the 2014 draft. He was out of the league two seasons later.
Manziel convinced the Browns to draft him 22nd overall in the 2014 draft. He was out of the league two seasons later.Elsa/Getty Images

Few seemed to see it coming. When Manziel was at the combine several years ago, he was able to charm teams and fool them into thinking he'd reformed his college ways. He was going to be more of a leader and a harder worker.

Now, with that experience in the back of everyone's minds, teams are obsessed with trying to ferret out the next Manziel, especially at quarterback.

So the obsession continues—from the NFL, the media, all of us. And it isn't going away anytime soon. 

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