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Time for Browns to Admit Mistake, Move on from Johnny Manziel

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystJanuary 23, 2015

AP Images

To say that the Cleveland Browns are desperate for a franchise quarterback would be something of an understatement. The team hasn't had one in about three decades, since the halcyon days of the mid-1980s and Bernie Kosar.

As one Cleveland fan, Sean Dove, pointed out, the Browns have had no shortage of failed starting quarterbacks in recent memory:

Sean Dove @Sdove56

@PatMcManamon http://t.co/HTzdTAigNx

And that's just since 1999.

When the Browns drafted former Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel last May, hope exploded in Northern Ohio. The charismatic young scrambler was going to be the guy. Johnny Freakin' Football was going to lead the Browns out of the darkness and into the light.

Not quite a year later, hope with Manziel has exploded again—this time against the jagged rocks of the reality that instead of a franchise savior, the Browns drafted a spoiled kid more interested in having his picture taken than winning football games.

On Friday, ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler and Pat McManamon published a scathing report regarding Manziel's first year with the Browns. Numerous anonymous sources are quoted, from teammates to personnel executives. Most sang a similar refrain—Johhny Manziel is a mess:

By season's end, cheering had turned to frustration and anger as Manziel struggled mightily in almost six quarters as a starter, then was fined for being AWOL the final Saturday of the season.

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan resigned with two years left on his contract. [Quarterbacks coach Dowell] Loggains was fired.

The Browns openly discussed Manziel's viability as the franchise's quarterback at a wide-ranging postseason staff meeting about the roster. And at least a couple of Manziel's teammates were joking his text should have read "wreck this team."

Now the Browns point to 2015 with a talented but misguided quarterback who must repair the wreckage done in his own locker room.

Interviews by ESPN.com with nearly 20 Browns sources, both on the record and on condition of anonymity, along with several NFL personnel sources reveal the Manziel-related problems run deep.

Those who spoke talked of a year-long pattern that showed a lack of commitment and preparation, a failure to be ready when given a chance in his first start against Cincinnati and a continued commitment to nightlife, which affected his preparation and work while in the team facility.

Of course, this train wreck should come as a surprise to a grand total of zero people. By the time he left Texas A&M, Manziel had already developed a reputation for two things: making incredible plays on the fly and partying.

Well, there was plenty of the latter for Manziel in the NFL as well. Not one month after he was drafted in the first round by the Browns, Manziel was photographed hanging out with New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski in Las Vegas, as depicted in this photo shared by Complex.com:

Complex @Complex

What was Johnny Manziel doing in Las Vegas when he wasn't partying with Rob Gronkowski? http://t.co/fi08R7g9G5 http://t.co/jjOkVO18xM

Then came this bit of loveliness, per Ronnie's Beard:

Ronnie's Beard @ronfernee

Johnny football aka Johnny Swan #JohnnyManziel http://t.co/DA2JNSOTnC

Look! Per Mike Welch, there's Manziel with one of the chuckleheads from The Jersey Shore!:

Mike Welch @RealMikeWelch

Johnny Manziel was in Vegas this weekend, and posed for a pic w/ fake celebrity DJ Pauly D. http://t.co/WYngkrGg53

Look! Per Rusty Lewis, there's Manziel with Justin Bieber!:

Rusty Lewis @relewis2011

@Andrew_Reiner Are you implying you weren't after he hung out with THE Biebs? Come on now, Reiner :P http://t.co/rcdMgafa45

In retrospect, that one should have been a tip that something was horribly, horribly wrong.

Fans brushed it off as "Johnny being Johnny." Manziel defiantly told The Associated Press (via USA Today) that "I'm not going to change who I am for anybody." Back in June, Browns head coach Mike Pettine defended Manziel while speaking with McManamon:

I'm not concerned. I would become concerned if it was something criminal, and I would be concerned if it affected his job.

I think a lot of our guys, when they leave here if they were followed around, you'd get some very similar pictures. I don't know about an inflatable swan, but I think you'd get some pictures.

The writing was sprayed all over the wall, but the Browns (and their fans) were so desperate not to see it that see it they did not. Instead, they convinced themselves that, as Manziel told the AP, he was just as serious about getting better as a player as he was about getting his groove on:

I'm very committed to football. I'm committed to my job, but on the weekends, I'm going to enjoy my time off. We deserve it. We work hard here. I am going to enjoy my time off. I'm very about football and very about my job, which doesn't get reported or won't get reported, but I am going to enjoy my time off.

That's I think what everybody else does and that's what I should do.

As it turns out (and this is a theme with Manziel), he was talking out of both sides of his mouth.

Manziel kept right on having fun off the field. But as Fowler and McManamon reported, when it came to putting in work on the field, not so much:

The Browns have an honor system with fining players for tardiness to team activities -- $250 for first offense, $500 for second, etc. The money can go to charity.

It's uncertain how much coaches collected from Manziel, but one source said Manziel was late often enough that it was never a surprise when he was. …

…Manziel's on-field results were, at best, mixed.

In his first game, in Buffalo in relief of a struggling Brian Hoyer, he led a touchdown drive on his first possession.

But readiness became an issue once Manziel got the starting job the following week. Several sources said Manziel either didn't know the plays in the huddle or didn't call them correctly. The Browns tried to get him comfortable by using shotgun and pistol formations on about 80 percent of his downs and by simplifying the offense.

But more than once, teammates corrected the play-call in the huddle, or headed to the line hoping things would work because the call was wrong. Sometimes, the offense would get lined up wrong because Manziel forgot to read the whole play or got the verbiage wrong (saying "left" instead of "right," for example).

Manziel's stat line from his first start: 10-of-18 passing for 80 yards, two interceptions and a 1.0 QBR.

By this point, the bloom was off the rose where Manziel was concerned. After the debacle against the Cincinnati Bengals in Manziel's first start, there just wasn't any denying that even in a best-case scenario—one where Manziel did everything "the right way" and worked his tail off—he was a long way from being an NFL quarterback.

Then, as the Browns readied for the season finale against the Baltimore Ravens, Manziel took it upon himself (per Fowler and McManamon) to remind the Browns just how far off he really was:

On that Tuesday, Manziel stood in front of about 20 media members and outlined his plan to become the Browns' answer at quarterback. He wanted to be "the guy" for Cleveland, he said, and would do so by taking his job more seriously. He was more animated than he'd been all year, eager to declare his intentions.

Four days later, stories in the Browns' facility began to circulate. Manziel was not present the morning before the season finale. Team security drove to Manziel's downtown home to check on him. The Browns were packing up for the season finale at Baltimore on Dec. 28.

Two team sources said security found a player who they felt clearly had partied hard the night before. One source used the words "drunk off his a--."

The official word was that Manziel was "late," but players said they didn't see Manziel until the Browns' chartered airplane prepared to take off in the afternoon, that he was not present all morning. The team fined Manziel for missing treatment on his injured hamstring, then had him sit in the locker room during the season finale in Baltimore.

"Johnny's his own worst enemy," one source said.

Monday after the season, Manziel had another news conference, saying many of the same things from six days earlier -- actions must support words. That night he was featured in Instagram photos on Miami Beach, a few days later at a club in Houston and a few days after that on a mountain in Aspen, Colorado.

Of course, after the Baltimore game, Manziel was right back to hitting the talking points regarding all the things he needed to do, per Fowler and McManamon:

I need to start doing every single thing and everything the right way and if I don't I'm going to be exposed. 

I brought this on myself. I brought these cameras and all these people that are in this locker room right now and I don't think it's fair to myself, I don't think it's fair to anybody in this locker room the distractions I've brought at points in time.

Start doing? Going to be exposed?

Stop the merry-go-round. The Browns need to get off.

So here we are, entering yet another season where quarterback sits atop the Browns' list of needs. Team owner Jimmy Haslam admitted as much to Scott Petrak of The Chronicle-Telegram.

"We've got to get a quarterback and got to get it fixed," Haslam said. "What I would say to our fans is, we're going to continue to work really hard to find that quarterback who can make us a championship team."

Newly hired offensive coordinator John DeFilippo told Marc Sessler of NFL.com that he's "looking forward to working with Johnny," but DeFilippo allowed that the Browns starting quarterback in 2015 may not even be on the roster yet:

We're not sure if our starting quarterback's in the building right now or not. If he is, that's great. If he's not, that's great, too. Whoever's in that room is going to be coached hard, be held accountable and be expected to do the things that we expect out of Cleveland Browns quarterbacks.

And that's good, because unless the Browns plan to re-up Brian Hoyer, it's time to start searching for a starting signal-caller…again.

Because Manziel ain't it.

For all his athletic ability and improvisational skills, there were already strikes against Manziel entering the NFL.

Lack of size. Lack of a strong arm. Lack of experience in a pro-style offense.

This isn't to say Manziel was doomed to fail. However, it did mean that Manziel faced an uphill climb—one that would require 100 percent dedication to the task at hand.

And Johnny Football has shown absolutely zero intention of trying that hard.

This doesn't make Manziel the villain in this latest mess by the shores of Lake Erie. He's a kid—a spoiled one, but still he's just a kid. For the past several years, all he heard was how awesome he was. He told people what they wanted to hear, and then he did as he damned well pleased.

And everyone loved him for it.

Unfortunately for Manziel, this isn't the SEC. It's the NFL. If you're not completely invested in success at the professional level, then you won't succeed, especially at quarterback.

And unfortunately for the Browns, there's been nothing (at all) to indicate that particular light bulb will come on for Manziel anytime soon.

That leaves the Browns with a predicament. They won't cut Manziel outright, despite the fact that the only return they've gotten for the media circus that follows Manziel constantly is some jersey sales and one God-awful Snickers commercial.

Johnny Jam-Boogie indeed.

Manziel's name still sells tickets and doodads. His rookie contract comes with a reasonable salary. And he is still wildly talented.

However, whether it's bringing back Hoyer, using their ample cap space to sign a veteran free agent like Mark Sanchez or trying to use their pair of first-round picks to move up in the 2015 NFL draft, the Browns have to actively pursue a starting quarterback this year—both for the present and the future.

Maybe watching the team draft his replacement will finally wake Manziel up. More likely it won't.

And in that case, all of his talent doesn't help the Browns. NFL history is drowning in "talented" players who washed out as pros, as often as not because they just weren't willing to put in the work. Whether Manziel wakes up or not, the Browns have to.

Because from all indications, the pipe dream that Manziel would ride into town and save the Browns was just that—a pipe dream.

And unless the Browns have another plan at the ready, this will become an even bigger nightmare for the team than it already is.

Gary Davenport is an NFL Analyst at Bleacher Report and a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and the Pro Football Writers of America. You can follow Gary on Twitter @IDPManor.

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