Perception is reality for many sports fans who are on the outside, and the notions that have been floated out there regarding Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel since even before the Browns grabbed Manziel on May 8, 2014 have tainted the way that some view the young man who remains in rehab at the start of spring: Cleveland general manager Ray Farmer was pushed to select Manziel in the 2014 NFL Draft by owner Jimmy Haslam. Head coach Mike Pettine, a no-nonsense character, is not a fan of the college phenom known as “Johnny Football.” Those inside of the locker room are not fond of Manziel.
Those ideas make for hot takes and they generate page views. The problem is they are also inaccurate.
Pettine gave an update on Manziel when speaking with the media on Tuesday. “The feedback has been good,” Pettine stated regarding talks he has had with the second-year quarterback. “And again, I spoke on this before and this is a private matter. I don’t have a set date for when he’s coming back. And when he is back, it will be full-speed ahead.
“I think he’s very anxious (to get back to football) at this point. We’ll be prepared, as we will with every other player: When they get back into town, we’re going to coach the heck out of them.”
Nowhere in any comments Pettine has made on Manziel since the end of the 2014 NFL regular season has the coach even hinted that he is prepared to move on from the first-round selection, and that continues to be the case as Manziel is getting the help that he felt he needed for whatever reasons. Pettine, Farmer, Haslam and everybody else within the front office of the Browns know what all smart football executives and coaches know: No team worth anything gives up on a No. 22 overall pick after 6.5 quarters of play.
It also doesn’t hurt that those running the Browns like Manziel. A lot.
Pettine and Manziel have what is, on the surface, a father-and-son relationship similar to that once had by New York Giants head coach Tom Coughlin and former New York running back Brandon Jacobs. NFL Films caught Pettine and Manziel joking on the sidelines during games, one such instance occurring after the Browns had scored an offensive touchdown. Pettine sarcastically asked Manziel what play the rookie quarterback would have called in that moment.
“Probably that one,” Manziel answered as the two had a laugh.
Are Pettine, Farmer and Haslam disappointed in Manziel? Of course, and they should be. By voluntarily entering rehab, Manziel unintentionally announced to the world that he had largely wasted — no pun intended — his first year as a professional football player. Manziel also informed the Browns that he was willing to pay the price and do whatever it takes to attempt to be a winning quarterback at the highest level. The hope moving forward is that the past 14 months will have been a needed wake up call for a young man who has, for the majority of his life, had success and fortune fall into his lap.
It is also no secret to anybody with knowledge of the situation that Manziel has plenty of friends on both sides of the football inside of the locker room of the Browns. Cornerback Joe Haden and Manziel hit it off right out of the gates, and other respected veterans on the Cleveland roster have also gone to bat for Manziel while making media appearances during the current offseason. The belief is that those cowardly anonymous digs at Manziel delivered by members of the Browns during the winter months were from individuals no longer with the organization (cough allegedly Kyle Shanahan/Brian Hoyer/Jordan Cameron cough cough).
None of this is to suggest that the Browns are going to hand the keys of the offense over to Manziel. The team didn’t do so last summer when the Browns probably should have done so while at the same time also making it clear that Johnny Football had to go for the good of the player and of the club, and Cleveland has acquired multiple quarterbacks who could stand in as the starter until Pettine and company are confident that they know what they have in Manziel. Manziel defying the odds and evolving into the starting quarterback the Browns have desperately needed is the best way that Pettine and Farmer will save their reputations and also their jobs.
He may never get there, but the Browns cannot yet give up on Manziel.
Zac has been covering the Cleveland Browns, New York Giants and National Football League for a variety of websites since 2006. He is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America.