At a time when the Johnny Manziel story should start to focus almost solely on football, some members of the Browns organization have turned it into another examination of his off-field life.
Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer wrote a story, citing anonymous Browns sources, saying the team is "alarmed" by his actions since the draft. Manziel has been seen at various parties this offseason. The story said the team was worried enough about a photo of Manziel apparently rolling up a $20 bill that coach Mike Pettine told Cabot that he called the rookie quarterback, while the coach was on vacation in Hawaii, to get answers.
The Plain Dealer pointed out that tight-rolled bills are often used for drug use, although there was no evidence in the photo that's what Manziel was doing, Pettine reached out to ask him about it. According to the story, Pettine said he planned to address it again with Manziel face-to-face when he reported for camp with the other rookies on Wednesday.
It isn't just the one photo, either. The Browns sources who talked to Cabot said the team was promised by Manziel before the draft that he would tone down his partying, and the Browns have been "stunned by his non-stop antics" since they took him.
Manziel addressed it to the media on Friday.
"At the end of the day, I made some rookie mistakes – there are some things I wish I could have gone back and done a little differently – but I’m continuing to move forward and try and represent this organization and this team in a positive manner, in a positive light," Manziel said, according to the team's transcript.
"I think there are definitely things that I can do moving forward to help me better act as a professional. At the same time, I’m still learning how to do that, still getting used to this role, still getting used to this league and still learning how to be a pro football player. I’m not in college anymore. There are things that I need to do better."
The Plain Dealer's report is a big story for a few reasons. Cabot is one of the best and most respected voices on the Browns beat, so there's little doubt to the legitimacy of what she wrote. Also, take into account the timing and purpose of the story. The Browns knew the talk of Manziel's actions off the field would take a back seat to his quarterback competition with Brian Hoyer once training camp started. The Browns could have easily been quiet about their off-field satisfaction and let the narrative change to Manziel's progress as a player. The sources speaking to Cabot had to know how her story would play out, and they're likely aware that it would put the spotlight back on Manziel's partying on the day the Browns report to camp, when the media attention is high.
Instead of protecting their young quarterback, some sources within the Browns set out to do the opposite. It has been less than three months since the Browns took Manziel with the 22nd overall pick, and some within the organization are already taking a combative stance with the former Heisman winner.
And, there was a troubling football aspect to the story too. The story said Manziel "regressed in practice after the first week of organized team activities," and the team thinks he wasn't dedicated enough to learning the playbook because he was flying around the country and partying. The story said he has already lost ground in the quarterback competition before camp starts.
Manziel has tremendous talent, which is why the Browns took him in the first place. His partying became a big story at Texas A&M, and he still was one of the greatest quarterbacks in college football history his two seasons there. All of this might blow over because Manziel gets his chance in the preseason and dominates on the field.
But as Browns camp starts, the team's dissatisfaction with their rookie quarterback is in the spotlight. It seems like a message is being sent.
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