Finding a reliable and productive quarterback in the National Football League is no easy task. Finding a guy you can build a franchise around is even more difficult. For the Rams, it’s seemingly been impossible to find either one and their return to Los Angeles isn’t going to lessen the demand for a centerpiece around which they can build a team.
Earlier today, ESPN’s Ed Werder tweeted that disgraced Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel has told people that the Cowboys, Rams, and Chiefs are interested in his services as soon as the Browns cut ties with him, which the organization strongly hinted was coming in a statement earlier this morning. The earliest date that the Browns can release Manziel is March 9th, when the league year begins.
Whether or not the Rams, or anyone, should gamble on Manziel is going to be one of the most hotly debated subjects during the NFL off-season. The Dallas Cowboys are almost certainly going to be linked to Manziel no less than several hundred times before August rolls around simply due to Jerry Jones’ longstanding interest in Manziel’s talents and the fact that he’s a Texas boy, but the Cowboys have mounted something of a turnaround after a lengthy period of heartache and organizational ineptitude. After Josh Brent and Terrell Owens, one has to wonder exactly how hard he would try to secure Manziel’s services.
That’s the thing with guys like Manziel, their upside on the field is almost always outweighed by their downsides off of it. The Browns are no stranger to organizational dysfunction, but they certainly tried with Manziel and weren’t able to reach him. Would another organization have better luck? Perhaps more importantly, is Manziel even in a place where he’s ready to move forward with his NFL career or is he just hoping to stick around the league long enough that he eventually grows up and succeeds? On Manziel knows the answer to that question, but should that be enough to get the Rams to the table to find out?
LA Rams Report reached out to Brown and Orange Report Publisher Barry McBride for a few thoughts on how far Cleveland went before they threw in the towel.
“When it comes to the Browns ‘helping’ Johnny, they of course are completely silent on anything regarding his rehab or internal discussions with the player,” McBride said. “Clearly, the Browns have disciplined Johnny for infractions, such as making him inactive for the final game last year and taking the starting job away from him after he was spotted drinking in Texas during the Bye Week in 2015. This discipline doesn't seem to have impacted Johnny's decision-making much. There have been frequent refrains of Johnny being nothing but professional while "inside the building", but clearly he's out of control once he leaves the Berea complex.”
McBride raises a valid point here. Even if the Rams are able to come up with a plan for Manziel, what on earth could they possibly do when he leaves the training facility? It’s not like there are a shortage of events going on in L.A. at any one given time. Aside from the Lakers, Clippers, Dodgers, Kings, Galaxy, Sparks, Trojans, and Bruins all playing in the area, it also happens to be the movie capital of the world and an international entertainment hub. The celebrities coming through L.A. at any one given time far outnumber those running through Cleveland on a weekly basis. Ohio isn’t exactly Antarctica when it comes to things to do and they get their fair share of celebrity attention with the Buckeyes and LeBron, but most reasonable people would agree that Los Angeles will provide far more by way of temptation than Ohio.
Going a bit further, McBride added that Manziel’s own lack of transparency on these issues has made it hard for even those around him to provide help. In fact, ESPN’s Elizabeth Merrill gave some fantastic insight earlier last month on how Manziel’s own inner circle -- people that once partied with Manziel and helped him find trouble -- now feel saddened by where this train is headed. McBride added that the organization did what they could, but until Manziel decides he’s ready to turn this around, there doesn’t appear much that anyone can do for him.
“While Manziel went to rehab for an unspecified condition last Spring that kept him away from the team, but there are few details about the nature of Manziel's condition that required rehab,” McBride said. “The Browns have been moderately harsh with Manziel. They certainly could have come down on him for his infractions even harder, but it's difficult to say whether anything the Browns might have done would have made a difference. This is clearly a player with issues, and one that impacts his teammates in a negative way. That the quarterback-desperate Browns look set to drop him tells you a lot.”
So now we circle back to the Rams and what they should do moving forward. If the Rams don’t come up with a winning season in 2016, it would be five consecutive losing seasons for them and that usually ends up costing someone their job. That said, drafting a rookie quarterback could end up buying head coach Jeff Fisher and GM Les Snead some time. Maybe that’s the end goal, but bringing someone like Manziel is a risk his next coach will have to burden. If that risk fails, the people responsible for driving the decision will be made to pay, and they should.
Manziel’s struggles are well documented, but so are his on-the-field exploits. He does have some learning to do when it comes to understanding NFL concepts, Bleacher Report’s Stephen White wrote up a great primer on why Manziel isn’t quite ready to be an NFL quarterback. So in addition to the partying, anyone taking Manziel in would also have to understand that he is somewhat of a project on the field, as well.
If the Rams believe they can offer Manziel a stable environment, they’re going to need to stick someone on him capable of acting as an intermediary when communication breakdowns happen. Speaking strictly from personal experience, one of the biggest hurdles in these situations is overcoming the individual’s tendency to self-destruct or get in their own way when adversity hits. Confronting issues sober is often an eye-opening experience for these young men and many teams are not equipped to deal with it.
If a team like the Rams are going to bet any kind of money on Manziel, it needs to be house money. They need to understand there will be progress and there will be days where he takes a step back. That is what you get when you willingly sign or trade for a guy like Manziel. It comes with the package and the Rams better realize that before they make any moves to secure his services. They’ll need to do so with minimal expectations and a plan. If they can get Manziel right before they saddle him with the responsibility of leading a franchise, they could end up with a bonafide star capable of thrilling the NFL-starved Los Angelian masses.
At the end of the day, everyone wins if Manziel pans out but teams shouldn’t bet on him until he proves he is willing to bet on himself. The Rams included.