What a difference two years can make.
At this time in 2014, we were still about three weeks away from the annual Scouting Combine, which was held Feb. 22-25 in Indianapolis. There were four quarterbacks who were viewed by many scouts with first-round franchise potential – Central Florida’s Blake Bortles, Louisville’s Teddy Bridgewater, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel and Fresno State’s Derek Carr.
At the time, there was a wide disparity of opinion as to who would be the first one off the board and who would follow. Bortles appeared to have the inside track to go first. Carr appeared the most likely to slip to the second round and where Bridgewater and Manziel were going to fall was anyone’s guess.
As draft day approached, Bridgewater’s stock was falling and Manziel’s star was on the rise, despite a reputation as being something of a self-entitled party boy at A&M. Bortles was viewed as the closest thing to a lock to be a successful pro. Following a brutal pro day, Bridgewater was in draft stock freefall. Manziel was the wild card. He carried the boom/bust tag and the pundits fell both ways on that argument.
Many linked the Minnesota Vikings with Manziel, but the Vikings passed on Manziel to draft Anthony Barr and the headline-grabbing quarerback fell all the way to No. 22, where he was selected by the Cleveland Browns.
It was all downhill from there.
The Vikings cut a trade to get back into the first round to draft Bridgewater. The selling point to Rick Spielman, new head coach Mike Zimmer and offensive coordinator Norv Turner was that Bridgewater was a student of the game and would be the type of player that would be a credit to the purple and gold – a “first to arrive, last to leave” type at the team facility.
Bridgewater spent last weekend at the Pro Bowl. Manziel spent last weekend, well … after Fort Worth police were so concerned about him, a helicopter was dispatched to find his whereabouts after a physical altercation with his girlfriend in which she told police she was concerned about his well-being.
The Browns finally had enough and essentially announced that Manziel will be released when the new league season officially begins March 9.
Had it been one incident that soured the Browns on Manziel, that would be one thing. If it was two, it would be more troubling. How about 13?
Aside from numerous photos of Manziel partying without incident, he has made much more news off the field than on it. If you don’t remember some of them, here is a not-so-short list of his transgressions.
- At the X-Games in Austin, Texas, a month after being drafted, photos surface of Manziel swilling booze straight from a bottle while on his stomach on top of a large inflatable swan.
- After signing with the Browns, Manziel is seen clearly inebriated with a giant stack of bills that he made to look like an old-school cell phone (the kind that came with an accompanying suitcase-sized battery pack). Having cashed in on endorsement deals with McDonalds and Nike and a $4 million signing bonus, it was a sign that Johnny didn’t have the sense of what blowing away money was all about.
- In July 2014, Manziel is surreptitiously photographed rolling up a bill in a Las Vegas bathroom, which oftentimes is a precursor to snorting a line of cocaine. While there was no corroboration that Manziel was actually doing cocaine, it certainly didn’t look good.
- During training camp a month later, Manziel is two hours late for a morning team meeting, claiming he misread the schedule and that he shouldn’t be blamed for missing the early assignment.
- In the second preseason game of 2014, Manziel struggles and is being heckled by players from the Washington Redskins bench. His response? In a gesture picked up by cameras – video and still alike – Manziel gives an extended middle finger, a decision that cost him $12,000 in a fine from the NFL.
- In November 2014, Manziel and his posse are involved in a fight in an upscale Cleveland apartment complex. In the police complaint, a 33-year old resident of the complex said he recognized Manziel, approached to shake hands with him and was tackled by a member of Manziel’s entourage. In the melee that followed, the alleged victim said his brother was sucker punched by Manziel.
- Prior to Cleveland’s final game of his rookie season, Manziel was on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. He threw a party that included troubled teammate Josh Gordon, who missed a walk-through practice the following morning, leading to Gordon to be suspended for that game (he would later be suspended for the entire 2015 season for testing positive for alcohol while in the league’s substance abuse program). Manziel was fined by the Browns for missing scheduled treatments for his injured hamstring and didn’t answer calls from the team facility. A member of the organization had to go to his home to bring him back to the facility.
- Shortly after his failed rookie season, he met with the local media and said it was time for him to be accountable instead of “looking like a jackass,” adding it was either time to learn or time to “find something else to do.” That same night following those remarks, he sends out an Instagram birthday wish to LeBron James from a Miami nightclub in which he appears to have enjoyed some adult refreshments – the eyes rarely lie.
- ESPN: The Magazine prints a story citing more than a dozen players and members of the Browns organization and other players from other teams that know Manziel. The story centered on the belief that Manziel had a bad attitude, has a lack of commitment to the team and has not been preparing himself to play like a professional.
- On Oct. 12, 2015, Manziel is pulled over by police after other motorists reported a white Nissan cutting in and out of traffic at high speed with a female passenger trying to get out of the vehicle and the driver pulling her back in. Both admitted to drinking, but neither was over the limit. Manziel’s girlfriend at the time, Colleen Crowley, didn’t press charges against Manziel.
- During Cleveland’s bye week in November, a phone video appears on TMZ of Manziel partying at Rio Roofto, an Austin nightclub, and reports from patrons came out that Manziel was drinking copious amounts of Dom Perignon. When the team returns to practice, head coach Mike Pettine demotes Manziel to the third-string quarterback, saying that Manziel had showed improvement on the field, but his demotion “goes well beyond the field.”
- On Jan. 2, 2016, with the Browns’ season closing out, Manziel was sidelined and scheduled to be at the team facility the day of the game to receive treatment because he was in the NFL’s concussion protocol. He misses the session and reports surface that he was seen at a Las Vegas casino in a disguise of a blonde wig, fake moustache and glasses, claiming his name was Billy and asked that his tab be comped so he wouldn’t have to use a credit card. With casino bar staff unfamiliar with Billy Football, he is forced to pay his tab and it is learned that, in fact, he is Manziel.
- Manziel and Crowley, now his ex-girlfriend, have another incident last week after a call is made to Fort Worth police of a loud disturbance. Manziel is not arrested, but police refer to the incident as a “possible assault.” Crowley speaks to police and there is enough concern about his mental state that a search to locate him includes a helicopter searching for him or his vehicle.
As the old saying goes, 13 strikes and you’re out. When the 2014 draft opened, no player got more name mentions on opening night than Manziel, far more even than Bortles, who had been the clear-cut first quarterback off the board.
It seems ironic that, of the first four quarterbacks taken in the 2014 draft, three of them spent their weekend in Hawaii at the Pro Bowl. Manziel spent his weekend with police searching for him.
The Jaguars are happy with their QB decision. The Vikings are thrilled with trading back into the first round to get Bridgewater. The Raiders felt blessed that Carr was still there. Somewhere in the middle were the Cleveland Browns and Manziel, perhaps one of the ugliest QB sagas this side of JaMarcus Russell.