A week after naming him the starter for the rest of the season, Browns coach Mike Pettine decided Tuesday that he had to bench Johnny Manziel for next Monday’s game vs. the Ravens because of Manziel’s latest “disappointing” appearance on social media and in subsequent non-football headlines.
Finally, Pettine felt the need to do something.
Manziel partied away his first NFL season and then went to rehab for an undisclosed reason for 10 weeks last winter. The Browns chose Josh McCown as their starting quarterback during that time and Pettine didn’t waver until the season was lost and McCown’s injuries left him no other choice. Manziel had a very public incident in October, too, a roadside argument with his girlfriend during which she told police he pushed her head against a window.
After that story broke, both Manziel and his girlfriend took to social media to say “it was just an argument.” No charges were filed, and after a full investigation the NFL said it would not discipine Manziel. Last week, Manziel said he would neither be a distraction nor an embarrassment during his bye week. He didn’t get in any legal trouble, but after the website Busted Coverage posted pictures and a since-deleted Instagram video from an Austin, Texas nightclub last Friday, Pettine spent his first post-bye press conference Tuesday answering 19 questions about Manziel and discussing a disturbing pattern of behavior.
Of the hundreds of quarterback-related NFL arguments, things like Instagram, rehab, curfew, DJs and actually being forced to spend a game watching from the locker room — as Pettine forced Manziel to do last December in Baltimore — only come up involving one.
He’s 22, and for the second time he’s basically been grounded by Pettine.
Lots of pictures and questions have come up — this is basically the one-year anniversary of the early-morning incident between Manziel’s friends and a fan in the lobby of his apartment building — and Manziel always provides similar responses. He apologizes, he promises it won’t happen again, he claims he’s changed and focused on football.
This all goes back to 18 months ago, when Manziel would put in his three or four days of offseason work then head to wherever TMZ and a bunch of random Instagrammers and DJs would find him. Pettine defended Manziel’s right to “have fun,” and even through all the other social media posts and incidents the team has supported him. He probably got fined for no-showing a practice that led to the locker room thing in Baltimore, but there’s been little in the way of public reprimand or disgust until Tuesday.
Pettine publicly supporting Manziel’s right to have fun was before the money phone, the inflatable swan, the rolled-up bill and the blowing off of the playbook last year. The Browns have been along for the ride, and Manziel has won one of five career starts. Do the math and you’ll find that it’s fair of those running the Browns to ask for a better return on investment and embarrassment.
By now it’s clear: Johnny is going to Johnny, even when he says he won’t.
The Browns might only truly reach him by cutting him, which seems extreme but probably isn’t out of the question now that the team is deciding it needs to do something. An ever-changing organization that’s having an especially bad stretch even by its own recent standards now realizes it can’t keep playing second fiddle to Manziel’s true interests.
This makes two seasons now that the Browns have wanted or needed — both, really — to find out about Manziel and his ability to be that elusive franchise quarterback.
Manziel keeps answering the question, and it sounds like Pettine is now asking someone else to listen.