Balzer on NFL: Can Manziel rebound?

Howard Balzer

April 15, 2016 at 11:31 am.

Is Johnny Manziel (2) done as an NFL player? Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Is Johnny Manziel (2) done as an NFL player? Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

As the days dwindle down in advance of this year’s draft, it seems hard to believe it was just two years ago that fans rejoiced in Cleveland when the Browns selected quarterback Johnny Manziel in the first round.

Now, with the Browns potentially taking yet another quarterback in the first round, it’s crystal clear that Manziel is at a crossroad in his career. And only he can make the decision whether he truly wants to be a professional football player.

He certainly said all the right things when he was interviewed at the Combine in February, 2014.

Asked during his media session whether he was prepared to change the lifestyle that marked his days at Texas A&M, Manziel said, “Absolutely. I believe whenever I decided to make this decision to turn professional, it was a time to really put my college years in the past. This is a job now. There’s guys’ families, coaches’ families and jobs and all kinds of things on the line. For me it’s nothing, it won’t be a hard thing to kick or anything really a hard deal to not do. I’m extremely focused on whatever organization I’ll be at and really pouring my heart out trying to be football 24/7 with that team.”

Talk about utter BS. He said what people wanted to hear, and many bought it.

So, here he is a player without a team and no one wanting to touch him, even agent Drew Rosenhaus, who rescinded his representation of Manziel, saying, “I have informed him that if he takes the immediate steps I have outlined for him that I will rescind the termination and continue to represent him. Otherwise the termination will become permanent. There is a five-day window for me to rescind the termination. I’m hoping he takes the necessary steps to get his life back on track.”

Rosenhaus referred to Manziel as a “young man who’s in trouble” and called the situation “life and death.”

He concluded, “If he doesn’t follow my advice and get help then I have to stand down. I’m very concerned about him, very concerned.”

Numerous people close to him or that played with him have voiced similar concerns, but the question is whether he is listening.

His college coach, Kevin Sumlin told Fox Sports recently, “The things you see on TMZ, without a doubt, are hurting him.” Sumlin said, “Pro football is a job. I know from his competitive nature he loves the game. Without a doubt, there’s a lot of things going on in his life that if he’s serious about playing professional football he’s got to change.

“Whatever that perception is has become reality for him, and he’s got to look that in the eye and say, ‘Alright, here’s a situation. Here’s what people think. What are the issues right now?’ He’s got to address those. He’s a great competitor, and when he was here he loved the game of football, he loved to practice, he loved to play the game. That’s got to translate in his actions in the clubhouse or with his team. The perception that he doesn’t care, he’s got to deal with that, and the only way to deal with that is to show up and work at it every day.”

Browns quarterback Josh McCown put it bluntly, noting that Manziel has to simply decide whether playing football or being a partier is what matters most.

The abject reality is that if he chooses the latter, he’ll look back on these days and suddenly realize what a fool he was.

Said McCown on PFT Live recently, “He has to eliminate distractions. All the things and people around him that don’t help him move forward as a quarterback, he’s got to eliminate them, get rid of them, they can’t be a part of his life anymore.

“I spent a year with him, and mentally and physically, he can do it. But he’s got to eliminate distractions and he’s got to move forward, and he’s got to ask himself, ‘Do I love the game?’ If ultimately, in his heart, he doesn’t love the game, he’s going to split his time between all these other things and trying to be good at football, and it’s just a hard sport to do that with.”

Perhaps when Manziel made the comments he did at the Combine, he was oblivious to just how much dedication is necessary to play at a high level at the most difficult position in team sports.

Concluded McCown, “It causes you to question whether or not they really love it. I feel like when he was in the meetings, and he was engaged, he absolutely loved it. But it’s a 24/7 deal as a quarterback. That’s the mindset you have to have, and I think that has to improve before somebody will observe you and go, ‘Yeah, you love it.'”

Even Manziel supporter Jerry Jones, the Dallas Cowboys owner, chimed in on what he has observed about the player’s life spiraling out of control. Jones told the team’s website, “As it would turn out, he’s had a disappointing life experience, as it would pertain to his time in the NFL. I do respect him as a player and a talent. I want to talk about any way he could help that. My interpretation of how he’s responded to the challenge of fame and the challenge of professionalism, has been compromised by a far more important issue. He needs to get the human elements and skills addressed. I think where he is, speaks for itself. That just has to be addressed.”

Only Manziel can address it. Currently, he’s close to becoming just another NFL washout like JaMarcus Russell.

O’Brien’s Belief

There were raised eyebrows when the Texans paid quarterback Brock Osweiler $18 million a year on a four-year contract, but it’s scary what head coach Bill O’Brien’s team will be able to accomplish if Osweiler is anything close to how good O’Brien believes he will be.

After all, Houston was 9-7 the last two seasons with a veritable merry-go-round at the position. It turns out O’Brien was most impressed with the way Osweiler played in a Denver 30-24 overtime win over the Patriots in late November.

Said O’Brien, “The one thing that stood out to me on tape when I watched him is all of the games that he played in were meaningful games. These guys were in a playoff hunt and he was in some tough ballgames.

“I use the example of the New England game. He was being pressured quite a bit and he was taking some really good hits but he was delivering the football and I thought that said a lot about his toughness, his ability to keep his eyes downfield under pressure and deliver the football. It wasn’t always complete, but I thought he did a nice job in that game. So I think that’s one of the things we’re all looking forward to is working with that type of guy that’s a tough guy, a good leader, a good teammate. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”