DPD roundtable: What to do about Johnny Manziel?


Oct 18, 2015; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) at FirstEnergy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns found themselves leading off the news cycle again this week — and for all the wrong reasons.

Once again, it was Johnny Manziel who was at the heart of it all.

Head coach Mike Pettine named Manziel the starting quarterback before the team left for its bye weekend with one simple request: act like a professional for a few days.

Manziel chose, instead, to be the teenager who throws a party as soon as his parents leave town. And when confronted with it, he chose to lie to the team rather than face the truth.

That was the final straw for Pettine and he demoted Manziel all the way down to third string, a position that has been inactive on game day through the team’s first 10 games.

That decision created a firestorm among the media and fans and took much of the week’s focus off of Monday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.

“When you have a great opportunity in front of you, it is important that you demonstrate that you can handle the responsibility that comes with it.” – Head coach Mike Pettine

The move has also divided the fanbase, with some realizing that Manziel bears complete responsibility for his actions; while others, who believe nothing is ever Manziel’s fault, blame the Browns for having the audacity to discipline a player. (We even saw one argument claiming that if the Browns didn’t want Manziel to lie, they shouldn’t have asked him what he did over the weekend.)

Did Pettine and the Browns make the right decision? Does Manziel still have a future in Cleveland? These are some of the questions surrounding the issue, so we’ve pulled together a roundtable of Dawg Pound Daily staff to try and find some answers.

Joining us for a quick Q&A are co-editors Steven Kubitza and Thomas Moore, and staff writers Matt Stevenson, Roger Cohen, Murray Alexander and Mark Riley.

Nov 5, 2015; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) walks off the field in the second half against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. The Bengals won 31-10. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Question: Did the Browns handle the latest Johnny Manziel incident correctly?

Matt: The Cleveland Browns absolutely handled the situation regarding Johnny Manziel correctly. It’s not that other Browns players weren’t drinking over the bye week or that Manziel isn’t allowed to go back home to his home state of Texas. It’s that he promised not only head coach Mike Pettine, but also the fans of Cleveland that he wouldn’t put himself in the exact position that he is now in.

Sure, he is a 22-year-old kid that didn’t break any laws by going out and partying with friends. However, he also has the Browns first Monday Night Football game since 2009 around the corner, which is a great opportunity to establish himself as a quality starting quarterback on national television.

The bottom line is that Manziel wasn’t supposed to be out creating headlines that included him drinking and partying. As someone who spent 10 weeks in rehab, and especially after the roadside incident with his girlfriend last month, he should’ve been able to take a week off of partying and act like a mature adult, just Josh McCown and many other quarterbacks in this league.

“We tell our players, ‘You lose trust in buckets and you regain it in drops.’ I think that certainly applies here.” – Head coach Mike Pettine

Manziel was given an opportunity and he screwed up despite knowing what the consequences would ensue. Pettine did the right thing by demoting him for the upcoming game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Roger: For anyone who has managed a tricky personnel issue, there’s no “correct” way … only “tough,” “worse” and “wrong.” As I wrote when the news broke — and more so given now that we know Manziel lied about his latest screw up — the Browns, especially Pettine, handled it textbook the “best” way.

Steven: When I first heard of the suspension I though the team may have overreacted in dropping Manziel all the way to third string. Then it came out that he lied. And told his friends to lie.

I have been a major defender of Manziel this season, but lying in this case is just immature and flat out stupid. Mike Pettine had no choice but to bench Manziel once it became clear he lied. If he allowed Manziel to get away with this he would be at risk of losing the locker room, and also his job. Showing that he will not allow for such dishonesty on his team reveals that Pettine is here to try and change this losing culture one step at a time.

Murray: Short of cutting Manziel, I don’t really think there was an alternative. It’s pretty clear going by comments from the players that Mike Pettine had to show some accountability for Manziel’s actions. I don’t think the locker room would have been behind Pettine otherwise, especially after all his talk of “words into actions.”

“How we handle our business and how we go about things is on us. We stand behind the coach and the decisions.” – Wide receiver Brian Hartline

The Browns could have cut Manziel and been justified in doing so, but really the Browns aren’t in much of a position to be letting young quarterbacks that have shown some talent go.

I do think there’s a question that could be asked of their treatment of Manziel up to this latest incident. There have been prior reports that he was still going out and enjoying the nightlife before he was named the starter. The Browns should have perhaps addressed the situation then, rather than concentrating on getting Manziel corrected on the field and then addressing the off-field behavior. If it was enough of an issue that he felt the need to lie about it now, then it was an issue then.

However, none of that excuses that Manziel’s behavior was completely unacceptable and he’s lucky he had built up enough good faith that he wasn’t immediately cut.

Mark: I believe that ultimately the Browns handled the situation correctly, in as much as they kept it in house as long as possible. Once Manziel was demoted, they had no choice but to reveal the details of the lies and attempted coverup.

Thomas: Pettine most certainly made the right decision in demoting Manziel, and you could probably make the argument that they could have suspended him.

It’s clear that the coaching staff told Manziel he would be the starter before the bye to see how he would react to the news, hoping that he would make the right choice as opposed to the easy one. And we all saw how that played out.

While there are many fans who don’t like the decision and still don’t get it, Manziel didn’t leave Pettine or the team any choice. For weeks now we’ve heard fans bleat about how Pettine has “lost the locker room” with no real evidence, letting Manziel skate without any discipline is the one thing Pettine could have done that would have ensured that he really would lose the respect of the players.

Nov 15, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) passes the ball against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first quarter at Heinz Field. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

What should the Browns do with Manziel going forward — not just the rest of the season but after the season?

Matt: The Browns should let Manziel have an opportunity to start and regain the respect and trust from his teammates, coaches and fans. He was a first-round pick and the guy who was supposedly going to lead this team back to prominence. Manziel has proven he is capable of playing at the NFL level, even without being the starter all season and practicing with the first-stringers on a regular basis. He’s a play-maker and can execute plays that many other quarterbacks in the league can’t.

“I think it’s probably more than what you see on the surface from a TMZ report or whatever report.” – Left tackle Joe Thomas

Start him the last three games of the season and give him a shot to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. If he can get a win against the Steelers, his confidence would skyrocket heading into the off-season as would the confidence of the fans. It’s the perfect opportunity for Manziel to prove his loyalty and leadership to his teammates, which is something that he desperately needs right now.

If Manziel can stay out of trouble over the course of the summer and get his mind right, then give him the keys to the car for the 2016 season. If he can’t stay out of trouble (trouble for Manziel is much different from any other player on Cleveland aside Josh Gordon) the rest of the season, or plays and looks incapable of leading this Browns team, then it’s simply time to cut the cord and, once again, lose another first-round pick for nothing.

The Browns have made it clear that Manziel’s off-the-field actions are the main priority before his football career, and that’s the ethical choice to make. It’s up to Johnny Football now to clean up his act and choose a career as a football player or a party icon that could’ve, should’ve and would’ve been great.

Roger: I’ve been Manziel’s biggest defender — sunk cost, understanding of addiction, and his real progress and potential on field — and the best approach is to treat him the way Washington is with RGIII. Cutting Manziel loses all sunk cost with no benefit; playing him or further coddling just extends the enabling. Keep him “parked” as the third string as long as possible — but in no event trade him when his value is low.

Remember, this is a Heisman Trophy winner, a smaller, but more elusive anti-Tim Tebow with a better arm: if there’s a team that would part with a high draft choice (third round or higher) or package pre-draft, then maybe part ways.

Otherwise, wait, watch and hope — and don’t sleep on Connor Shaw.

Steven: I think Manziel should be on the shortest of leashes. He is still so young, but this is the NFL and if he can’t show maturity soon, he will have to try and make his way on a different team.

At this point, it seems like he simply doesn’t get it. Going to rehab was a seemingly mature move, but these recent incidents show that he is not even close to being ready to be an NFL quarterback. So I say keep him — for now. If he does anything like this again or even dares to try and lie to the coaches, he has to go.

“I am not going to do anything that is going to be a distraction to this team or be an embarrassment to the organization.” – Quarterback Johnny Manziel

Murray: Really it’s just a read-and-react situation for the Browns now. The hope is that this is another step to health and maturity for Manziel and he continues to improve. Going by the coaches comments, there is no denying that they do want to see him play this year so they can see what he can offer.

If he keeps his head down and continues with his “A-plus” behavior in the facility, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Manziel playing by week 15. It’s still a six-week audition for Manziel now, maybe not to be the starter in 2016 – Josh McCown is still contracted for the next two years — but to be a part of the team. I don’t think you can really look beyond that right now, but if Manziel’s still improving keep him and, if he’s not, then he’ll be gone.

Mark: I believe Manziel should be cut immediately. Any trust he garnered with his teammates and upper echelon is gone forever. He has been given repeated opportunities to do the right thing by the team, his teammates and the fans, but chose to be a child. He is worthless to the team now, he has clearly demonstrated that the bottle and the party are more important to him than professional football.

I honestly hope he gets additional help and that it sticks, but I fear that his career is over. He can’t be trusted to tell the truth to his coaches, owner, teammates and, most of all, the fans. Manziel has been given every chance to be a man, and win a starting job in the NFL, but he chose the bottle. See ya’ Johnny!

Thomas: For the rest of the season the Browns should stay the course with Manziel. Keep him third string and make him earn back the trust he lost.

The worst thing they could right now is to release him. Even though he is third string, there is a very real chance that he will be needed before the season is finished. There is no guarantee that Josh McCown will make it through the rest of the year without another injury, and Manziel is more talented than Austin Davis, so if McCown were to go down again with an injury, Manziel needs to be ready.

The question becomes more difficult once the season ends.

More from Dawg Pound Daily

We can’t remember a Browns player, or any Cleveland athlete, who has done so little on the field but generated so many headlines, almost all negative, off the field the way Manziel has. And now the Browns can’t even trust him, which deepens the problem.

If Manziel earns another chance at being the starter, can he be trusted not to screw it up? Or if he is not ready to give up the night life, can he finally figure out how to enjoy himself without having to be the guy with the lampshade on his head every time?

Those are questions that only time will reveal and the Browns have to decide if Manziel is worth the time. He’s talented, but there are still a lot of questions about whether or not his game can translate to the NFL level.

If the Browns decide that it is time to let Manziel be someone else’s problem, we don’t see them doing anything until draft weekend. If the club determines that there is a quarterback worth selecting high in next spring’s draft, then we could see a Manziel trade being completed during the draft.

If the Browns do decide to keep Manziel, then we should all buckle up because 2016 could very well be another repeat of this year’s drama.