A most interesting offseason looms
Jimmy Haslam III, Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine had no idea they would eventually be running a school for wayward juvenile football players when they selected Justin Gilbert and Johnny Manziel with their first two picks in the college football draft last May.
They thought they were running a franchise in the National Football League. Turns out after just one season with these problem children, the Browns have come to the realization they drafted trouble.
The two wet-behind-the-ears Texans, whose college exploits were strong enough to warrant first-round attention in the lottery, have turned out to be nothing more than gigantic pains in the hind flanks.
Both expected – and were expected – to be valuable contributors on their respective sides of the football. They arrived in what seemed to be entitlement mode, almost as though it was a foregone conclusion they would log significant playing time.
As it turned out, both were loose cannons, players not willing to do what it takes to make the difficult transition from college football to the NFL. The game came almost too easily to them in college. This was entirely different and they weren’t willing to pay the price.
Commitment is such a vital ingredient in the development of a football player in such a transition and neither Manziel nor Gilbert seemed willing to make that commitment once they reached the NFL. Now they are paying a heavy price for their casual approach to their craft.
Both young men were recently either (a) fined or (b) suspended or (c) both for missing team commitments – in Gilbert’s case being late to a team meeting before the season finale in Baltimore; in Manziel’s case, not showing up for treatment of his too-sore-to-play hamstring.
Throughout the season, they severely underachieved and were rewarded accordingly. Gilbert never nailed down a starting role in the secondary and Manziel failed to improve to the point where Pettine could comfortably and confidently hand him the starting quarterback job.
Running a pro football team is hard enough without off-the-field issues. And these two provided more than a season’s worth with their almost casual approach to their jobs. It’s quite clear they need a sizable attitude adjustment. Browns safety Donte Whitner tried to provide one for Gilbert.
“It’s time to grow up and not be a kid anymore,” he said a few days ago. “He has to look at himself in the mirror . . . and understand what he did wrong . . . and when we return (next season) show everybody you have a good attitude and you want to go out there and be the player they drafted you to be.”
Manziel chose to put aside his playboy tendencies temporarily and rely on introspection and self analysis. “I brought this on myself,” he admitted. “I brought these cameras. I don’t think it’s fair to myself, not fair to anybody in this locker room, the distraction I brought at a point in time.” And then he apologized – reportedly not directly – to his teammates.
“I’m sorry to these guys who are veterans in this locker room and know what it takes,” he said. “I’m having to learn the hard way. At the same time, I’m either going to learn or I’m going to find something else to do. It’s time I look myself in the mirror and really hold myself accountable and start making some deals with my life.”
He says all the right words. For such a young man, he is extremely polished and well versed in how to handle the media. At some point, though, Manziel the con man seeps into my thoughts. He’s good, but I have a problem buying his bullroar.
For example, he says he needs to take his job more seriously. “There is not a bit of doubt in my mind that I’m serious about everything I’m talking about,” he said.
“But at the same time, you can talk and say this all you want, but when your actions don’t reflect that and you make a conscious decision to put yourself in that position that you stay out too late and not wake up the next morning, it’s going to cause a lot of trouble.”
Then came the kicker. “There is nothing I can sit here and tell you that’s going to do any good,” he said. “It’s about action and being accountable and doing what I’m going to say instead of looking like a jackass.” Ah yes, self-deprecation.
Less than a day after making those remarks, Manziel was down in Miami having a good time with his friends and hangers-on and football was the farthest thing from his mind. The 2014 season was an immediate distant memory even though it had ended just a few days earlier.
That’s one of the reasons Haslam performed an intervention of sorts last Sunday when addressing the problems some of his young high profile players like Manziel, Gilbert and wide receiver Josh Gordon have with commitment, serving notice at the same time that it will stop or else.
“We’re not going to tolerate people who are irresponsible no matter what round they are drafted in,” the owner said. “We’re going to give them a chance. . . . Hopefully, they’ll grow up. . . . But if they can’t grow up, if they can’t be responsible to their teammates and the coaches and our fans, they then won’t be with the Cleveland Browns.”
He hinted at changes. “Clearly quarterback is an important position in the NFL and we’ve got to figure it out,” he said. “If you look at the Browns and where they have struggled, they have struggled at quarterback. We know that’s a position . . . we’ll have to address.“
Interestingly, he refers to his team in the third person plural rather than first person plural.
In his season-ending news conference, Pettine hauled out the talk is cheap card on Manziel and suggested the quarterback situation “is still very much a question mark. . . . I would say out quarterback situation is muddy at best.”
Even former major league pitcher Curt Schilling, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan, weighed in and offered his advice to Manziel about a week ago through Twitter after the rookie quarterback made his frank admission about commitment.
@JManziel2 Didn’t ask for it, but I’ll throw it out there. If being the best doesn’t consume your every waking thought, do something else.
In order for Manziel – and Gilbert – to follow that path, each had to do something that was foreign to them this past season. They have to grow up, get serious and start acting like professionals, not jerks. This isn’t college anymore. They’re playing with the big boys now. They have placed themselves squarely under the microscope.
Let’s give Farmer the last word here.” I would tell you that words don’t mean anything,” he told the Cleveland media Tuesday in obvious reference to Manziel. “We’re all about action.”
Should be a more interesting offseason than usual.