Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. John Manziel is once again unattached.
It’s been five years since the Cleveland Browns made Manziel the 22nd overall pick in the draft, eschewing the $100,000 analytics project that told them to take Teddy Bridgewater and instead relying on the advice of a homeless man who whispered, “Draft Manziel” into the ear of Browns owner Jimmy Haslam..
It’s been three years since Manziel was released by the Browns after two seasons which, statistically, weren’t that bad but in reality had more in common with a 1970s ABA star than a 2010s NFL quarterback.
Since then, he’s tried in fits and starts to stop being a self-destructive, narcissistic, toxic, entitled little pissant who takes advantage of the people who stand by him and vomits on opportunities handed to him.
He paid some dues, going up to Canada to play for the Tiger Cats and Alouettes last season. There’s been some introspection. There have been interviews where he’s shown a level of self-awareness. (Two years ago, he told People he spent 2016 “lost in the sauce”.)
Now that he’s out of the CFL he’s clearly eyeballing a chance in the AAF or XFL, telling our beloved Kayce Smith on Barstool’s Comeback Szn podcast that the AAF is “[great] for football. It’s great for the guys who need more opportunity and need more film and time to play, so I don’t know exactly what my exact steps will be for the next years coming up, but at least there’s a lot of options. Me and [agent Erik Burkhardt] are fully committed to playing ball and trying to get into the best situation possible, and that’s what it’s all about.”
Manziel won’t turn 27 until December. The Patriots have a 42-year-old starting quarterback (caveat, he may be the greatest player in NFL history) and a 33-year-old backup (Brian Hoyer).
If Manziel negotiates the spring and summer without event and shows a glimmer of being NFL capable, is it worth it for the Patriots to bring Manziel into their lab for reprogramming?
I give it a tentative nod.
In preparing to replace Tom Brady, the Patriots are going to have to cast a wide net. And even with that, they may never land a player who’s half as good as Brady in Brady’s least effective season. (Please don’t “Jimmy G” me . . he’s a handsome Greg Oden at this point.)
Manziel’s football upside is real. He’s a talented athlete. He’s had -- or at least did in 2012 and 2013 -- high-caliber performances against the best competition in college football. He’s accurate. He’s incredibly low-cost. He’s not going to threaten Brady’s territory in any manner. He is representative of a style of offensive football that’s taken root in the NFL because every kid coming out of college plays that style.
As for it being a distraction, in my opinion, almost every time the Patriots have imported a player who we said was going to upset the team’s way of doing business, said player has actually become a case study in how the team brings hard-to-manage players to heel.
And that works for the entire team because the messaging of “Do Your Job” and “Ignore the Noise” turns into an everyday activity.
As for the downside?
Well, it would honestly take a while for there to be any tangible downside. Criticism, ramped-up attention and second-guessing aren’t real. They are just conversation.
“Real” would be if something similar to what the Patriots experienced with Josh Gordon were to happen. A player comes in, time is spent, manpower is devoted, the player assimilates to a point and comes to be relied upon but, ultimately, proves to be a mirage.
It’s not what you’re looking for at any position, but definitely not what you’re looking for at quarterback.
That’s why -- if the Patriots were even to entertain the idea of Manziel -- they’d want to hear from Hoyer, who was in Cleveland and saw Full Metal Johnny at his worst. Kyle Shanahan too. He was the OC in Cleveland when Manziel was there.
If either of them were able to give a recommendation after seeing Manziel at his most destructive, that would carry some sway.
There are a lot of tenets that Bill Belichick adheres to when considering players. But two are very relevant when it comes to Manziel.
First, figuring out whether football is important to Manziel. Important enough to become monkish in his preparation and agreeing to ask himself whether every activity he takes part in makes him a better football player. Is football important because he loves it or because he loved what playing it well brought him?
Second, would Bill Belichick like Manziel? Because the 2017 conversation relayed by then-Ohio State coach Urban Meyer in which Belichick said that at this point he only wants to “bother coaching players he likes” really sticks out to me. Don’t be so sure Belichick wouldn’t like Manziel. He doesn’t hate a smart-ass personality. He might not hate the optics of Manziel walking past cameras with his head down or saying blandly, “Just trying to get better every day . . . ” would bring. And Belichick has always relished the challenge of getting something from a player that nobody else could.
I say do it. Just for the hell of it.
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