If Johnny Manziel is going to get the opportunity for a return to the NFL, there appears to be at least one more vice he will need to leave behind during his latest aggressive attempt to re-brand himself: social media.
For a handful of NFL teams weighing Manziel’s potential comeback, the former Texas A&M star and Cleveland Browns bust could take a step forward by deleting his social media accounts that have become his chief sales-pitching tools. That was a consistent takeaway when Yahoo Sports spoke with multiple league evaluators about Manziel this week – that any signing of Manziel will come with conditions, and one of them will be significantly curbing his social media presence.
Considering the various problems Manziel is shouldering from his past, his seemingly self-absorbed (and sometimes combative) presence on Twitter and Instagram were consistent complaints this week from NFL evaluators.
“I know it’s generational, but his [social media] accounts are still ridiculous,” one evaluator said. “That’s still such a big component with him. … He can say he’s maturing, but I went through one of his accounts today – literally today – and within a couple minutes of reading I can see [a tweet] where he’s calling [actor and media personality Michael Rapaport] a ‘[expletive] boy.’
“It’s like, ‘Buddy, you have millions of people following you, you’re 25 or 26 or whatever and you’re saying you’ve grown up so much.’ ”
“If he’s trying to sell himself as something different, start with that,” the evaluator continued. “There are so many things to deal with already. … Social media is a big negative for anyone who wants to sign him. It’s like, ‘Be willing to sacrifice something that is clearly extremely important to you.’ ”
Yahoo Sports spoke to multiple NFL evaluators about Manziel as he practiced in advance of a debut in the Spring League, a scouting showcase taking place in Austin, Texas, this month. The group was comprised of several evaluators who either saw Manziel throw live at Texas A&M’s pro day in late March or who did significant work on Manziel in the run-up to the 2014 draft. Interestingly, the array of evaluators shared optimism about Manziel’s potential NFL return. Largely due to one consensus agreement: Despite not playing a game in over two years, there is belief that Manziel hasn’t lost the natural talent that made him one of college football’s most dynamic players.
“I wasn’t surprised [he looked good at the Texas A&M pro day],” one evaluator said. “As long as he wasn’t out of shape, I thought he’d probably throw well and he did. … He’s got talent. He’s always had talent. It’s just a lot of [stuff] there getting in his way. But just on talent, he’s better than a lot of quarterbacks on [NFL] rosters and he’s better than a lot of guys that will get drafted [this month].”
Asked to rank where Manziel would fit in the current QB draft class, another evaluator slotted Manziel just behind the “Big 5” group of USC’s Sam Darnold, Wyoming’s Josh Allen, UCLA’s Josh Rosen, Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield and Louisville’s Lamar Jackson.
A few other nuggets about Manziel:
• There was a consensus that Manziel looked healthy and in good shape at the Texas A&M pro day. He moved around well and displayed similar arm strength and velocity to his skills prior to the 2014 NFL draft. While it was an abridged workout, Manziel showed enough to plant the seed in the mind of teams that he still brings talent to the table.
• If Manziel is ultimately signed, several evaluators said it likely won’t happen until after the draft – possibly with a team looking for a developmental quarterback that misses out on its draft targets. This could change if Manziel blows someone away during this month’s Spring League event, but even then, a signing seemed unlikely before teams have solidified their draft classes.
• A Manziel contract – if he draws an offer – will likely be a bare-bones, one-year deal for a low salary with no guaranteed money. Essentially, teams will want to be able to cut him at the drop of a hat with no hesitation. And as mentioned with Manziel’s social media accounts, any deal would likely be offered with a bevy of off-the-books conditions. Essentially, he’s going to be asked to give a lot with little promise of anything in return but a roster opportunity.
• A significant problem for teams who see Manziel as a developmental prospect: He could face a six-game suspension under the NFL’s domestic violence policy, stemming from a conditional dismissal in an assault case involving his former girlfriend, Colleen Crowley. The league suspended Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott six games despite having no legal filing against him following assault allegations. Manziel very well could face the same punishment once he signs with a team (and more important, six practice weeks away from any new franchise). Not to mention the public relations reality of having him on the roster and any new franchise having to revisit Crowley’s allegations.
• The Patriots spending time with Manziel before and after the workout was not a surprise in the personnel community. New England values cheap, cuttable talent, so that alone may have put Manziel on the Patriots’ radar. But one evaluator told Yahoo Sports the Patriots actually liked aspects of Manziel’s game and personality a great deal before the 2014 NFL draft. So much so that New England did a deep dive on Manziel and brought him in for a workout in 2014. The evaluator said that previous visit left a lasting impression on the New England staff, including offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and head coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots also spoke to Alabama coach Nick Saban, who shared some high praise for Manziel. In 2014, a very critical scouting report on Manziel surfaced on BroBible.com, allegedly from inside the Patriots. The Patriots never officially denied the report, although some Patriots beat writers questioned the veracity. One longtime evaluator told Yahoo Sports the report was legitimate, including comments within it from a New England area scout.
• Manziel’s breakfast with New Orleans Saints coach Sean Payton during the week of Super Bowl LI in February 2017 apparently wasn’t a one-day occurrence. According to a source, Payton met with Manziel three times during that Super Bowl week, trying to get a feel for the quarterback as a person and how he was planning to get his life together for an NFL return. That doesn’t mean the Saints would consider Manziel now, but it’s notable that Payton is reputed in the personnel community to be a big fan of Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield – the draft prospect who, whether Mayfield likes it or not, often draws Manziel comparisons.
Whether it’s the Patriots, Saints or any NFL team, there’s a chest-deep swamp of issues and concerns waiting for any franchise that ultimately courts Manziel. That may be why Manziel has spoken of being open to playing in the Canadian Football League – which would be a two-year ironclad commitment away from the NFL, per CFL contract rules. If he can’t get an NFL franchise to bite after this week’s work in the Spring League, it might take two years of showing on a professional football field (and off it) that he can live the lifestyle and commitment that he’s selling right now.
As NFL evaluators have made so plain this week, the talent isn’t the problem with the former Texas A&M Heisman Trophy winner. It’s seemingly everything else. Changing that reality might take more than rewriting the “Johnny Manziel pitch.” It may take deleting it altogether.
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