I’m not a psychic, but I bet I can guess what you did this past Sunday. At some point during the late afternoon, you sat down along with the rest of America, to watch the Super Bowl. Maybe you were with friends enjoying a frosty beverage or two at your local sports bar. Or maybe you had friends over at your place BBQing every edible meat known to man as you and your buddies talked about the game. But, what if you don’t even like football? You probably watched it for the commercials, right? The Super Bowl is famous for its memorable 30second ads. Maybe you watched it because you love Coldplay and screamed like a teenager at a Justin Bieber concert when you heard the news that they would be performing at halftime. The Super Bowl has something for everyone. Last year’s spectacle brought 114 million viewers to their television screens and it wasn’t just because Katy Perry was riding a large iron lion at the midpoint. Well, for me it was…
Professional football is America’s most watched sport. Its popularity is spreading all over the world and has seen a steady rise in ticket sales and attendance each year. But what makes this sport so exciting for its rabid fans? Is it the hard tackles that reverberate your ear drums each play? The jaw dropping accuracy of a pass from a quarterback threading the needle to a wide receiver smothered by defenders? Or, if you are like me, it’s because you can justify ordering pizza for delivery at 9 in the morning. The NFL knows what we want, and it gives us the action and personality that we need to keep us hooked all day Sunday. For the younger generation it provides us with unintentional “reality” stars. There was no player better signified as a reality TV star than Johnny “Football” Manziel. He took the football world by storm in 2012. He was the first freshman to ever win the Heisman trophy and almost won it again the year after. Manziel wasn’t just skilled; he represented a different attitude compared to the classic “Manning” persona that we were used to. He was a rebel. He followed his own style and didn’t care what anyone thought. Who else would dress up his Heisman trophy with a Rolex? In a world dominated by Kardashianbased TV shows, this guy would bring a new spirit to watching football every Sunday. With his immense talent pool with “YOLO” bleeding all over his swagger, you knew there could be problems, though. He was an instant hit at Texas A&M in a state where football was king. Stories circled the media about his life in college. The wild nights of drinking and partying until the break of dawn and usual shenanigans that students experience. Maybe it was a phase, maybe once he left college he would grow up. Someone had to take a chance on him. A team would see his impact on the game of football, his potential, his ability to scramble under pressure and still find the open man down field. A team that would let him continue to be “Johnny Football” but scaled down to a manageable level that would still bring fans to fill the seats in their stadium. A team looking to gain respectability and viability in the league and the marketplace. What team dared to take this chance? The Cleveland Browns.
Manziel wasn’t the obvious choice and it took work to get him in the draft. They had the 26th pick in the draft and Johnny Football might not be there by the time the Browns were on the clock. The wheels of fate were turning and quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains received a notification on his cell phone during the draft. It was from Manziel. They had met at the predraft meetings and meshed well. In the text, Johnny said he wanted to be a Brown and promised to help “wreck this league” together. That was all the confirmation the Cleveland Browns needed, they contacted the Philadelphia Eagles and traded two of their upcoming picks to grab the 22nd pick in the first round. And that was when all the “wrecking” began; the Cleveland Browns selected Johnny Manziel and set the social media world on fire. Now, don’t get me wrong. The wooing wasn’t all Johnny. The Cleveland Browns needed him too.
Let’s face it. When you think of teams to watch in the NFL, the Cleveland Browns are not the sexy pick. In fact, the Browns have been repeated offenders on the “NFL’s most boring teams to watch” list for many years. Attendance at their games was erratic and floated near the bottom half of the league’s rankings. They play hardnosed football, but hadn’t made the playoffs since 2002. And that game you watched this past Sunday? The Super Bowl? They have never played in one…ever. The team needed an injection of fresh talent and personality to bring their brand of football across televisions all over America. That’s where Johnny Manziel came in. Drafting him made an immediate impact. He was already a social media superstar with a huge Twitter and Instagram following. The Cleveland Browns couldn’t keep new Manziel jerseys on the shelves. and they were the most tweeted about team during the month he was drafted. His “2” jersey was the most bought jersey in the first quarter of the NFL’s fiscal year. The gamble was already paying off. Manziel was not just a player, he was a brand and as the franchise’s new quarterback, he was the new face to represent them. With that new status, comes a price. The Browns knew that much, but, they didn’t know exactly how much the financial windfall would be because of Johnny Football.
The Cleveland Browns showed Manziel the money and inked him to a four-year deal worth about $8.3 million. He was slated to compete with Brian Hoyer for the starting QB spot, but it was obvious that Hoyer’s days were numbered. Brian Hoyer would become the bridge for Johnny. A player to help show him the ropes and aid in his development. That job was shortlived because Manziel couldn’t stay out of trouble. In a world of smartphones and social media sites, the Browns could not contain what their supposed “face” was doing on his off time. There were pictures of partying with coeds, drinking champagne in Vegas swimming pools, and some of their newly given money being flashed in Instagram posts. But, like a father, they chastised their rebellious son. “Don’t do that Johnny, you should know better.” Just like a true son, he promised to do better and did the exact opposite. These antics didn’t just happen off the field, they happened on the field too. He was fined $12,500 for flipping the middle finger to a stunned Washington Redskins bench. He was late to team meetings and mandatory walkthroughs. They even sent security to his Cleveland home because they couldn’t locate him. The clubbing and partying had to end; last January, Manziel entered rehab willingly to balance out his life and priorities. He received support from his organization, teammates, and other celebrities. The world watched as he exited rehab as a new man focused on the job at hand.
Sadly, it didn’t take long to fall apart. Manziel had public altercations with fans in public arenas. Hints of trouble with his girlfriend ended with accusations of abuse surfacing on the net and the Browns organization was on its last nerve. But, he was finally starting to play on the field consistently. He had troubled games and showed flashes of that talented quarterback that they gambled on in 2014. It was not enough, though. On January 30, police intervened to investigate more allegations of a physical nature with his girlfriend. “Dad” could not take it anymore and revealed that it would let go of it’s troubled $8.3 million dollar son. The four-year experiment with Johnny Football will be cut short on March 9. The Browns could theoretically cut Manziel now, but the bill of doing such a move would cost the organization 4.6 million dollars. And the organization would not be able to afford such a move. That March 9 date provides more financial stability because their salary cap will be increased and it gives them the flexibility to figure out new options. But, why not trade him? Doing so would save $2.5 million, but it would take some considerable work to convince a team to take him especially because of his latest incident.
Imagine if the Browns did not trade their picks to grab Manziel. Instead, they chose Teddy Bridgewater with their 26th pick. He signed a deal with the Vikings valued at 4 years and $6.8 million. Or Derek Carr? He is a high character guy and signed for 4 years and $5.3 million. If the Cleveland Browns did that, they wouldn’t have had this nightmare that they will have to deal with for years to come. And maybe, just maybe, they could see themselves PLAYING in the Super Bowl, instead of just watching it just like you and me.