October 25, 2014

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Browns commentary: Johnny Manziel should have skipped Vegas

The conversation reached suburban Dayton at a family party where plenty of adult beverages were consumed and no work was done.

Did it matter that Browns rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel was in Las Vegas partying over Memorial Day weekend?

The buzzing backyard was divided, as are most things when Manziel is the subject of the discussion.

On one side of the cornhole game: He had the weekend off from Browns obligations, didn’t break any laws and is a 21-year-old who likes to have fun.

On the other side: The rush to party only two weeks after he was drafted shows a lack of dedication, a love of celebrity and brings up the off-the-field questions so prevalent during the run-up to the NFL Draft.

I’m torn because I see legitimacy in both arguments. But I find myself leaning toward the second side.

I believe it sends a bad message to his coaches and teammates. If Manziel is so concerned about beating out incumbent Brian Hoyer in the quarterback competition — as he claims — he would be using the long weekend to study and rest, not sunbathe and dance. It just looks irresponsible.

Manziel had a rebuttal for those criticizing his choices.

“Guess it’s impossible to enjoy the weekend and study?” he wrote on Instagram as the caption to a picture of his playbook and an iPad on which he can watch film.

As with anything Manziel and most things NFL, the “news” of Manziel hopping a flight to Sin City, posing for pictures with Patriots party boy tight end Rob Gronkowski and several women in bikinis, attending a UFC fight and spraying champagne into a crowd at a club became instant fodder for fans and media to dissect.

“I wanna know that the future of my franchise isn’t going to Vegas every time he has two or three days off,” former NFL quarterback Mark Brunell said in his job as ESPN analyst.

“I believe very firmly that players can do what they wish in their private life,” countered former Colts general manager Bill Polian on SiriusXM Radio.

Manziel curtailed his social media postings as he prepared for the draft and tried to convince teams football was his No. 1 priority. But he’s yet to master — or has no desire to — the art of staying away from the cell phone camera.

Hours after he was drafted, he was photographed in a New York club drinking out of a giant bottle of champagne. Now pictures and video of the Vegas trip are circulating on social media sites. They only continue the pattern begun during his days at Texas A&M, when Manziel became a regular on TMZ.

I’m sure the NFL’s top quarterbacks aren’t choir boys. But most are smart enough to make sure the good time doesn’t become bad publicity.

Maybe Manziel will learn this. Or maybe he’ll always believe any publicity is good publicity. If that’s the case, the Browns have a legitimate worry when it comes to their second first-round pick. Manziel won’t succeed in the NFL if he’s more concerned about being famous than being an elite quarterback.

It’s a theory he’s been quick to shoot down in interviews since the draft. He’s said repeatedly he’s not the bigger-than-life “Johnny Football,” but rather a simple guy from small-town Texas. Coach Mike Pettine has supported Manziel, saying he’s been quiet, humble and knows he must earn the famous nickname at the professional level.

The reality is three days in late May won’t define Manziel’s season, let alone his career. Organized team activities that resumed Tuesday with Manziel in attendance, mandatory minicamp and training camp will determine his fate as a rookie, along with the amount of time he devotes to studying on his own.

It feels like casting stones to judge Manziel for things many of us, including me, have done. It wouldn’t be an issue if cornerback Justin Gilbert — the first first-round pick — or even Hoyer had made the same trip, although it seems like Hoyer is too singularly focused on keeping his “substantial” lead in the quarterback derby to take such a gamble.

Maybe Manziel’s right. He’s young enough to blow off some steam and still cram in some studying. But we live in a different world than 10 or 20 years ago. And quarterback is a different animal than any other position in sports.

Manziel shouldn’t be vilified for Vegas. But he can be blamed for making an unwise choice. What happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay in Vegas and actions do have consequences.

Manziel is only a couple of weeks into his NFL career and he still has a lot to prove. He must start with showing his teammates, coaches and the rest of the organization that football means more to him than having a little fun.

Contact Scott Petrak at (440) 329-7253 or spetrak@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him @scottpetrak on Twitter.