The Johnny Manziel Show debuted Sunday with more promotion and hoopla than what successful veteran quarterbacks generally experience. The Cleveland-Cincinnati game went national -- and Manziel had a horrific afternoon. He was 10-for-18 for all of 80 yards. He also threw two interceptions, leading his team to zero points and a loss that knocked the Browns out of playoff contention.
None of this is surprising for a rookie QB in his first start. But he has made it much harder on himself than necessary by incurring the disdain of defensive players all around the NFL.
Bengals defensive end Wallace Gilberry sacked Manziel and stood over the rookie QB flashing the money sign that Johnny has made his trademark. Gilberry later said, "He brought it on himself."
"Everything was all about Manziel all week," said veteran Bengals LB Rey Maualuga, who was flagged for taunting Manziel after knocking down a pass. Veteran players are clearly upset about the Manziel circus, and his taunting of the Redskins in pre-season.
I have represented 120-plus QBs over the last 40 years. Johnny Manziel is not one of them, and my comments are not in attempt to second-guess. But I did suggest in this space post-draft that Manziel would be best served by adopting the low-key, under-the-radar posture of other highly paid rookies entering the NFL. He did not create the ESPN college coverage, emboldened by his Heisman Trophy win, that blew him into a national phenomenon as he left college.
But it is important to earn the respect of the management, coaches and players on a team, and to understand that performance on the field being is key. The fact that a national television ad featuring Manziel ran incessantly before Manziel had taken more than a few NFL snaps doesn’t make a player "one of the guys." Players like Troy Aikman and Steve Young waited until they had won Super Bowls to do major endorsements.
Adjusting to the pro game requires being on the field and reading defenses for some time before it all clicks. There is a natural adjustment cycle that any rookie quarterback must experience. Keeping expectations low can take the pressure off the rookie. Cleveland had the best late-season record in years behind veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer, and Manziel replaced him. Even with Hoyer’s late season struggles, there are shoes to fill.
I think Johnny Manziel has freakishly unique skills. He showed in college a unique ability to extend plays and bring a team back to victory when they were far behind. Eventually he will be a successful NFL quarterback. Dealing with talented veteran defensive players putting pressure on a rookie QB is challenging at best -- having defensive players extra motivated to punish him is disastrous.
There will come a time when Manziel has earned veteran respect and be an accomplished NFL quarterback. Until then, prudence would dictate he lets his play on the field speak for itself -- and keep those twitchy money-flashing fingers in his pockets.