As the NFL Scouting Combine gets underway, Johnny Manziel’s self-described “ComebackSZN” (SZN is shorthand for season, in case you were wondering) is in full swing. Wednesday brought a double-shot of noteworthy developments, as the former Cleveland quarterback declared he would play in the NFL again “for FREE,” following the release of a podcast on which he recounted an infamous trip to Las Vegas on the eve of a Browns game.
Citing “sources close to Johnny,” NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo reported Manziel “is in touch with multiple NFL head coaches” about possibly returning to the league. A first-round pick by the Browns in 2014 after winning the Heisman Trophy at Texas A&M, Johnny Football was released after two seasons marked by inconsistency on the field and a dedication to partying off it, but he has been trying to clean up his act and get his career back on track.
“There have been conversations,” said Garafolo, reporting from Indianapolis, where almost everyone of importance in the NFL is gathering for the combine and the networking opportunities. “People around him believe it’s a very real possibility that he could return to the NFL, whether before or after his appearance in the Spring League.”
Garafolo added that “teams have been informed that Manziel will take zero dollars guaranteed, minimum salary, if need be,” and that the 25-year-old quarterback “would be open to signing a practice-squad contract.” The Spring League is unaffiliated with the NFL, but it intends for the two weeks of games it will stage in April to serve as showcases for the players involved.
“I’ll play again for FREE,” Manziel declared on Twitter. “It’s not about the money it’s about getting back to doing what I miss and love.”
On the podcast, hosted by Browns left tackle Joe Thomas and former Browns wide receiver Andrew Hawkins, Manziel discussed the “reckless, reckless plan” that caused him to miss Cleveland’s season finale in January 2016. That plan involved donning a blond wig and fake mustache and calling himself “Billy,” and it likely sealed the team’s decision to release him.
On the podcast, Uninterrupted’s “The ThomaHawk Show,” Manziel said he intended to catch a flight to Las Vegas after the Browns’ Saturday walk-through and only spend a few hours there, making it back in time for his “mandatory treatment session” for a concussion.
The plan began going awry because “that craps table is calling my name, that blackjack table’s calling my name.” Manziel realized he would be unable to go incognito after a dealer checked his ID and noticed the quarterback being mentioned on a nearby TV, followed by a USA Today reporter spotting him at the Planet Hollywood casino.
At that point, Manziel said, he went to purchase his disguise, including a “blondish brown, like, mullet” wig that he acquired at a “very, very sketchy” store near the Strip. Instead of returning to Cleveland, as planned, he and his friends went to a nightclub, Hakkasan, and stayed out until “probably 3 or 4 in the morning” in Las Vegas — about an hour or two before he was expected to show up for his game-day treatment with the Browns.
After waking up to an “absolute cluster [expletive] of messages” from interested parties who had seen reports that he was in Las Vegas, Manziel said, “Crazily enough I still go back to Cleveland.” He said he met with Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and former personnel chief Sashi Brown to “explain where I’m at mentally,” including “what was going on in my home life.”
Manziel claimed that he had the initial impression that the Browns were “still going to stick with me through it,” but he subsequently heard that the team’s new coach, Hue Jackson, wanted him gone as a condition of being hired. He said that he treated his release at the time as if it was “the end of the world” but told the podcast hosts: “There’s no hard feelings there. It is what it is.”
Manziel also apologized to Thomas, a 10-time Pro Bowler, for having “wasted a little bit of Joe T’s career” in Cleveland. “This decision that I made, what a complete lack of respect for guys like Joe T,” Manziel added.
“What a complete lack of respect for an organization that was trying to stick by me. … What just a completely selfish decision.”
The podcast interview continued Manziel’s campaign to reveal at least some of the skeletons in his closet and show NFL teams that he is a changed man. Earlier this month, he made an appearance on ABC’s “Good Morning America” and said he’s taking medication for bipolar disorder, as opposed to “self-medicating with alcohol,” as he had done in years past.
“That’s what I thought was making me happy and helping me get out of that depression to a point where I felt like I had some sense of happiness,” Manziel said of his drinking. “But at the end of the day, you’re left staring at the ceiling by yourself and you’re back in that depression, back in that hole, that dark hole of sitting in a room by yourself, being super depressed, thinking about all the mistakes you’ve made in your life.
“Where did that get me? Where did that get me, except out of the NFL? Where did that get me? Disgraced.”
On Wednesday, Manziel was using Twitter to continue making his pitch for a comeback in the league. “I’ve been down and out for too long,” he tweeted. “Nothing but positivity on this end.”
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