Former Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel was indicted by a Dallas grand jury for misdemeanor assault related to family violence, based on allegations from earlier this year involving his former girlfriend.
The indictment intensifies the off-field problems for the 23-year-old Manziel, a former Heisman Trophy winner as college football’s top player at Texas A&M and a first-round NFL draft choice by the Browns in 2014.
Manziel faces a highly uncertain NFL future, and it’s possible that his days in the league are over. He was released by the Browns in March after two unproductive, controversy-filled seasons with the franchise and has not been immediately signed by another NFL team. He is subject to potential disciplinary measures by the league in addition to any penalties imposed in his criminal case.
The grand jury voted Thursday to indict Manziel, who is accused of striking his ex-girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, during a January incident at a Dallas-area hotel. She reportedly told police that Manziel struck her head and ruptured her eardrum, then forced her into a car and drove her to nearby Fort Worth.
Manziel will plead not guilty, according to his attorneys.
Manziel’s lead attorney, Jim Darnell, said in a written statement Tuesday: “We certainly respect the decision of the grand jury but of course they only hear part of the case: What the D.A. chooses to share with them. We don’t know what that was. This case will now be assigned to a court in Dallas County where the parties are able to join the issue. Johnny will certainly plead ‘not guilty’ and we believe the evidence will support that plea. Out of respect for Ms. Crowley, we will not try the case in the press. We do, however, believe that Johnny will be acquitted at the conclusion of the case.”
Bob Hinton, another lawyer for Manziel, told the Dallas Morning News on Monday: “We are not asking for any special treatment.”
Manziel faces up to one year in jail and a fine of as much as $4,000 if convicted of Class A misdemeanor assault.
The NFL could choose to place Manziel on the commissioner’s exempt list, on what amounts to paid leave, while his legal case is pending. However, as he is not under contract he is not currently being paid by any team. Even should he agree to terms with a team, Manziel could face an unpaid suspension by the league thereafter.
Few, if any, NFL teams appear to have interest in signing Manziel for the foreseeable future, particularly with this case unresolved.
There once was speculation that the Dallas Cowboys would sign Manziel following his release by the Browns. But Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said at the annual league meeting last month in Boca Raton, Fla., that he had no near-term plans to sign Manziel and believed Manziel’s priority must be getting his life in order.
“That’s not my focus right now,” Jones said then. “I think he has the ability to be what he wants to be and always wanted to be as a football player. I think he does that. I think he certainly needs to address — and it’s not uncommon to a lot of people — but he’s got issues that are more of a priority than the football issues right now.”
Jones said he was interested in supporting Manziel in that regard.
“I like him individually and have gotten to know him during the time that he was being drafted,” Jones said at the league meeting. “And so I just want to, in any way we can, help him get straightened out so he can focus on football.”
Two agents, Erik Burkhardt and Drew Rosenhaus, have severed their business ties with Manziel this offseason, essentially dropping him as a client. Rosenhaus initially had said he would reconsider his termination of his representation agreement only if Manziel, who spent time in a treatment facility — reportedly for alcohol dependence — between his first and second seasons with the Browns, sought help for his off-field issues. Manziel reportedly also lost his most lucrative endorsement deal with Nike.
The NFL toughened its penalties in 2014 for players and other league employees involved in domestic violence cases following high-profile incidents involving Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy. The modified personal conduct policy, ratified by the owners of the NFL teams in December 2014, calls for a suspension of six games for a first offense and a lifetime ban, subject to review after one year, for a repeat violation. The suspension for a first offense can be shorter or longer than six games depending on circumstances, league officials have said.