The Only NFL Team That Can Save Johnny Manziel’s Career is the Carolina Panthers
He’s the ‘affluenza teen’ of football. The NFL’s answer to Justin Bieber. The smirking, spoiled, entitled embodiment of one million internet think pieces about millennials and much like the rest of his generation, he’s out of a job.
Johnny Manziel has been a lightning rod since he arrived in the league as a first round draft pick for the Cleveland Browns in 2014. He arrived in Cleveland like LeBron James, offering hope and promise to a beleaguered fanbase short on both. But unlike James, Manziel lacked the physical gifts, the talent, and the focus needed to succeed at the highest level.
Champagne bottle tightly gripped in his fist, Johnny Football has ridden an inflatable swan raft through a Las Vegas pool party and right out of the NFL. If history is any indication, he’s bound for more TMZ headlines, a couple of fresh mugshots and then relative obscurity. He’s likely to become a punchline. His will be a cautionary tale. He’ll likely be recalled in the same breath as Ryan Leaf.
But if there’s one thing Americans love, it’s a comeback story and Manziel has all the makings of a great one. For all his shortcomings, there’s no doubting his passion and his desire on the field. There’s a little bit of magic there that can’t be denied. It’s possible that another NFL team will take a chance on him but first there’s work to be done and for a guy like Manziel there’s only one place where he can do it — Carolina.
Similar But Different
For all of their similarities and all of the comparisons, Manziel and Panthers quarterback Cam Newton couldn’t be more different.
Manziel is a small, scrambling improviser who attempts to make up for his lack of measurables and his questionable preparation by willing plays to life. Newton is a student of the game who is as likely to shred a defense through the air as is he is to burn them on his feet.
Newton has never tasted alcohol. Manziel is all too familiar with the taste.
By all accounts, Manziel is the guy many in the media expected Cam Newton to become prior to being drafted by Carolina with the first overall pick in 2011.
Experts questioned Newton’s dedication. They saw a “me first” attitude. They doubted that the style of football that he played while leading Auburn to a National Championship in 2010 would translate to the professional game. They didn’t see his staying power in the league. Those predictions turned out to be true, they just had the wrong guy pegged as a washout.
Manziel spoke to Newton about the pressures of the spotlight prior to entering the league, looking at the Panthers signal caller as something of a role model. You throw in veteran Derek Anderson, who is no stranger to leaving Cleveland with his tail between his legs, and you’ve got a quarterbacks room that could nurture Manziel.
A Different Culture
Manziel deserves every bit of criticism heaped on him last season but there has to be some blame left for former Browns head coach Mike Pettine. There’s no doubt that Pettine and the Browns front office handled Manziel poorly. His behavior came as a surprise to nobody and yet Cleveland seemed utterly unprepared for the baggage he dragged with him from Texas.
The NFL’s reigning Coach of the Year Ron Rivera is a different breed. Coming from a military family, Rivera commands the type of respect necessary to manage 53 young millionaires. As a former player, Rivera has a place in the locker room that many other coaches don’t. He gets his players and they get him.
Jerry Richardson, David Gettleman, and Rivera have turned Carolina into a destination. It’s a place that veterans like Jared Allen gush about on ESPN. It’s a place that players like Charles Johnson and Mike Tolbert leave money on the table to return to it. It’s the home of men like Thomas Davis, Greg Olsen, Luke Kuechly, and Ryan Kalil who lead by example and hold everyone accountable.
If Manziel wants to learn how to be a professional, to handle himself properly, and to succeed in the NFL, there isn’t a better organization to become a part of.
The shadow of Rae Carruth still lurks in dark corners of Bank of America Stadium and since dealing with the fallout of the Greg Hardy situation, I can imagine that the Panthers would be wary of dealing with another accused domestic abuser. But that’s not to say that they don’t give out second chances.
The Panthers haven’t cut bait on practice squad wide receiver Stephen Hill despite a drug arrest. The former second-rounder is still recovering from an ACL injury but seems to have every opportunity to earn his place with the team.
The team re-signed defensive end Wes Horton despite serving a four game suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy and gave endless chances to defensive end Frank Alexander for the same.
Will they do it? Never. The Panthers couldn’t be happier with their quarterback situation and there simply isn’t room for a troubled player fresh off washout lane on a team with the kind of ambitions Carolina has. They don’t want the press that would likely follow Manziel to Charlotte and it’s an unnecessary distraction for a team looking to avenge a Super Bowl loss.
But should fate find Johnny Football in the Queen City, there’s no doubt he’d find some form of redemption.