CLEVELAND — Johnny Football has been tossed aside.
Quarterback Johnny Manziel, the scrambling, Heisman Trophy-winning college star who hasn’t come close to matching his hype in the NFL, was released Friday by the Cleveland Browns following two turbulent and troubling seasons.
Manziel’s unceremonious exit — the team sent out a brief statement with a few stats and no comment — ends a drama-filled stay in Cleveland for the 23-year-old, who faces an uncertain future on and off the field. For the first time since he started throwing a football as a kid while growing up in Texas, Manziel isn’t a wanted player and he’s contending with possible criminal charges for a recent domestic incident in which his ex-girlfriend claimed he struck and threatened to kill her.
The Browns drafted Manziel in the first round in 2014, hoping he could not only be their long-term solution at quarterback but revive a sluggish franchise.
Instead, he was a two-year headache that wouldn’t go away.
Cleveland couldn’t handle any more lies, parties or distractions.
Manziel entered the NFL amid fanfare and with a party-boy reputation, which only grew thanks to nearly constant exposure on social media. While he was with the Browns hardly a week passed without there being a photo or video of Manziel, usually with a drink in his hand, out having a good time.
But he paid for all those late nights in bars and clubs as Manziel hasn’t developed the work ethic needed to succeed and he wound up spending more than 10 weeks following his rookie season in a Pennsylvania rehab facility specializing in alcohol and drug abuse.
The Browns supported him as long as they could, but his decision to skip the team’s season finale against Pittsburgh — he had a concussion at the time — for a trip to Las Vegas and a second domestic incident in three months was more than the team could tolerate and they dumped Manziel, who went 2-6 as a starter.
The Browns had been expected to waive Manziel on Wednesday, when free agency opened and the league began its new calendar year. The team, though, waited to see if they could find a team interested in making a trade, that way they wouldn’t have to pay Manziel the $2.1 million he’s still owed for the next two years.
But nobody wanted to give up anything for Manziel, who was in Vegas last weekend and has been spotted in nightclubs around Los Angeles the past few days.
Manziel played in 14 games for the Browns. He passed for 1,675 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions.
And now that he’s no longer with the Browns, Manziel has other issues to handle.
On Feb. 25, Dallas police referred their domestic violence case against him to a grand jury, which will exam evidence against Manziel. His ex-girlfriend, Colleen Crowley, accused Manziel of striking her in the head during a night out on Jan. 30. Crowley told police Manziel hit her so hard, she temporarily lost hearing in one ear.
Manziel is also being investigated by the NFL, which could suspend him for his off-field behavior. He was cleared by the league in October following a similar incident with Crowley.
With Manziel gone, the Browns will take another swing at finding a franchise quarterback in this year’s draft or through a trade. They have the No. 2 overall pick, and it’s safe to assume they’ll be even more diligent in checking backgrounds on candidates after their failed experience with Manziel.
It all began with such promise.
As he sat backstage inside New York’s Radio City Music Hall on draft day, Manziel famously sent a text to a Browns assistant coach urging the team to take him so they could “wreck this league” together. Although other teams passed on the Texas A&M star, the Browns traded two picks to move up and take him with the No. 22 pick, a selection they would later regret.
There were disturbing signs before he got to his first training camp as Manziel was photographed floating on an inflatable swan while swigging champagne.
The Browns had concerns, but there was no denying his impact on Cleveland’s die-hard fans, still waiting for a Super Bowl appearance. The quickly scooped up tickets and cleared off store clothing racks of his No. 2 jerseys during the early stages of “Manzielmania.”
He started his rookie season as Josh McCown’s backup and barely got on the field before getting his first extended action in Cleveland’s 12th game. Manziel ran for a touchdown in the fourth quarter at Buffalo, celebrating by rubbing his fingers together and flashing his signature “money” salute, a gesture he later ditched after being taunted with it by opponents.
Manziel’s first career start couldn’t have gone worse. He threw two interceptions and was sacked three times in a 30-0 loss to Cincinnati. The following week he sustained a hamstring injury that ended his season, and Manziel was suspended by coach Mike Pettine for the finale when he failed to show up for the team’s walk-through.
Following his rookie season, Manziel said he regretted not taking his job more seriously and vowed to come back better. In January, he entered a treatment center to get help for an unspecified addiction. He left after 73 days, and there was hope Manziel had exorcised demons.
The Browns stood by Manziel. Pettine named him starter in Week 9, and Manziel showed promise against Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Manziel, though, was demoted to third string after a video surfaced of him partying during the team’s bye week.
Manziel returned to the starting lineup when McCown broke his collarbone and led the Browns to a win over San Francisco. He made two more starts, but sustained a concussion on Dec. 27 at Kansas City.
Manziel wasn’t required to be at Cleveland’s finale, but he skipped a required medical checkup and the team wasn’t sure of his whereabouts amid reports he was in Vegas, hitting the clubs while wearing a disguise.
The alarming events involving Crowley in Texas, including police using a helicopter to locate Manziel, who indicated he might harm himself, were the final straw for the Browns.