CLEVELAND — Johnny Manziel’s relationship with the Browns may be strained and showing sizeable cracks.
Owner Jimmy Haslam isn’t ready to call it over.
Manziel’s off-field antics, which led to him being benched last season and include new videos of him partying, have concerned the Browns but Haslam isn’t ready to publicly say the quarterback’s days in Cleveland have ended.
Speaking with reporters backstage at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards along with wife and co-owner, Dee, Haslam discussed several topics before the event, including his recently hired and restructured front office and Manziel, who has had two tumultuous seasons with Browns.
Manziel was benched last season by former coach Mike Pettine for off-field misbehaviour, and Haslam was asked if he was concerned that more videos have surfaced of the 2012 Heisman Trophy winner, who spent 73 days in rehab last year, partying.
"I think we made clear, I don’t have any different feelings than we had on Sunday January 3rd," Haslam said referring to the final day of the season when Pettine and general manager Ray Farmer were fired hours after a loss to Pittsburgh. "I think Johnny made progress on the field last year. I think that’s undeniable. We have a certain expectation for our players and that includes Johnny and he’s got to live up to those expectations."
The Browns may have already decided to move on from Manziel and will trade or release him.
Browns Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown doesn’t think that would be the right move.
"I know a lot of kids that if you don’t know how to deal with them you lose them," said the greatest Brown of them all. "They don’t come ready made. But on the other hand the argument is that he’s a man. He should know how to conduct himself. He has an opportunity. We’ve got all of that. But I like him and I hope that they are able to relate, and I think if they’re able to relate that he will respect the coach.
"I don’t want to see him traded or anything like that."
New Browns coach Hue Jackson has not yet spoken to Manziel, but Haslam is confident that meeting will take place soon. Haslam said there would be obvious disappointment if that day comes.
"Look, one of the reasons the Browns are in the condition they’re in is they’ve not drafted well," he said. "Our predecessors didn’t draft well and we didn’t draft well. Any time a number one draft pick or any high draft pick is not successful and is not a big contributor, that’s disappointing to the organization."
Haslam said any decision about Manziel’s future with Cleveland will be made by Jackson and new vice-president of football operations Sashi Brown.
The Browns have the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft and will likely use it on a quarterback, perhaps California’s Jared Goff or North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz, who met with Jackson this week at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama.
Quarterback Josh McCown, who started for Cleveland last season and grew close to Manziel, isn’t sure a change of scenery would be best for the Browns and the young QB.
"It’s hard for me to comment on that," he said. "I want what’s best for him, and he’s a member of our team, so it’s what can we do for him to help him be the best member of the Cleveland Browns that he can in whatever role that is? So that’s what I’m for."