A Red Flag, In 140 Characters
It was the tweet that launched a thousand rips.
When Johnny Manziel hit “send” late Saturday night and lobbed his frustrations out into the world, he did something we’ve rarely seen from him on Saturday afternoons. He let the pressure get to him.
Actually, it’s not pressure that provoked Manziel to tweet to his 360,000 followers that he “can’t wait to leave college station.” It’s celebrity. Big difference.
And you can’t have it both ways. You can’t send to your social media fan base a picture from your seats inside the American Airlines Arena, boasting that you just had to be at Game 2 of the NBA Final , and then plead with them to walk a day in your shoes. Especially when inevitably you’ll be selling them shoes, looking down on them from larger-than-life billboards.
Will it damage Manziel's standing in the eyes of the Texas A&M faithful? Doubtful. His midnight indiscretion may have thumbed Gang Gig ‘Em right in the eye, but the 12th Man will forgive him.
But what did that Agg-rieved display of antisocial media suggest to the people he can’t wait to leave college for, the NFL? What might that little glimpse into his psyche do for Manziel’s stock?
It can’t help.
The NFL is willing to overlook a lot of egregious – even criminal – behavior in a lot of prospects. But immaturity and fragility from a quarterback can be a deal-breaker.
Back when Peyton Manning was at Tennessee, he once preached to me chapter and verse his favorite passage from the Chuck Noll playbook: Pressure is something you feel when you don’t know what the hell is going on.
Peyton never had Johnny Football’s wheels, so he never did get to run away from pressure on the field. He just figured out a way to beat it.
And if you think Peyton was under pressure being Archie’s son, what must it have been like for Eli to be Archie’s son and Peyton’s little brother? Eli Manning drove around campus no faster than 18 miles an hour because the University of Mississippi set its speed limit to his father’s jersey number.
Manziel can counter with the claim, “Well, those guys never had to live with being Heisman Trophy winners.” And that’s true.
As I recall, a kid named Tebow once won himself a Heisman as a sophomore. All he managed to do in his remaining two seasons at Florida was win a national championship and a Sugar Bowl. And then found himself several job opportunities in the NFL – a pretty amazing feat for a quarterback who can’t throw a football. Say what you want about Tebow, but that guy never has come unglued by the searing heat of public scrutiny. He's galvanized by it.
Did the college football world spend Monday overreacting to some 20-year-old’s tweet? Absolutely. In truth, he did nothing wrong except remind everyone that behind Johnny Football the Brand is Johnny Manziel the Kid, barely two years past his high school prom.
No one is faulting Manziel for feeling the way he did. It’s just that college icons can’t show cracks. And the faces of professional football franchises must project composure.
It’s not like the NFL didn’t already have its share of legitimate concerns about Manziel as a pro prospect. Right now, he is not the passer he needs to be to succeed in the NFL. If Robert Griffin III can recognize that he needs to reel in his gut instinct to run the football at the first sign of trouble, that same lesson must resonate with Johnny Manziel.
Go back at watch the Alabama game. Yes, he was 24-for-31 for 253 yards passing and ran for another 92 yards. Yes, it was the kind of upset that wobbles the knees of Heisman voters. And, yes, the highlights were vintage Manziel – his elusiveness in the face of the Tide’s defensive pressure was breathtaking.
But look at how he threw the ball. Three out of every four passes traveled no more than seven yards in the air. Almost every one of them went to his first read. On passes longer than 15 yards, he was 4-for-8. That's not going to cut it in the NFL. Ask Mark Sanchez about pressure.
NFL scouts don’t fawn over folk heroes. Look at the professional careers of the last quarter century’s worth of Heisman winners and see if a cool statue translates into automatic NFL success.
Griffin and Cam Newton? Promising. Sam Bradford? He cashed in but has not yet paid off. Then there’s Tebow. Troy Smith. Matt Leinart. Jason White. Eric Crouch. Chris Weinke. Danny Wuerffel.
Shall I go on?
Charlie Ward. Gino Torretta. Ty Detmer. Andre Ware.
The only quarterback since Vinny Testaverde won the Heisman in 1986 to have even a decent NFL career is Carson Palmer, and he’s spent very few seasons not looking over his shoulder at the next guy on the depth chart.
The Heisman doesn’t seem like an EZ Pass to an NFL huddle, does it?
This is not to say that Manziel can’t play quarterback in the NFL. He just can’t play quarterback in the NFL the way he plays the position in college.
Which is why, tweet or no tweet, Johnny Manziel needs to stay in school. This season and probably 2014, too. He needs to develop as a pass-first quarterback, the kind of prospect who can beat the pressure with his head and his arm, not with his feet.
There’s no shame in planning to stay in college for four years (and three seasons as a starter). Peyton stayed four years. So did Eli. And Tom Brady. And Drew Brees. And Matt Ryan. And Philip Rivers. And Jay Cutler. Joe Flacco spent two years at Pitt, transferred and then spent two years at Delaware; now he owns a Super Bowl ring and the biggest contract a quarterback’s ever signed his name to.
Ultimately, no social media faux pas is going to affect Manziel on the field. But at the heart of this unfortunate albatweet hanging around his neck is a mindset that warrants examination.
Johnny Manziel needs to understand that he is exactly where he needs to be. He needs to prove he can handle the fishbowl that is College Station before stepping out into a professional world that tramples the unprepared like it's Grand Central Station.
Prove to the NFL that he can handle pressure – not by running away from it, but by standing in there and taking it. Only then will Johnny Football be ready to move on.