Now that they have the most interesting player in this NFL rookie class, the Cleveland Browns are doing whatever they can to decrease interest in their team. Johnny Manziel was made off-limits to reporters in his first mini-camp session, which is the exact sort of thing an organization should do if it wants to incur the wrath of cranky media types who don’t like to be told no. Jimmy Haslam — who some brilliant journalists have excitedly speculated might be significantly responsible for bringing Manziel to the Browns, because it’s apparently strange for someone in Haslam’s position to have some input into who might quarterback the franchise they own for the next decade — is downplaying Manziel’s importance, claiming a few days ago in oddly scoldish terms that Manziel is Brian Hoyer’s backup until further notice.
An anonymous source who tried to explain why the team was turning away reporters referenced the Browns’ desire to elude the level of scrutiny the Jets endured during Tebowmania’s peak. Mike Florio pointed out that, considering the team has Kyle Shanahan as their new offensive coordinator, they might, more precisely, be trying to prevent a Robert Griffin III-type situation, where the franchise quarterback becomes bigger than the team. That’s a cartoonishly Mike Florioesque line of thinking, but it makes sense. NFL teams try to suppress individuality and celebrity as much as they possibly can. Manziel doesn’t lack for ego, so the Browns are keeping him locked in a soundproof safe for now, lest he begin to feel himself too hard and cast the entire franchise into peril – or whatever other kinds of if-Lovecraft-was-a-middle-manager nightmares keep NFL coaches and executives up at night.
I’m loath to even partially agree with salty sportswriters who complain about not getting media credentials, but the Browns aren’t going to be able to silence this story, no matter how many lanyards they refuse to hand out. The story is that Johnny Manziel exists and is a Brown. Offseason NFL reporting is reporting in the loosest sense of the term: Such-and-such coach thinks such-and-such player might really bring something to the third-down pass rush, etc. Very little compelling news comes out of offseason workouts and training camps, but that doesn’t stop anyone from recounting the banalities of Day 11 of Guys Running Blocking Drills. Two years ago, ESPN used their estimable resources to cover every inch of the breaking news that Tim Tebow, who at the time was exercising for a living, looked like a well-toned cinderblock with his shirt off. My point is that mainstream sports outlets have proven time and again that they want to have some NFL stuff to talk about in mid-July. Whether that NFL stuff is actually worth talking about is irrelevant.
Joe Haden, who just signed a lucrative extension with Cleveland, doesn’t see any problem with the Browns getting extra attention. “I’m a little bit on the flashy side, and I like that,” Haden told reporters during a press conference announcing his new contract. Haden obviously doesn’t speak for the whole team, but quelle surprise that a professional athlete would want people to care about the team he plays for – that he would find the prospect of having a quarterback with a strong personality exciting as opposed to, in the parlance of beaten-down utilitarians, a distraction.
The Johnny Football coverage that will inevitably rain down upon us this summer will be insipid and annoying, but it won’t negatively affect the Browns’ preparation for the season. Some Browns will enjoy getting interviewed by Ed Werder, and the ones who would rather not are good enough at their jobs to get themselves into playing shape while also blowing off a few extra folks with camera and notepads. Haslam and his staff think they’re doing what’s best for Manziel and the rest of the team, but they don’t need to fret. Manziel will succeed or fail primarily according to his ability, not how many times he’s asked to speak into a tape recorder.