NEW: Johnny Manziel thanks Browns for opportunity to play for them
The 2012 Heisman Trophy winner faces legal trouble in Texas
Manziel is now a free agent, and any team can sign him
Johnny Football’s time in Cleveland is over.
The Cleveland Browns announced Friday, two days after the start of the 2016 NFL calendar year, that the team has released the troubled Johnny Manziel, making the quarterback a free agent and available to sign with any team. The big question is whether any team wants him.
“I’d like to thank the Browns for the opportunity they gave me nearly two years ago. We all hoped that we were building what could be a championship team for Cleveland,” Manziel said through a publicist. “I will always remember the support I received from the organization, my teammates and especially the fans.”
Manziel, whom the Browns traded up to select 22nd overall in the 2014 NFL draft, was signed with the team through 2017. His two years in the NFL have been nothing short of turbulent, and his latest legal situation may be the final straw.
In the most recent accusation, Manziel’s former girlfriend Colleen Crowley said in an affidavit that the NFL quarterback restrained, hit and threatened her on January 30. She accused Manziel of grabbing her by the hair and hitting her ear, causing her to lose her hearing.
Manziel has denied hitting Crowley. Dallas police have referred Manziel’s case to the district attorney as a misdemeanor assault/domestic violence allegation. In a February 25 statement on its blog, the Dallas Police Department said its investigation is complete and it won’t comment while District Attorney Susan Hawk prepares the case for a grand jury.
Ahead of the start of the 2016 league year, it appeared the Browns were planning to release Manziel if they couldn’t trade him.
“I think his future on our team will be addressed here pretty soon,” Browns head coach Hue Jackson had said on February 24 at the NFL Combine in Indianapolis. “But let me say this. I think it’s really important that obviously there (were) some people involved in this situation that happened, and I feel very bad about those things, as they do happen.
“But I want to make sure we all understand that that behavior will not be tolerated as we move forward. And that’s all I want to say about it. I want to leave it at that. Our organization is going to take a stand, and we’re going to move on from those kind of situations as we move forward.”
The NFL also is investigating the incident involving Manziel and Crowley; the quarterback could face a league-imposed suspension if he is found to have violated the personal conduct policy.
The Browns have cleaned house in their front office. Paul DePodesta is now the team’s chief strategy officer. For those familiar with the book and movie “Moneyball,” he was a big name in the baseball world for his work with the Oakland A’s, Los Angeles Dodgers, San Diego Padres and New York Mets. Meanwhile, Jackson replaced the fired Mike Pettine as head coach.
Crowley’s allegation in Dallas is the latest in a string of unfavorable situations involving Manziel.
In February 2015, Brad Beckworth, a friend and adviser to Manziel and his family, said in a statement that the quarterback had entered a treatment facility the previous month. Manziel was at Caron, an alcohol and drug treatment facility in Pennsylvania.
“I owe private apologies to a lot of people that I disappointed but a very public one to the Browns organization and the fans that I let down,” Manziel said in a statement last April 17 after leaving rehab. “I take full responsibility for my actions and it’s my intention to work very hard to regain everyone’s trust and respect.”
On October 12, dashcam video showed a police officer pulling up to Manziel and Crowley, who were parked on the side of the road, telling them of “numerous calls” about their speeding BMW. Crowley told police that Manziel hit her several times to prevent her from leaving the car. However, she downplayed the incident. “I don’t want to make a big deal,” she told an officer. No charges were filed.
On January 2, according to CNN affiliate WOIO-TV, North Olmsted, Ohio, police cited Manziel for driving with expired license plates. They had expired on September 20. Manziel was driving the same car when police questioned him on the side of the road in October, the TV station said.
Manziel missed the Browns game against the Pittsburgh Steelers on January 3. According to an ESPN report, he was in Las Vegas that weekend in disguise and identified himself as “Billy.”
Manziel entered the national spotlight as a redshirt freshman at Texas A&M, leading the Aggies to a 29-24 upset win against No. 1 Alabama in November 2012. The next month, he made history as the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, college football’s most prestigious award.
Last season, Manziel appeared in nine games for the Browns, starting six. He threw for 1,500 yards and seven touchdowns and five interceptions. He rushed for 230 yards.
CNN’s Steve Almasy contributed to this report.