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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Opinion

We need a Cougar, not a man child


Last week, Johnny Manziel visited Texas Children’s Hospital. He took pictures with a 6-year-old cancer survivor, the Houston Texans’ general manager and his wife, the Tootsie promoters hosting the event and virtually everyone else in the audience but the man he actually needed one with, the one who really matters: the Houston Texans’ owner, Bob McNair.

McNair made a point of staying out of the way. He did this mostly because he’s a pretty low-key guy. But McNair also made a point of staying out of the way because he owns a terrible football team and because the team is receiving the first pick in April’s NFL draft. As Drake and Jessica Biel can attest, photographs with Manziel imply fraternal association. As Wade Phillips can attest, dialogue about Manziel belies unemployment.

In an unsuccessful interview, Phillips said he suggested signing Manziel to the Texans in December.

“When I did the interview with the McNairs, I told them they ought to take Johnny Football,” Phillips said on 610 SportsRadio in Houston. “That’s what I told them, and I’m sitting here now without a job.”

It’s an association that a lot of Texans fans want, under the impression that Manziel’s addition to the roster would be the best move our city has made since Case Keenum’s signing. And most of these fans have good intentions. You might know one or two of them. But all of these fans are wrong.

They’re wrong because Johnny Manziel is an idiot. I said it. The bad-boy persona is a ruse at best. The inevitable highlighting he’ll receive is more trouble than it’s worth, and although he’ll almost certainly be chosen within minutes of the draft’s opening, the team that needs him least right now is McNair’s.

The obvious rebuttal would be that the Texans need a quarterback, which is correct. But what a quarterback needs above all other things is maturity, and unless the next few months prove otherwise, that’s a stat Manziel doesn’t have.

That said, he’s also statistically unstoppable. He finished his freshman year with a passer rating of 155.3 despite throwing for 3,706 yards and his sophomore year at 172.9, tossing for 4,114. He rushed for more than 1,410 yards the first year and for just under 760 in 2013. He won the Davey O’Brien Award and the Heisman Award as a freshman. On more than one occasion, Manziel told opposing defenders exactly what he was going to do on the field before proceeding to do exactly what he told them.

He’s good on the field. But if ESPN’s taught us anything, it’s that athletic prowess isn’t all it takes to survive a tenure in the NFL.

There’s no point in listing every transgression, but we’ll have to put up with three: He’s immature, he’s arrogant and he spent virtually the entire offseason dodging allegations. He can’t keep his mouth shut. Manziel might be great to hang out with, but these allegations point to an immaturity streak in a position that should be the most mature of all.

It’s a position Keenum’s capable of filling. It’s an unpopular sentiment, given the Texans’ unflattering record, but Keenum’s stats aren’t debatable: Every game he lost as a starter was decided by less than a touchdown. As last year’s premier backfield signee, Keenum suffered from a case of bad timing. He got his chance at the worst popular time. But he can really play. It’s unprecedented for any mid-season newcomer, let alone a rookie.

Cam Newton and Robert Griffith III suffered varying degrees of success in their first NFL seasons, but one thing they also shared is offseason stability, weekly adaptability and comfort in leadership roles throughout the year. Keenum came out of nowhere and then took charge. He lost some games for lack of experience. He lost others for lack of a team. Next season, he’ll have both.

At ESPN, Tania Ganguli said that “Keenum averaged about 3.7 seconds from snap to sack, which is a decent amount of time. One commenter suggested that time was because Keenum bought time for himself while under pressure. The problem is if you’re buying time and then getting sacked anyway, that’s not good either. It’s part of why he led the NFL in yards lost per sack last season, losing an average of 10.58 yards per sack.

His performance pleased Kubiak enough that Keenum kept the starting job. But from then on, Keenum was more easily solved by opposing defenses with each passing week. It didn’t help that he was benched twice during games in hopes that Schaub could come in as a closer.

The problem, as illustrated by another observer, came predominantly from sacks, which is something that shouldn’t happen. A single sack in a tight-knit game can be the quarterback’s fault, if not something for them to improve on. That’s a screw-up. Multiple sacks, in multiple games, might warrant raised eyebrows. But to lead the league in a loss of yards per season is the sort of thing that takes a team. All 11 guys.

Manziel, for all of his elusiveness, is only one person, and a rookie at that. And replacing the entire team, when all we really need is some player cultivation, is reductive, if anything.

What the Texans don’t need is another child. They have more than enough. ESPN’s Peter King went as far as to deem him potentially “undraftable,” which is as preposterous a claim as any — Manziel will be drafted, but the Texans’ issue isn’t Manziel’s draftability, reputation or Manziel. The Texans have quarterbacks. Two of them have proven themselves. One’s just getting started. What we need is a team, some leadership and some leaders. And while they’ll be sitting in abundance come draft day, the boy wonder is a card we don’t need to pull.

Manziel’s just not it.

Opinion columnist Bryan Washington is a English junior and may be reached at op[email protected]

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