Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells had this expression to describe NFL rookies at a point similar to where Johnny Manziel is at right now.
"He's like a ball in tall grass," Parcells said. "Lost."
It's a perfect way to describe the Browns rookie quarterback. Oh, and we're not even talking about the one-finger salute he gave to the Washington bench Monday night. Throw in that part, and this kid is lost even more than your run-of-the-mill first-round rookie.
Manziel's latest antics further cloud his rocky apprenticeship as Cleveland's quarterback, and provide one more bullet point on the list of missteps he has made since being drafted in the first round out of Texas A & M. The Heisman Trophy winner has a way of inviting criticism, whether it's appearing in a photo drinking champagne while laying on an inflatable swan, making a video and using a stack of money as a pretend cellphone or appearing in another photo in the bathroom of a Las Vegas casino with a rolled-up $20 bill.
Now there's more Manziel nonsense for rookie head coach Mike Pettine to deal with. As for the football part, it's not much better. Manziel looked every bit the raw rookie on Monday night, and prompted Pettine to hold off on naming a starter for the Browns' regular-season opener in Pittsburgh. Veteran Brian Hoyer didn't do much better, leaving Pettine to delay a decision he'd hoped to make by now.
Manziel flipping the bird to the Washington bench isn't in and of itself a reason to overreact to his situation. Players get emotional, and things are done and said on the football field.
"I think we've all seen the middle finger before and we should get over it," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "When people say stuff to you, what do you do? You react, and you usually react in a way that you might not necessarily want to or not necessarily always react that way."
But taken in context with what Manziel has been about -- namely, the most polarizing NFL player since Tim Tebow -- it is one more sign that he needs to grow up and accept the responsibility that not only comes with being a professional, but being a professional quarterback. At a position where composure is one of the most basic requirements, Manziel needs to show more of it.
Pettine said as much after the game, and reiterated it Tuesday, when he told reporters on a conference call that he wasn't quite ready to make a final call on his starter.
He added that the decision would come soon, possibly even later in the day. "If we have to wait until after the next game , so be it," he said.
And would the obscene gesture be a part of the decision-making process?
"We'll take into account all things quarterback A-Z," said Pettine, who added that he was "extremely disappointed" by Manziel's moment of pique.
Once Manziel does take over as quarterback -- and you have to assume that it will happen very soon, even if he's not named the starter right away -- he can expect more razzing from opponents like he saw Monday. On one play, Manziel was sacked by Ryan Kerrigan. Brian Orakpo then rubbed his fingers together, doing the money sign that Manziel made famous when he returned from a suspension at A & M. Manziel also flashed the money sign when he was drafted.
Manziel can expect more where that came from. When you invite this kind of attention, opponents will only be too happy to remind you that they aren't playing along. They'll hit you that much harder, which is not good for an undersized quarterback. But if he's going to make it in the NFL, he has to take it. And keep his middle finger to himself.
It's a tough league, Johnny Football. Time to grow up.