Johnny Manziel has indicated to people privately that his best chance at a return to the NFL might be 2017, and now a four-game suspension to start 2016 makes it all but certain that he won't see an NFL field or sideline this year.
The 2017 theme is not a new one, either. NFL observers and some close to him have understood that message for months, and everyone knows Manziel isn't close to being in game shape.
For the NFL, the violation of the league's substance abuse policy simply reinforces the reasons not to sign him. When I asked an NFL personnel executive recently about Manziel's chances, he believes teams aren't looking at Manziel through a football prism anymore. "It's about getting his life on track," the exec said. "That's it."
Even if Manziel got a tryout somewhere, he doesn't have an agent to set it up, and his parents have trouble reaching him, according to a close family friend. Who knows if he would show up to a meeting.
A Manziel spokesperson would not comment on the suspension when reached Thursday.
Perhaps the four games -- coupled with the threat of additional games under the cloud of the personal conduct policy -- will shake Manziel to his core. The misdemeanor assault charge for allegedly rupturing the eardrum of ex-girlfriend Colleen Crowley isn't going away. Getting eligible for half of the 2016 season would be considered a victory.
But here's the thing about Manziel telling TMZ that he plans to sober up in July: He has made promises before, and often they go unfulfilled.
People close to him hope this time is different, and if they are right, they figure months of rehab are the best -- if not the only -- way back. Such a commitment would greatly diminish his chance of preparing for a roster spot this year.
Jim Darnell, Manziel's attorney, has maintained to ESPN that Manziel is "working through" his issues and hopes it's not too late for football.
"I know his resolve," Darnell said.
The tenor from others in private circles can sound much different.
Football? Many feel this is a crisis beyond sports.
Manziel also has potential financial hurdles to clear.
He faces a lawsuit for his alleged role in trashing an L.A. rental home, and Darnell said he has spoken to the attorney representing the car company that loaned a car to Manziel and friends. That car was totaled in an April accident. Celebrity nightclub appearance fees, if there are any, won't pay the bills. Endorsements that once could have reached about $8 million over multiple years are now gone.
Even a sober, focused Manziel would be at the mercy of the NFL's backup quarterback currency.
That's if he really loves football, which many people in the league seriously doubt.
He has the next six months to prove that notion wrong.