Time for Johnny Manziel to control message, avoid these incidents

CLEVELAND -- The back-patting of Johnny Manziel from Cleveland Browns teammates and coaches this offseason does not seem contrived. One friend close to Manziel said over the weekend he believes the quarterback hasn’t touched the lifestyle that landed him in an eastern Pennsylvania rehab facility for 10 weeks.

If that step toward clarity is long-lasting, Manziel would be best served adding another step -- avoiding the minor incidents that turn into distractions and, naturally, an annoyance to the team.

In seven months, Manziel has a hat trick of awkward, questionable encounters with fans. First, there was the altercation in a Cleveland hotel lobby during the season. Then, a Houston nightclub scene turned tense. This weekend, at the Byron Nelson Classic in Irving, Texas, Manziel threw a water bottle after being badgered by a fan.

Even if this incident is a non-issue, Manziel should know what the storyline would be the moment he releases a water bottle from his hands -- "Oh my gosh, Manziel threw a water bottle at a fan. Typical Manziel."

Of course, the story isn't that simple. A friend close to Manziel said the fan heckled the quarterback for hours and tried to grab his arm more than once. As the case with most of these stories, accounts of Manziel's actions differ. The friend says Manziel threw an empty water bottle to the ground like a football spike, clearly out of the way of the fan. A police spokesman told ESPN's Pat McManamon that Manziel "threw a bottle of water at the kid." Police aren't doing anything with the matter, so eventually everyone can move on.

What's clear is Manziel probably should hire some security staff, which I’m told is now a consideration for him. Maybe Maverick Carter, who helps market and mentor Manziel, can set him up with one of LeBron’s guys. Let a 300-pounder handle these encounters. That Manziel is known to react to fans will only fuel them to accost him in the future.

In the broader context, Manziel is navigating the sweet spot between living his life comfortably and extracting the magnets in his life that attach to these random incidents. At Texas A&M and early in his tenure with the Browns, most of Manziel’s experiences aren’t totally egregious when they stand alone. But they raise questions and, as a body of work, set off alarms.

I don’t believe the Browns think Manziel was in the wrong -- we’re talking about a water bottle here -- but one more incident means one more reason to strategize for at least one more question. This comes after Manziel has essentially lost the benefit of the doubt with his actions.

As Manziel learns to play quarterback in the NFL, it turns out he’s still learning when to throw the ball away and live for another down. The NFL quarterbacks who avoid the off-field stuff have learned that.

Manziel seems to be staying out of the clubs now, which is good.

He tried to avoid the fan, which is good.

What would be even better? That when Manziel sits down to address the media for the first time this offseason, he can tell his story freely, talking about football and recovery and not his public interactions with fans.

He does have a story to tell. A good one. It can be a heck of a comeback story.

He’s not there. Not yet.