Johnny Manziel recounts his 'reckless' trip to Las Vegas, says he'll play for free

Johnny Manziel, who is trying to engineer a comeback after the disastrous start to his NFL career ended with domestic violence allegations, is taking measured steps to rehabilitate his image. That process continued on Wednesday when Manziel declared that he's willing to play for free and opened up on his infamous trip to Las Vegas during the final stretch of his two-year stint with the Browns.

NFL Network's Mike Garafolo reported on Wednesday that Manziel is willing to accept no guaranteed money from an NFL team and also work his way up from the practice squad. Later, Manziel tweeted that he'll "play again for FREE."

Even still, it'll take more for an NFL team to roll the dice on Manziel after what transpired two years ago. The Browns cut Manziel in March 2016 after he was accused of assaulting his then-girlfriend, Colleen Crowley. Before that, during the 2015 season, he bailed on the Browns to take a disguised trip to Las Vegas, which brings us to his appearance on "The ThomaHawk Show" by Uninterrupted with Joe Thomas and Andrew Hawkins.

In Wednesday's episode, Manziel told his former teammates what really happened. 

"It's to the point in time where I'm able to look back, reflect, know that it was a mistake, know that I made some really childish, immature decisions," Manziel said. "This decision that I made -- what a complete lack of respect for guys like Joe T. What a complete lack of respect for an organization that was trying to stick by me even with having a concussion at this point in time. And everything -- what a complete selfish decision."

According to Manziel, he felt concussion symptoms after taking a hit during the third quarter of his start against the Chiefs on Dec. 27, 2015. He didn't, however, report the symptoms because he didn't want to give up his chance to play. He said he felt "a little off" on Monday when he went into the building, but didn't say anything because he wanted to play in the season finale against the Steelers. His friends from Texas, who came into town, "were in party mode." After a night of drinking with them, Manziel said he reported to the facility Tuesday morning, but felt "loopy."

"We come into the offensive line meeting we have every day at like 7 a.m. on Tuesday," he said. "I don't know if it's a combination of me being concussed, having drank the night before, or just being out of it, but I walk into the meeting for probably like 15 seconds and I'm like, 'Nope. No way is this going to happen. My head is loopy.'"

Acording to Manziel, they took him to the hospital, where he remained for the entire day.

"And then it's kind of like, 'My season's over, it's the last game of the season, I'm done,'" he said. "And then I was going through some things with just my at-home life. That was my biggest problem that year. It wasn't the football life. It wasn't what was going on in the building. I loved getting there early .... It was what was going on at home that was causing me so many problems and one of those problems led me to Vegas. I felt like I couldn't solidify or fix my home life without going out there."

He formed a "reckless, reckless plan" to fly to Las Vegas at noon on Saturday on a commercial flight after the team's walkthrough and return on the 10:30 p.m. flight for his mandatory treatment session on Sunday. No one recognized him on the flight over. And then the trouble began.

According to Manziel, the craps and blackjack tables at Planet Hollywood "started calling his name." There, he got ID'd and therefore, recognized. A reporter then saw him at a bar and tweeted about it. Manziel later decided that he didn't want to catch his return flight because, "Hakkasan is going to be pretty lit tonight, I don't really want to go home." 

He skipped the return flight and posted a photo of his dog on Instagram, tagging the location as Avon, Ohio.

#SaturdayNights

A post shared by Johnny Manziel (@jmanziel2) on

He went to buy a "blondish-brown mullet" off the strip so he wouldn't be recognized.

"I shaved all of my facial hair but my mustache, so I had a little mustache going," he added. "I didn't need to buy the mustache."

"I'm like 'perfect,'" he added.

Now?

"I'm still pretty embarrassed by it," he said. "It's still a reckless decision."

Next was dinner. Then, he attended a Chainsmokers concert and continued partying until the early morning. At that point, he didn't know how he was going to get back. Manziel decided to go to sleep and worry about the consequences later.

"I get back to the room that night probably like 3 or 4 in the morning," he said. "It's already 7 'o clock on East Coast time. We play at 11. This stuff is already starting to come out. I have to be there at 8, which is in an hour. 'I'm definitely not going to make that.' I just turn my phone off and throw it in the drawer and I'm like, 'We'll figure it out when we wake up.'"

The consequences were severe, but not initially. According to Manziel, the Browns were very understanding of his entire situation and Manziel got the impression that they weren't going to get rid of him.

"Crazily enough, I still go back to Cleveland, I sit down with Jimmy (Haslam, the team's owner) and Sashi (Brown, the team's executive vice president of football operations at the time) and explained where I'm at mentally. I explained what was going on in my home life, and really was open and honest with them about everything. I think they were still going to stick (with me through it)," he said. "It rubbed a lot of people the wrong way. But at the end of the day, the people who were making the decisions, I feel like looking back at our conversations, they still had faith that if they could get my head right and get where I needed to be mentally that I still had a potential and a future there."

But once the Browns hired Hue Jackson, Manziel was a goner.

"The first thing I heard through my agent was, 'If Hue Jackson gets this job, he has a contingency in his thing that if he's taking this job, the first thing he's doing is coming in and getting rid of you,'" Manziel said. "So it wasn't the end of the world, but I treated it as it was the end of the world after sitting there with Jimmy and Sashi and feeling like they were going to go to bat for me a little bit."

Manziel said that he gets it now and that there's "no hard feelings there." 

Of course, Jackson had plenty of reasons to dump Manziel. The Las Vegas trip wasn't even the most concerning off-the-field issue. In late January 2016, Manziel was accused of rupturing his then-girlfriend's ear drum. The Browns released him in March 2016. In April 2016, he was indicted by a grand jury in Texas on a misdemeanor assault charge. In December of 2016, Manziel reached a plea deal to dismiss the charges. This past November, the charges were dismissed. 

Now, Manziel is trying to make his way back into the NFL. In mid-February, Manziel reiterated that he's sober and revealed that he is taking medication for bipolar disorder. 

"I am taking medication for bipolar, and I am working to try to make sure I don't fall back into any type of depression, because I know where that leads me and I know how slippery a slope that is for me," Manziel told "Good Morning America."

Then, he announced that he'll be taking part in the Spring League scouting event in early April.

It's still unclear if Manziel will ever get another chance in the NFL. Not only did he exhibit clear behavioral issues off the field, but he also struggled to play competent football. In eight career starts and 15 total appearances, he completed 57 percent of his passes, averaged 6.5 yards per attempt, threw seven touchdowns and seven interceptions, and posted a 74.4 passer rating. 

First, he needs to prove that his issues are behind him. Then, he needs to demonstrate that he's capable of playing quarterback in the NFL. It's still unclear if he'll be able to do either of those things.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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