The Cleveland Browns enter their bye week at 1-2 after a difficult starting stretch against the Steelers, Saints, and Ravens. At this point, many analysts had safely assumed that the Browns’ 3-game route would render a 0-3 start, especially against the elite tangibles of three Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, and division adversary, Joe Flacco. Critics who were also skeptical of starting quarterback, Brian Hoyer’s pedestrian-like preseason debut believed, that the five-year veteran would be riding the bench entering the early bye, allowing the gauntlet rookie, Johnny Manziel an opportunity to the land the starting job in Week 5. It seems highly unlikely that Manziel will be installed for the long term anytime soon, as Hoyer has silenced naysayers with his stark performance and competitive game-management in his first three starts of the 2014 NFL Season. As long as Hoyer remains healthy and continues to play at the level he currently is at, Manziel will rest, limited to merely a few plays in special instances. However, should the Browns fanbase be slightly worried about how the organization will handle Manziel?
For the first time in nearly two decades, the Cleveland Browns front office under the tutelage of owner Jimmy Haslam is finally making appropriate football transactions and decisions that are beneficial to assembling a perennial contender unlike what former regimes have done with the franchise in the past 15 years. Since resuming operations in 1999 after the former owner, Art Modell moved the franchise to Baltimore, Maryland as an NFL expansion team in 1995, the Cleveland Browns have met little success posting an embarrassing 79–163 record through the 2013 season. In that span, the Browns have earned a belittling reputation as the organization has slowly become the laughing stock of the NFL, hiring 8 head coaches, starting 23 quarterbacks, assigning 7 general managers, tenuring 3 majority owners, and having been shut out 13 times in games against teams above .500, a league record for lopsided defeats. While the Browns stumble upon reentry into the league, Modell’s expansion team which was christened the Baltimore Ravens won its first Super Bowl title in its four years of existence, and thus began the dynasty under Scott Biscotti. As of 2014, the Browns have posted only two winning seasons: a 9-7 record in 2002 in which they qualified as a Wild Card team and a 10-6 record in 2007 ,in which they narrowly missed the postseason due to a tie-breaker with the Cincinnati Bengals.
Since Haslam’s purchase of the franchise from Randy Lerner in 2012, the Browns front office have made significant strides to bring a winning football team to the city of Cleveland. While not a Picasso overnight, somewhere in the Browns’ roster there is a fiery professional football team waiting to unleash its discharge and Haslam is irksome to rediscover that spark. First and foremost, Haslam’s presence as a multi-billion dollar business mogul has ushered in a new philosophy into the Cleveland locker room that mediocrity and inferiority are unacceptable for a professional football team, especially one that was once highly dominant during its AAFC heyday in the mid-1940s when the Browns won four consecutive championship titles under dignitary, Mike Brown. Although the Browns are light years away from becoming a dynasty like they were in the 1980s when defensive guru, Marty Schottenheimer and quarterback, Bernie Kosar were at helm, Haslam offers the floundering organization an opportunity to reconstruct and learn from past mistakes implemented by the former regime. The termination of general manager, Tom Heckert and the timely resignation of team president, Mike Holmgren steered away criticism for the first time in four years and the ousting of head coach, Rob Chudzinski, CEO Joe Banner, and assistant general manager, Mike Lombardi also positioned the team in the right direction from a personnel standpoint without the subduing pressures impounded by the margin for error. Haslam can now start on a fresh slate, without any recollection of follies made by previous administrations and in so doing that he was able to approach the 2014 NFL Draft alongside new general manager, Ray Farmer, with the utmost tactical aggression.
In the 2014 NFL Draft, the Browns drew wide attention from fans and analysts alike, when Haslam and Farmer compiled a blockbuster selection in the same vein of Kevin Costner’s “Draft Day” when the duo tabbed and traded for highly-touted talents such as cornerback Justin Gilbert, offensive tackle Joel Bitonio, running back Terrance West, and lastly media favorite, quarterback, Johnny Manziel. Johnny Manziel has been walking talking eye candy for the press and it’s no secret the masses want to see the registered trademarked “Johnny Football” play amongst the NFL finest. Like dual-threat quarterbacks before him such as Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham, Manizel possesses the skill set and physique to run with the ball if necessary. It is with this range of ability that primarily led to Manziel’s rise at Texas A&M when he led the Air Raid Offensive Aggies to prominence from 2012-2013. He broke numerous NCAA Division I, FBS, and SEC records, which included becoming the first freshman and fifth player in NCAA history to pass for 3,000 yards and rush for 1,000 yards in a season. At the end of the regular season, he became the first freshman to win the Heisman Trophy, Manning Award, and the Davey O’Brien National Quarterback Award. There’s no question that Manziel is an adept athlete. After all the man was a one-man show at Texas A&M, hence the moniker “Johnny Football,” and was capable of veering the Aggies to a 9-4 record in 2013. However, it would be wise for the Browns to hold off on starting Manziel this year and focus on his development as a NFL quarterback as the flash in the pan tends to historically repeat itself.
While both athletic and exciting, Manziel’s presence in Cleveland closely resembles the Tim Tebow era in Denver – a 24/7 media circus. Now, although media attraction isn’t necessarily negative, Manziel’s actions and words are one too many an organization wants to hear or see similar to that of Vince Young. Manziel’s behavior is immature and naïve by the very definitions. The 21 year-old thrives for the cameramen and the cameramen thrive for Manziel – an unnecessary evil for coaches and owners. During the 2013 offseason, Manziel drew significant array of media attention over his conduct off the field. Notable incidents include his early departure from the Manning Passing Academy after allegedly oversleeping, his expensive getaway to Las Vegas during the first two months of signing with the Cleveland Browns, tweeting that he “can’t wait to leave College Station” after receiving a parking ticket, and getting himself kicked out of a University of Texas fraternity party. An ESPN magazine article revealed his parents’ concerns about his dealings with his newfound stardom and how the notoriety would affect his career as an NFL quarterback. During the preseason, Manziel came under fire for inappropriate gestures when the quarterback was flagged by a referee for flipping the bird on national television. It’s abundantly clear that aside from his mechanics, Manziel has maturity issues he must tinker with before he becomes the Browns capo.
Aside from his character flaws and mainstream narcissism that only Snickers could accommodate, Manziel balances on a tightrope that very few Browns quarterbacks have successfully grapple. Before Haslam grasped the reins of the shambled organization, Cleveland was stigmatized as a quarterback graveyard, in which rookies or newly-acquired veterans were broken into pieces as soon as starters were introduced to the jungle-like AFC North where the Ravens, Steelers and Bengals have feverishly fed off the Browns nonexistent offensive line. Like Manziel, highly-credited college quarterbacks with NFL-potential ranging from Brady Quinn to Colt McCoy have been drafted by the Cleveland Browns only to find themselves shattered and tossed away in the garbage after exposed to the relentless might the NFL has showcased. The quarterbacks that have signed with Cleveland have gauged from so many to so few that it due to inconsistencies and injuries, it strategically becomes impossible for head coaches and coordinators to build around a helmsman which is why the Browns should remain gun-shy with their aspirations of Manziel for the time being.
The window for an abrupt decision cannot come soon enough as Hoyer becomes a free agent after this season and reportedly contract extension talks have been thus far unsatisfactory. The Browns could always opt to use a franchise or transition tag on Hoyer this year, but Farmer would like a tender for one or two seasons. Manziel, on the other hand, is in the first year of his rookie contract spanning for 5 years, and is the more realistic choice looking at the long-term. He still has plenty of work to do to as his footing and accuracy is something rookie head coach, Mike Pettine wants to repair with Manziel. His journey as an NFL ready passer will be time-consuming for the most part, but given his rousing aptitude and his raw ability to improvise, Manziel could find himself in a unique position in 2015 where these strengths could become second nature. Many scholars, especially those who formerly played in the NFL, believe the only way to improve and develop is on the field itself. While that may go hand-in-hand with proven gunslingers such as Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, Manziel is not quite there yet to face the blazing fire known as the AFC North.
If Manziel is not inserted by Week 14, Haslam and Pettine should be cautious not start him the last 3 games of the season. Instead of feeding him to the wolves known as the Bengals, Panthers and Ravens defense, the Browns would be better off saving his body and protecting his confidence by keeping him out of harm’s way on the bench. As a head coach and general manager, you certainly don’t want to witness a quarterback of such a small frame take too many blows nor do you don’t want to jeopardize his confidence as a proverbial leader charging him with the task against confounded defenses. Plus, if the team isn’t exactly sold on Manziel for the future especially with the lack of a vertical arsenal that wide receiver, Josh Gordon carries, it is silly and nonsensical to tarnish his trade value by placing him in against the NFL’s most prolific defenses.
All of these marks make sense especially pertaining to a quarterback of Manziel’s aloof personality and dashing caliber, but in the grand scheme, Johnny Football is nowhere close to NFL-ready at least in 2014. As if the odds are that Hoyer starts the remainder of the season and the Browns continue to compete well into the season giving the coaching staff no reason to make a change. But this is the NFL and in this day and age anything can, and usually does, happen. The Browns face the Tennessee Titans next Sunday at LP Field with Hoyer projected to start. If all goes accordingly, Hoyer and Browns could be 2-2 exiting their bye week, but if the squad falters like we have seen timelessly in the past expect pressure from the roaring Dawg Pound.
The deeper issue, however, rests with the great deal of coaching and front office turnover the Browns have experienced since drafting “bust” Tim Couch in 1999. Even if any of the quarterbacks they’ve placed in the starting position would have been good long-term options, none were given the chance to prevail. A mere handful seasons and fewer with placing with losing records resulted complete overhaul in which resulted in coaching staff after coaching staff being fired and replaced. That being said not one of Cleveland’s multiple quarterbacks have been given the benefit of the doubt to hold onto their jobs and learn new systems implemented by each staff. Great teams don’t just become perpetual winners overnight—they are honed, perfected and molded over the course of time by a forbearing coaching staff and front office that has the franchise’s long-term interests in mind. With the Browns, it’s apparent that they’ve have experience a tumultuous succession of coaching, and therefore quarterback, changes because they simply demanded to see winning results immediately and if the final outcome was inadequate, the field were cast in the fire and thus it became time to begin anew.
Had the Browns opted to stick by with one head coach and allowed the team to struggle while foregoing the process of reconstruction, perhaps they could have possibly held onto a quarterback and developed him into a reliable signal caller who could successfully start for 10 straight seasons or more. At the same time, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Browns need to be comfortable with a radius of four to five wins a year in perpetuity, but there needs to be a structured balance between immediate and longer-term answers for the sake of stability. Teams need stability at quarterback, which in turn generally means stability in coaching staff, in order to win 8 games or more.Even if a quarterback stays, constant turnover in staffing, and faltering supervision in schemes isn’t a good way to transition him into a franchise player.
Haslam has a plan that is more thought-provoking than any I have seen from this organization in my years as NFL fan. He’s highly determined to field a young hungry team and his willingness in doing so only enhances Haslam’s reputation. This is something Cleveland has been anxiously looking for since 1999 and if Haslam deviates from the rebuilding program by positioning Manziel in the driver’s seat when he remains unproven professionally, like Quinn, McCoy, and Weeden before him, it could inevitably set the franchise back another 5 to 6 years.
Drew Mattiola is a third-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at RM814408@wcupa.edu.