Cleveland Browns mishandling Johnny Manziel from a football perspective


The Cleveland Browns have become a lightning rod for criticism in recent years due to several snafus, including Textgate, quarterback busts, and a coaching carousel at the three main positions (head coach, offensive coordinator, and defensive coordinator) that has made this an organization bereft of stability. Perhaps Johnny Manziel is the next first-round QB to notably bust under the Browns watch, but their mishandling of their second pick in last year’s draft is troubling in itself.

This offseason, the Browns went out and signed veteran stopgap/backup Josh McCown to a three-year, $12 million deal with $6.25 million in guaranteed money. It was a significant investment from a team in a 35-year-old quarterback, especially since they could have kept Brian Hoyer by re-signing him. Instead, they went with McCown, who has an important role on the team due to the Browns complete lack of trust in Manziel after his nightmare of  a rookie season.

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But should the Browns have been surprised that Manziel likes to party? Should they have been surprised that a raw, improv QB who threw an awful lot of jump balls in college struggled in his rookie season? Should they have been surprised that most rookie QBs won’t do well in 34 late-season attempts? Manziel’s 2014 season was a disaster, but the Browns were the ones who drafted him in the first round.

Instead of seeing Manziel’s willingness to change after he checked himself into rehab and admitted his obvious failings of the previous season, the Browns have seemingly given up on the Texas A&M product all together. It’s one thing to pump the brakes on his chances of starting and develop him more often, but it’s another thing to phase him out of the offense.

ESPN Cleveland’s Tony Grossi recently wrote that Manziel is a “fish out of water” right now, because the first week of OTAs showed that the team is moving to an offense that is much more tailored for a drab veteran stopgap QB like McCown. Grossi wrote that the Browns offense under new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo will require the signal-caller to be willing to “play within the structure of a conservative game plan” and “live for another down”.

That sounds exactly like McCown and completely unlike Manziel, who doesn’t have the situational awareness or decision-making skills to be that kind of a player. He’s raw, he’s error-prone, and he’s not a conservative passer. Manziel is an electric playmaker who can make something out of nothing, and he’s not built to play in an offense that constrains his rushing or improvisational work.

Even if he improves on his technique as a passer and his decision-making with time, he’ll always be a better fit in an offense that uses him more creatively, especially since this DeFilippo offense that Grossi is describing completely takes advantage of Manziel’s biggest assets.

It honestly doesn’t make sense, because if this is true, then it’s clear that the Cleveland Browns really don’t care about giving Manziel a shot. Not only did they probably overpay for McCown, but they also don’t even care to give Manziel a legit shot at starting this upcoming season.

The sad thing is that they might not even care about starting him in the future, because DeFilippo is installing an offense tailored to a QB under a three-year contract who will make some form of guaranteed money in each of those three years (McCown’s difficult to cut until after his second season, as there will be at least $2 million in dead money until then).

McCown is an “he is who he is” quarterback, and there’s no questioning his lack of upside, but that’s exactly why the Browns signed him in the first place. It’s also why they are moving to this conservative offense that gives Johnny Manziel no place, and it’s fair to wonder if they truly are done with him completely.

There’s a great chance Manziel never ends up being a remotely successful quarterback in this league, but the Browns had to know that when they drafted him, because everybody saw him as a huge risk. But everyone also saw the possible upside in him, and it’s clear that the Browns did at one point. Because again, that’s why they drafted him.

May 26, 2015; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel (2) during organized team activities at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

So why are they giving up after just one season? Do they not want to see what he can do? It does make much more sense to bench Manziel for one more season, but rookie deals only last four years long. If they don’t give him a legit shot in 2016, then he’d only have that final year in 2017 to show his stuff, as that’s the year McCown’s dead money falls to $666,668.

Key veterans Joe Thomas and Donte Whitner have praised Manziel for his work ethic this offseason, so it seems rather harsh for the Browns to put on the image of them phasing him out of things.

Yes, he is most likely better off sitting out another year, but it doesn’t make sense for them to set up an offense that doesn’t fit him at all and barely gives him much of a shot. The Browns could use a player with upside at quarterback, because it’s hard to see McCown elevating this team to the playoffs.

And as Bleacher Repot’s Cian Fahey said in an amazing piece, it makes it another year that the Browns are unable to see what they have in their 2014 first-round pick. I mean, you can’t draw any real conclusions from his 35 attempts last season, no matter how awful he looked.

To be honest with you, I’m not a big fan of him as a player, but I just don’t understand why the Browns, as Grossi put it, “are, by all appearances, moving on” from him already. Maybe there’s something else to the story, but…I’ll let Rotoworld’s Adam Levitan finish it off:

Next: Manziel on the road to redemption

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