I was asked by my editor to write a story wondering whether or not the Cleveland Browns' quarterback battle might cost the team some early-season wins. And I will try to do so. But I'm not sure there is any battle for that job.
McCown Signing Rather Questionable
Wouldn't it be great to be a world-class athlete? Only in sports can you royally stink at your job one year yet get rewarded with a three-year, $14 million contract the next. That's what the Browns gave journeyman quarterback Josh McCown on the free-agent market earlier this year, with the value going possibly as high as $20 million. A total of $6.25 million is guaranteed, including $5.25 million in Year 1.
Did the Browns not see McCown play last season for Tampa Bay? McCown, soon-to-be 36, went 1-10 as a starter. He completed 184 of 327 passes for 2,206 yards with 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions for a rating of 70.5. That latter number ranked 32nd in the NFL and only ahead of then-Jaguars rookie Blake Bortles. And McCown had a dynamic receiving duo to throw to in Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans. McCown is still living off the brief success he has as an injury fill-in with the Chicago Bears in 2013. He did start nine games for the Raiders in 2007, when new Browns offensive coordinator John DeFilippo coached Oakland's quarterbacks.
Why didn't the Browns just re-sign Brian Hoyer? He was a big reason why the team improved to seven wins last season despite having the worst group of receivers in the NFL -- when Josh Gordon was suspended, which he is again for the entire 2015 season. But the Browns never made much of an effort to bring Hoyer back and he's now battling Ryan Mallett for Houston's starting job.
Of course the Browns have a fairly well-known quarterback on their roster in second-year Johnny Manziel. He was dreadful in very limited action in 2014 and apparently many veterans soured on his work ethic as well. Manziel also went to rehab this winter. I don't see how he has any shot to beat out McCown. Coach Mike Pettine has already pretty much said it's McCown's job.
"We're not going to start talking competition," Pettine said last month. "Josh will more than likely be the starter going into camp, and in the foreseeable future I don't see that changing."
DeFilippo said much the same a couple of weeks ago after Browns OTAs, where McCown got all the starter's reps.
"I'm gonna echo coach [Mike] Pettine's words, because he and I are on the exact same page about this," DeFilippo said. "I don't see a change for right now going into training camp. I just don't. I think Josh is playing at a high level right now."
The OC did admit Manziel could win the job if he shines in camp and the preseason. Last season while with the Raiders, veteran Matt Schaub was penciled in as the starter entering camp but he was beaten out by rookie second-round pick Derek Carr.
With Gordon out, this again looks like the worst receiving group in the league. The Browns added veterans Brian Hartline and Dwayne Bowe, but those guys aren't No. 1 types. The team has a good offensive line, but the running back situation is also iffy with Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West.
Competition Can't Hurt
They say competition brings out the best in guys so maybe if Manziel can push McCown the Browns will get off to a good start. They have arguably the easiest three-game opening stretch in the NFL. Week 1 the Browns are at the Jets and New York might be the one team with a worse QB situation -- Geno Smith -- than the Browns have. The Jets are currently 3-point favorites on the early NFL odds boards. Cleveland will be a favorite in Week 2 against visiting Tennessee and its rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota. The Browns will also be Week 3 favorites at home against the Raiders. The schedule gets considerably tougher after that. If you are wondering when the team might switch to Manziel, the club's bye week is late in the season, Week 11. A three-game homestand follows so that might be a date to circle.
The Browns started 1-2 last year, losing at Pittsburgh and home to Baltimore, after Hoyer beat out Manziel in camp. Just for comparison's sake, the Jets had a QB battle last camp between Smith and Michael Vick. They won their opener but dropped the next eight. The Vikings started 1-2 after Matt Cassel beat out rookie Teddy Bridgewater in camp; Cassel was injured in that third game. The Jaguars began 2014 with three blowout losses after Chad Henne beat out Bortles; the rookie took over at halftime of the third game.
NFL Free Pick: McCown keeps the job and Cleveland will start 2-1. But Manziel will get his chance later in the year when the club is 2-8 or something.