The Cleveland Browns took a big gamble in last year’s NFL Draft by selecting Texas A&M QB Johnny Manziel in the First Round, and, after a horrific rookie season, will we ever see the Heisman Trophy winner leading an NFL offense?
The Current State of Affairs at Quarterback for the Cleveland Browns
When all is said and done, will Cleveland Browns QB Johnny Manziel end up being more like Ryan Leaf or Jim McMahon? The 22-year-old Texas A&M product and 2012 Heisman Trophy winner entered a treatment facility on January 28 and, on Wednesday, will begin his 29th day of treatment, with aiming to play professional football and trying to earn a starting spot as the Browns QB hopefully the last thing on the young athlete’s mind. The Cleveland Browns franchise has been extremely supportive of Manziel, and Head Coach Mike Pettine, Offensive Coordinator John DeFilippo and QB Coach Kevin O’Connell have all shown an enormous amount of faith in their 2014 First Round Draft pick (#22). And, a good sign for Manziel emerged on Tuesday afternoon when the Browns parted ways with free agent QB Brian Hoyer who signed with the Houston Texans.
The team’s current plan at the QB spot looks a little wide open though, with hopes maybe Manziel recovers quickly and then gets in the mix and competes with recent signee Josh McCown, a 12-year veteran who was inked to a 3-year, $14 million deal (with $6.25 million of it guaranteed). The Browns could still very well select a QB with one of their two First Round picks in the coming NFL Draft (April 30-May 2)—Cleveland has the #12 and #19 selections in Round 1—but FSU’s Jameis Winston and Oregon’s Marcus Mariota will surely both be gone by then, meaning maybe taking a stab on a guy like UCLA’s Brett Hundley or Baylor’s Bryce Petty may be an option...if either were available. And if I were the Browns and Hundley was there at #12 or #19, I might seriously think about taking a gamble on the Bruins signal-caller as McCown is 35 years old and Manziel is an immature 22—going on 17 in some cases off the field, at least in his past actions—and having the veteran McCown—who went 1-10 starting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last season—to start at QB and groom a young Manziel and a young Hundley sounds like it would be the best Rx for this team’s Offense.
Besides Hundley and Petty in Round 1 or Round 2, we discussed some other QBs that the Browns would be wise to take a thorough look at last week here at Sportsbook Review in our 15 NFL Teams Who Desperately Need QBs and Where They Can Find Them piece which suggested Oregon State’s Sean Mannion and Southeastern Louisiana’s Bryan Bennett might be good picks if they are available. With McCown now signed, the Browns likely won’t be in the market for another Free Agent, and my Crystal Ball sees them grabbing someone good (young QB) in the draft. As for now, McCown, Manziel and backups Connor Shaw (23, South Carolina) and Free Agent Tyler Thigpen (30, Coastal Carolina) are the four QBs on this team’s roster and Bernie Kosar isn’t returning any phone calls from General Manager Ray Farmer, so odds are the 51-year-old Kosar is probably out of the picture. Oh well.
Analyzing the Professional Football Player That is Johnny Manziel
Although the Cleveland Browns (50/1 to win Super Bowl 50, Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook) think they can develop Manziel as a passer—whether from a starting psychological point from the pocket, a scrambling QB, or an evolving combination of the two (although that hasn’t necessarily worked for a number of other young, mobile, still developing QBs in the Modern Day NFL)—his mentality on running and leaving the pocket too soon too often may hurt his development, despite this seemingly being an era when Moving Pockets are evolving and becoming increasingly popular in the NFL. Manziel—who believe it or not had the same odds (75/1, Bovada) last season as Seattle Seahawks’ RB Marshawn Lynch to win the league’s MVP award—does have some positive attributes one would want in a starting NFL QB, but most of them are Psychological and not Physical. Having the will to win as a QB and trying to do so with a less than 6-foot frame in College Football is much easier than trying to do so in the NFL, where linemen eat entire pizzas as Hors d’oeuvres and wash them down with pitchers of vanilla protein shakes. Then do it again because they can.
For the Browns (35/1 to win AFC Championship according to the NFL Odds) finding a way to utilize the improvisational skills of Manziel in a league that prefers its play calls tightly executed—at least the Old Dudes on the sidelines with Modern Communication Things in their ears—is the big key here, as physically, to me at least, the 5-foot-11-¾-inch, 207-pound QB appears a little short, a big problem when trying to see over linemen that are bigger and taller than ever these days. Scouts have raved about the Hand Size (9 7/8th inches) of Manziel, but if he is never in a position to calmly use and evolve those theoretically big-ass hands into proper NFL QB hands, then these are just Big Hands on a young player that may be using them to do something else in 2017 if he doesn’t slow down off the field and take the game of football as a very seriously paid profession properly.
Although he had very limited on-field experience last year with the Browns—5 Appearances, 18-for-35,175 Passing Yards, 0 Passing TDs, 1 Rushing TD, 2 INTs, 1 Fumble, 42.0 QBR—when in, Manziel was a virtual Hot Mess and it didn’t help that his Big Mouth made many NFL defenders want to hit the loquacious Manziel that much harder on the gridiron. Many of his passes also seemed rushed and were under-throws, falling short of their intended targets. So, teaching Calmness and Patience would seem to be the best route for Cleveland here, although trying to teach Manziel to try to be calm in the pocket will be tantamount to trying to get a butterfly to stay on a bird perch. Good luck, Bubba. We’ll be watching.
Manziel will have to strive to surround himself with positive people and not fall prey to the trappings of becoming an Instant Millionaire and start to make wise decisions and put any alcohol or drugs or gambling or other nefarious activities to the side until he retires from the NFL—something that could happen too quickly for him should he fall back into any of those potential bad habits. He is just 22 and the Browns—and everyone else in the world—knew exactly what they were getting themselves into when drafting Manziel. And, from Cleveland’s organizational POV, it needs to realize how valuable it would be to have a versatile and tough young QB who could rush over or around 1,000 yards a season if given the proper protection and guidance. Manziel did have a prolific season where rushed for over 1,400 years while at Texas A&M, and utilizing that aspect of his game is a must, although it will be important for him to not perceive himself as a rushing QB, and rushing for yards as an NFL QB is much harder than in college and has its increased Degree of Peril. NFL players like to hit hard. Especially QBs. Especially young, cocky, unproven QBs. It’s just the way of The Jungle, brother, and that’s the way it is and the way it will always be.
With NFL players so much bigger and faster than in the Old Days, one can’t really be a short, smallish, tough QB anymore. And the speed Manziel possesses (4.68 40-yard dash) is okay, but stride length and Running Smarts are all part of The Big Picture and Manziel just doesn’t have the relevant game experience yet in the NFL. And he has nobody to blame but himself for Year One. He wasted it and acted like it didn’t matter. It did.
In the end, the Browns' best bet in terms of evolving Manziel may be to try to groom him to become less of a sheer bomber, heavy-pass, (Ryan) Leaf type, or a gritty, get-it-done game manager like McMahon, and more of a Fran Tarkenton (Minnesota Vikings) type who scrambles and uses his nifty footwork to gain big chunks of yards and efficiently gets the ball to WRs, TEs and RBs through the air when needed. The Seahawks Russell Wilson may be the closest thing to Tarkenton in the Modern NFL for Manziel to study and emulate, although blending some Tarkenton, McMahon and Wilson into a calm (and sober) young man seems like the best semi long-term plan for the organization. But Manziel will have to do his part as NFL teams aren’t, and shouldn’t be, patient these days, and if a Hundley or Petty is taken in the NFL Draft by Cleveland, some more signals will be sent and the former Aggies standout may have to try to seek employment with another NFL team at some point down the proverbial road.
Starting and leading an NFL team somewhere in The Future is a possibility, albeit it one bordering between remote and desperately possible, but its hard to change a man’s Ego and his Circles of Friends and other things unseen. When making your NFL Picks, keep in mind that the Browns will likely give Manziel that one more (rushed) chance, before cutting bait with him if he shows any signs of struggling both on or off the football field. The NFL is Big Business and the corporations that are the teams don’t want Future Fortunes riding on the backs of unpredictable and intractable young people. Employers enjoy consistency and predictability in one’s work and Johnny Manziel has a long way to go toward proving he can provide those admirable qualities.