Win Or Lose, Cleveland Browns Have A Major Decision To Make On Johnny Manziel

In breaking down the AFC playoff picture this week, we pronounced the Cleveland Browns a long shot at overtaking the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North and have too tough of an upcoming schedule to truly compete for a Wild Card spot.

But Thursday’s game against their division rival Cincinnati will go a long way in determining more than just how long the team’s season will last.

With a win over the Bengals, the 5-3 Browns make a statement — they’re not ready to get looked over just yet. A win indicates that they can go toe-to-toe with the AFC North heavyweights. After all, they avenged their season-opening loss against Pittsburgh with a 31-10 stomping of the Steelers in Week 6. Yes, those Steelers, the same team that has skyrocketed in the AFC standings with record-setting offensive production over the past three games.

A win over Cincinnati would even the Browns’ divisional record to 2-2, with one more game against the Bengals and Ravens before season’s end. As we outlined, the schedule is among the toughest of the Wild Card contenders, but a win over the Bengals is a huge step in the right direction. And if the Browns remain in the hunt for the playoffs, you have to assume Brian Hoyer remains the team’s starting quarterback.

Now let’s look at it from the other end of the spectrum.

With a loss against Cincinnati, Cleveland drops to 5-4 and 1-3 against AFC North foes. At 5-4 the Browns are not eliminated from the playoff discussion at all, but it does make it quite the uphill climb against the likes of the Miami Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, San Diego Chargers, Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens and the two teams they’re looking up to in their own division.

Hoyer is 8-3 as the team’s starter over the past two seasons, but with the playoffs falling farther and farther out of their grasp, the Browns have to start considering whether it’s Hoyer they want at quarterback this season. By no means is a 5-4 record this season means for benching Hoyer, but there is certainly added pressure to make some sort of move when a first-round pick is waiting in the wings.

It’s hard to fault Hoyer for what he’s done this season. Through nine weeks of the season the Browns remain in the thick of the playoff hunt, and they’ve done so with injuries to starting running back Ben Tate and having to rely on a pair of rookies, Terrance West and Isaiah Crowell, in his place. Josh Gordon has been suspended for the bulk of the season and won’t return until Week 10, and Pro Bowl tight end Jordan Cameron has battled injuries that have forced him out of the lineup far too often.

Still, Hoyer has managed to lift Cleveland out of the AFC North cellar, giving the fans and coaching staff a glimmer of hope about the team’s future. He managed to win the starting job over Johnny Manziel in the pre-season, despite an anxious fan base eager to see if the first-round pick can continue the magic he used to perform as a Heisman Trophy winner at Texas A&M.

There’s certainly an Aaron Rodgers route the Browns could go in, allowing Manziel to sit and learn his first year and maybe into his second. But the difficulty with that lies in the fact that Hoyer is only 29 years old. Brett Favre was already 35 years old when the Green Bay Packers nabbed Rodgers in the first round of the 2005 draft, knowing that Favre’s best days were already behind him.

Hoyer is still young enough to be an NFL starting quarterback for the next five years, and there’s no way Manziel can be a backup for that length of time. And that brings us back to Thursday night’s showdown between the Browns and Bengals.

The Browns need to make a decision about what they’re going to do with Manziel, and Thursday should be a critical game in deciding that course of action. With a win, they continue their magical march toward a playoff spot. That means Hoyer is the guy, and the closer he gets to lifting the Browns into uncharted territory, the more he’s proving that he should be the team’s future under center.

A loss, on the other hand, dims the Browns’ realistic chances at playing important football into January. And the Browns front office must decide whether mediocre with a slugger’s chance at making the playoffs each season is what they’re content with, or do they want to spark the team with the promising, transcendent rookie that is Manziel.

And of course, there’s a third option, a mix of the two others. If the Browns realize Hoyer can be “the guy,” aren’t there a handful of other teams beginning to plan their college scouting that would be eager to get their hands on Manziel? Wouldn’t Lovie Smith or Rex Ryan be willing to make a call to Ray Farmer?

There are a lot of teams that need to put their faith in a young signal-caller, while the Browns need to decide which one of the two they want to invest their future in. Thursday’s game — win or lose — should provide us with some insight as to which direction the team may go.

18 thoughts on “Win Or Lose, Cleveland Browns Have A Major Decision To Make On Johnny Manziel”

  1. SharonLantzySchultz

    Oops looks like you were wrong. Why would we play Manziel when Hoyer is being effective? Let the kid learn and acclimate.

  2. Ken1Lutheran

    So Cleveland wins.  Hoyer is now a .750 QB, a percentage that puts him in Tom Brady/Joe Montana/Bart Starr country, and he’s done it with a team that was a perennial also-ran, the punching bag for the Steelers, Ravens and Bengals.  Suddenly Hoyer is there and it’s the Browns doing the punching.  This job is Hoyer’s until he gives the Browns a reason to think that it shouldn’t be.  Steve Young sat behind Joe Montana for years, to the day when they sat Montana down and gave Young the football.  Likewise the Packers with Favre and Rodgers.  The Patriots came to that crossroads.  Matt Cassel had been sitting there with Brady’s clipboard for years; only once had he played most of a game, against the Dolphins at the end of a season, and he played well that day.  Eventually the unspeakable happened–Brady went down in week 1 and Cassel had to play the whole season for the Pats in 2008.  That was a moment of truth–did the Pats think Brady could come back strong from his injury?  They did, he did, and they traded Cassel to KC.  In the event, Brady proved to be all the way back; Cassel since then has had a respectable but not great career.

  3. Bob Wong I am glad to see that the response previously posted was removed, as ethnic slurs add nothing good to this discussion.  I don’t believe that Manziel is ready, and do believe that Hoyer is proving himself to be a solid NFL quarterback.  Whether Manziel eventually becomes a great star is something we can’t know yet.  I remember that when Steve Young first came into the NFL, he wasn’t ready to be an NFL starter.  But he held Joe Montana’s clipboard for several years, and eventually the day came when the 49ers sent Montana on his way and handed the ball to Young.  My guess is that this will eventually happen in Cleveland.  Brian Hoyer isn’t Joe Montana; but he learned the trade holding the clipboard of a quarterback who is in the same class as Montana–Tom Brady.  So figure Hoyer will start for them for two or three years, by which time Manziel, if he lives up to his promise, will be ready.

  4. Michael Iosue

    Did anyone proofread this before posting? Many typos and misspellings. Not what I would expect from someone being paid for a column.

  5. Yep, that makes a lot of sense. The guy is winning games and they want to bench him?! Good thing Brady and Big Ben don’t have owners/coaches with this mentality. They would have been benched weeks ago – BEFORE they got it together and started kicking ass.
    Prediction: Manziel may et a shot and do well BUT, just like most “new things” defenss will eventually figure how to play him and he’ll become an average NFL quarterback. Wilson, Kaepernick and RG III come to mind.

  6. RichardHighman

    keep Johnny football where he is this year and ready as a good back up-why replace a QB who is winning games?

  7. Bob Wong How can you be so sure that Manziel is the Browns future? Because he had ONE good year at Texas A & M?

  8. This ones a bit past its date but since its here I’ll chat Browns. I think the only reason why people are still into this is because Ray Farmer moves to the beat of a different drum. His decisions are almost always going to be suspect after the WHAT THE HECK WERE YOU THINKING pick he made in the draft by letting Watkins slip, or Evens, just like when Chud passed on Dee Milner. Also when you look at Hoyer,  at the end of preseason neither he or Manziel gave the team the best chance at winning, the stats for that would have had Conner Shaw starting of us, so I see why the things Cleveland does makes you think you have to move on and try the next man up. But thats the way the Browns play, after a person gets hurt its next man up time, and thankfully Hoyer has learned a bit about not pushing it to much. I think this game was the first time I recall seeing him try and run from the pock for yardage, and the front line has been sound enough that he hasn’t got banged up to much
    . I think Manziel still needs to learn more, at least professionally I thought he should have been taking more notes since Alex Mack got hurt. If the center is doing the calling with the quarterback  and gets hurt everyone has to adjust, and I don’t think you learn that in practice, and with it being Cleveland and its history for QB’s getting hurt each play. Hoyer could get hurt, and in this game when they showed Manziel he just looked like he was waiting on a bus not on a chance to learn.

  9. HarveyHorwitz

    The Browns are winning because the defense is better than good and Hoyer is not making critical mistakes.  The problem is the Brown’s can go only so far behind Hoyer’s arm.  His pass completion percentage is ordinary and his accuracy is dismal.
    Not to say that Manziel should replace Hoyer at this point in time or this season.  Hoyer’s effectiveness in future games this season will make the decision. He has had six seasons as a quarterback to prove himself worthy or unworthy to be a starter in the NFJ

  10. James A Barnes Jr

    think they should leave Manziel right where his is, on the side lines…if you
    want to give him something to do, then hand him the clip board.  Why would there
    be any talk about doing anything with Manziel this year, he’s an unproven
    rookie…I’m not sure why there’s a hurry to put Manziel on the field while
    Hoyer is winning games.  I say, give Johnny Boy more snaps in practice at least
    half the snaps with the starters in order to get the starting frontline and
    Manziel comfort with each other idiosyncrasies just in case Hoyer gets hurt, but
    other then that Johnny Manziel is a rookie and it won’t hurt that rookie to sit
    and learn the offense behind their starter….

  11. HarveyHorwitz It all goes back to the weapons you have around you, thats why I still have to wonder what Farmer was thinking on passing on Watkins and Evens for a defensive player. Just like least year when then passed on Milner and got Mingo, Mingo was listed as a project, Gilberts been a project too, and the need was more for offense over defense, and they were privy to the info about Gordon before the draft.It made as much sense to me as them brining in two quarterbacks before the draft and drafting two quarterbacks in the draft
    Fate wasn’t really kind to Hoyer for most of those seasons if you think QBs must start as soon as they’re drafted, on one hand he’s had the time to learn from two of the best, as a back up for Brady and big Ben he learned from a pair of the games best, as for play time he’s been behind to of the toughest sons of a gun throwing the ball. He got like 3/4 of a game in with the Cardinals and thats about it. Even last year he didn’t get to start being behind Weeden.Neither one of us really gets a say in who gets to play, I’ll say again in the preseason if your going by stats Conner Shaw was the best QB for our team and look where he was placed, even then thats after he was released because of the 53 man roster limit. Here’s a twist I’ll toss in, for no the only way I would trade Manziel would be for either Evens and a draft pick, or Watkins and a draft pick. Both picks second round, why, because I think both teams will be helped that much. An I’d hope for Watkins. Watkins was like me, in 100% total disbeleif when they didn’t call him at number 4 for Cleveland. The man was wearing an orange tie for Petes sake, and when he held up that Bills jersey he even had this look like  Ye’all are kidding right, PLEASE tell me your kidding.
    If we wouldn’t get those picks I’m content as the day is long to leave him right where he’s at, he waitied a year at A&M , he can wait a year in Cleveland, or longer.

  12. Who cares about Johnny Manziel?  I certainly don’t.  I’m not sure he’s the be all and end all with respect to his quarterbacking.  Missouri ran all over him.  He got the press, that’s all.  My theory is you “dance with the one who brung you” to quote an old country song.  Hoyer is doing a fine job.  No reason to bench him for “Mr. know-nothing who thinks he knows it all.”  It reminds me of the Kansas City Chiefs’ season when Elvis Grbac had a hangnail and had to sit out several games.  Rich Gannon for all intents and purposes stepped in and got the Chiefs to the playoffs.  What did the Chiefs do to thank him?  Of course, they benched him and put in the terrifically lousy Grbac (whose hangnail miraculously healed by the end of the season) who proceeded to get his a** whipped as did the Chiefs.  Now, I don’t know, maybe the Chiefs would have lost the playoff game with Gannon but it was Gannon who got them there and he should have been given the chance to win it. Manziel should sit it out unless Hoyer gets injured and watch and learn.  That’s the best thing for him and the Browns at this point.

  13. Hoyer is the starter for the rest of the season….But we may see some of Johnny if we get another blow out like we did in cinncy.If we trade him for a first round pick for next year id be very happy He should have never been a first round pick anyway.

  14. JeffreyBaer I forget his exact words but Manziel came off saying something like its not the first contract thats important, basically saying that its the money contract that matters. I’d like to think he was just being open and honest, but when he said that he destroyed the whole wreck this league diea. I think Farmer and Pettine and the coaching staff are working with himmore to instill the idea that if your loyal to the team the team will pay you because of that loyalty. I think they showed that with Mack and Hayden. I think Manziel will be good. I’d like to think Farmer and company have a decent handle on their talent. As much as I’ve voiced about Gilbert it wasn’t him I voice on as much as the timing of the pick, and the desire for this team to be tooled better in its recieving corps. I think Gilbert will work out, so far he isn’t either a dud or a stud just like I’ll still give Mingo time to develop.
    I really don’t think Manziels’ shelf life is making his value decrease, if anything I think its the opposite, he has potential but it has to wait for either a real blow out or injury for it to have a chance to show. I don’t look on that Cinci game as a blow out, yes they won by three touch downs, but I think they wanted Hoyer to have 4 solid quarters to show he can do it from start to finish, it was his best game to date, but not just his it was the whole team.I think if Cleveland had more time to develop Shaw then they might let Johnny play, but Cleveland needs him, Shaw hasn’t had the reps with all the play book, so Johnny’s stuck.The one of the most foolish things the Browns could do at this point would be to trade him (if its only for future picks) half way through the season and have to rely on Shaw, the back up QB who isn’t even on the rosterr. I said it before , you would have to give me a Watkins or Evens  plus more for that to happen, and I doubt neither of those teams coaches would have a job if they did trades like that, but I’d want talent for talent and youth for youth.

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