In the interest of full disclosure, I must divulge to you upfront that I did not want the Browns to draft Johnny Manziel. I was tremendously hopeful that they would select Teddy Bridgewater and was deflated when I heard Roger Goodell say "Johnny Manziel" after we moved up to 22. Admittedly, I did not curse thunderously and almost throw a rock at the television as happened when I heard the name "Brandon Weeden" two years ago.
Not even close in fact; I was resigned to the notion that we could draft him, but only because (I thought) Bridgewater would be unavailable. For reasons I'll not get into at this time it was my studied opinion that Bridgewater was the superior quarterback in this draft, with Manziel significantly behind. So when we passed on what I still consider to be the far more NFL-ready QB for "Johnny Football", I was disappointed.
At the same time, it's kind of hard to argue the judgment of a man who in the exact moment and venue, ended up with an elite talent at cornerback AND a first round pick (and not unlikely a high one) in next year's draft. While I have done my own scouting and amateur review of the situation and the team, I'm not the one getting paid to make these decisions, so I am more than willing to give Ray Farmer beyond the benefit of the doubt. Although, anyone in my position can understand that I might actually make better decisions than those who are tasked with the job of building the Browns roster, if the past fifteen years is any kind of gauge.
Nevertheless, my opinion on this has appeared from the beginning to have been and continues to be in the minority. I was very encouraged by the enthusiasm of the reaction by the Browns fans in attendance, as well as everywhere else I've seen since. I do wonder if the reaction would have been as resounding had the Browns gone with Bridgewater instead. I thought and still think he was the better pick.
Of course, I now hope that my analysis was completely wrong, and that Manziel turns into the monster everybody thinks he can be. My problem is that I don't see it - not at the pro level, and certainly not yet. I saw him play in the SEC, he was definitely a fantastic college quarterback, able to run and pass and entertain.
The problem is that we have seen this tried and we have seen this fail; as in - no running quarterback has brought his team a Super Bowl win. Ever. Randall Cunningham was the first, and perhaps if Bryce Paup hadn't destroyed Philadelphia's dreams might have been the exception to this rule with that monster defense Philly sported under Buddy Ryan. Alas, it never really panned out and he didn't make it to the big game.
During those years, Cunningham was always a threat - he was big, fast, agile and had a very strong arm. However, to compare the number of times he was sacked to Dan Marino, it is remarkable how much more often the running QB went down compared to the fast-release approach. This is instructive; the less the QB gets hit, the fewer the injuries.
The most prolific talent ever in this regard is Michael Vick, who was one of the fastest players in the league and had a cannon strapped to his left shoulder. That last tidbit should never be overlooked about Vick; his immense talent overshadowed the fact that he's a left-handed QB. Almost no lefties are effective in the NFL, not since Marc Brunell. Vick compensates by tossing the equivalent of a 101 mph fastball, so if ever there was going to be a successful running-QB, it should have been him.
Yes, I understand his career was curtailed by the two years in prison for dogfighting, but even before that happened he was on the decline in Atlanta. It's impossible to know what might have been, but he had plenty of opportunities prior to all that.
If you are going to win in this league, then you are going to need a pocket-QB, period. There are no exceptions to this. Russell Wilson is an excellent running quarterback, but that's not the focal point of his game at the pro level. He's also a terrific pocket-passer, who happens to be nails on third down.
Aaron Rodgers might arguably be the best running QB in the game today, but you don't think of him that way, do you? That's because when he was winning the Super Bowl it was due to his playing at a super-human level from the pocket.
Go back and look at every winning Quarterback of every Super Bowl. You will find a bunch who were able to run, but none who employed a run-first approach. Look at the last ten years. What types of QB's are winning championships?
All of this is to say that it doesn't work. So when you bring in Johnny Manziel with the expectation that he's going to be runnin-and-gunnin and 'wrecking this league', you realize you are trying to do something that has been tried with better talent and has failed, every time. In order to pull this off you're going to need some luck, and it goes without saying that there's not an overabundance of that in Cleveland.
That is not to say that Manziel cannot be a good, even a great quarterback for many years, but it won't be trying to do it the way that he did it at Texas A&M. He is going to have to learn how to be an NFL quarterback, and unlearn what he did in college.
Having the ability to run and being a running a quarterback are two totally different things. There's no reason not to take advantage of a QB's mobility, but for longevity and success, that better be the exception and not the rule. As a matter of fact, while I mentioned that Cunningham never made it to the big game, he should have.
In 1999 he had a spectacular season - the best of his career, but it was as a pure pocket-passer, almost never running the ball. As a result, he was sacked fewer times, completed a higher percentage of his passes, and but-for a missed FG in the NFC title game would have taken his team to the Super Bowl.
I am sure that Ray Farmer and Mike Pettine know all of this. That is why I am hopeful but I also think that Brian Hoyer will be the starter on opening day. It's what needs to happen for a number of reasons, but the most important of which is the development of Johnny Manziel, the Browns eventual franchise QB.
He needs to learn some fundamentals, he needs to learn to read defenses, and he needs to get bigger.
Manziel is and needs to be the Browns future. Brian Hoyer needs to the present. The situation at the quarterback position needs to be handled correctly this time; there is enough talent on this team to win big if we get this right.
That is why throwing the rookie at the Steelers in Pittsburgh is almost assuredly not going to bode well for his long term development or our short-term success. If you recall, that is how Colt McCoy's tenure as Browns QB began - and ended. If Manziel is outsmarted by Dick LeBeau's defense - which is very likely to happen, then we'll lose the game and it won't be close. Moreover, when that happens, and Manziel hasn't played enough pro football to know how to handle it, he's going to revert to the running style, and he's going to get destroyed. It's entirely possible that if he starts in week 1, we get blown-out and his career ends. This is Cleveland, right?
Then again, maybe a lot of Cleveland's bad luck has been more than marginally influenced by an endless-string of really bad decisions. Starting Manziel from day 1 would be such a mistake - like starting Weeden was two years ago - though I am NOT drawing a direct comparison here.
Starting Hoyer will give the Browns a chance to compete in those early games, and there is enough talent on this team to beat the hell out of Pittsburgh in their home park on opening day. I'm not saying that's a likelihood - far from it, but I am saying that it's at least possible with Hoyer, whereas the only possible outcome if Manziel starts is doom.
It's also not to say that Hoyer's the long-term answer, either. It is entirely possible that he plays flat; that he doesn't display the poise he and he alone pulled off in 2013. It may be that he's not very good and gets worse as defenses get more film on him. It could also be that he's even better than he showed last year, but gets hurt after two games, again.
It is also possible however, given what we've seen, that Hoyer might actually be pretty good. He might actually have learned a lot studying behind Tom Brady for all those years. He seems able to make all the throws, he also did something that so few QB's in this horrid era have been able to do: lead a clutch, game-winning/sealing drive.
For the good of the Browns, we need to find out if he's as good as he showed he might be. If the Browns have a quality QB on their roster, we deserve to see that guy starting. I would like to see what that looks like with the type of talent surrounding him on offense and defense.
However, if he falls on his face, or he gets hurt, then Manziel is going to get his chance earlier than I think he should, but hopefully the in-season training ameliorates the bad-habit tendencies (like running when his first two reads are unavailable).
Of course, the absolute best way for this to happen is to employ a consistent, power running style. It looks like Pettine is leaning in that direction. It would be tremendously helpful for the rookie. It might also not be clicking on all cylinders early in the year, when the rookie QB is then forced to make plays the only way he knows how - the way that definitely won't work.
At the end of this season, a decision will have to be made about the Quarterback position. If Hoyer has a great year, wins 10+ games and takes the team to the playoffs, then he'll be worth tying-up long term. Unless he wins the Super Bowl and the MVP, he won't get Romo-money, but he wants to be a Brown, so it wouldn't take nearly as much. This would be a superb value for a starting playoff-caliber quarterback. Throw in Manziel's relatively paltry contract/cap number and the Browns could be in an excellent position (and with two picks next year). If he flops, he may still sign for dirt cheap to be Manziel's backup, but we've got Connor Shaw if he thinks he can go start somewhere else.
I'm pulling for Brian Hoyer, I think he could be great. He did enough last year to deserve a second crack at it. Hopefully he's not injury prone and that ACL was a freak injury - one which happened because he was running, btw.
I'm also pulling for Johnny Manziel, once he bulks up and bones up he's got first-rate potential. However, whether he sits behind Hoyer for several years while we try to win a championship or whether he starts by game 3 and never gives it up, the longer he can sit and wait and learn and grow, the better for him, and for the Browns.
In the meantime, we need to see if this last in a failed line of hometown QB's is able to finally win one for his home team. We need to see if the small sample we got to witness last season carries over into an out-of-nowhere success story like Kurt Warner or something. I'm not so much concerned about the story as I am the possibility of having a QB capable of going down the field in the final seconds and winning a game in the playoffs. I hope Hoyer gets the chance to prove whether or not he can be that guy. If he does play as consistently well as what he did last year, then there is no reason not to expect the Browns to make a legitimate playoff run.
I am ready for that...