The biggest story of training camp has been temporarily resolved. Brian Hoyer will be the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns week one in Pittsburgh. The competition between Hoyer and Johnny Manziel split Browns fans in two, but I think we'll all be able to get behind the home town kid for the start of the season. That said, picking a starter doesn't totally put the controversy to rest. Most people have assumed all along that Johnny Manziel starting for the Browns is a matter of "when," not "if." Taking that as a given, it's time now to figure out how long of a leash the team should give Brian Hoyer. If you're looking for a good answer from me, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I don't think I can give one. There are a few options available, and in some ways this question is trickier than picking a starter in the first place. In the QB competition, it was a relatively simple matter of picking the guy who was ready to help the Browns win the most games. Now, the criteria for making a decision have become less clear. There are a lot of different plans for how to handle Manziel's development and Hoyer's playing time, but I'm only going to look at a few of them. Be sure to let me know what you think in the comments.
NFL Stands For "Not For Long"
The Browns' schedule looks difficult to start the year, with games against the Steelers, Saints, and Ravens. Then there's the bye week after that. To many people, this looks tailor made for getting Manziel the ball early. The idea is that if Hoyer is anything less than stellar, the bye week gives the team a chance to make a change behind center and still possibly make a run at the playoffs. In addition, it lets Manziel get his feet wet against a slightly easier opponent (the Titans) after two long weeks of practice. The positive here is that it lets Manziel come in with lower expectations while still giving him the bulk of the season to learn as the starter. It lets him miss a few difficult defenses to start the season and hopefully allows him to come in without having to look over his shoulder at Brian Hoyer, who by this time has already lost the job. It also lets everyone figure out what we have in Johnny Manziel a lot earlier. If Hoyer doesn't play poorly enough to lose the job, then great, we're getting good quarterback play!
The downside is that Hoyer might play somewhere between "great" and "terrible," which makes the switch a more difficult decision. If Hoyer is struggling but the team is winning, would coaches make the switch? If Hoyer is simply playing "ok" instead of great, how would his teammates respond to a potential switch? This early in the season, we would have to be pretty confident that the Brian Hoyer we saw through three weeks is the real Brian Hoyer. I have my doubts about that. San Francisco managed to replace a decent QB in the middle of the season without missing a beat when they switched from Alex Smith to Colin Kaepernick, so it can be done. The 49ers were aided in that decision by an injury to Smith, though, so it's not exactly apples to apples.
Hoyer Is The Starter. Period.
A second option is to keep Manziel on the bench all year, no matter what. This gives him a full year to learn the offense and maybe get his feet wet in blowouts. The team could conceivably benefit from some certainty and continuity behind center. If Hoyer knows he doesn't have to look over his shoulder every week, maybe he's able to settle in and perform at a playoff level. This is the opposite scenario from option one. As long as Hoyer isn't a complete tire fire, let him play and take some pressure off of everybody. Under this plan, Hoyer is likely gone at the end of the season and Manziel is able to take the reins next year and hit the ground running.
The main problem with this option is what to do if Hoyer stinks. You've got to give him more than three weeks to prove himself, and after that bye week is in the rear-view mirror it becomes a lot harder to switch. Also, bringing Manziel in part way through the year defeats the purpose of having him sit in the first place. If you don't think he's going to be ready at all this season, do you really want him thrown into the fire? Injuries are a concern here too. If Brian Hoyer gets injured again, do you skip over Manziel and give the ball to Rex Grossman, maintaining that Johnny just isn't ready? There's a lot that can go wrong here, and sub-par play from Hoyer can really throw a wrench into this plan. In addition, it's entirely possible that Manziel really won't learn a whole lot running other teams' offenses and sitting on the bench. If that's the view you take, then you're essentially wasting a year of development.
Split The Difference
The final option is to meet in the middle. Give Hoyer more than three games to show what he has, but be flexible about when you pull him. That's much easier said than done. In this plan, it's hard to define exactly when you want to make a switch. You have to decide how bad is too bad from Hoyer. You have to decide if you want to start Johnny as soon as he's ready, even if Hoyer is playing well. You have to identify a spot in the schedule where you think it would make sense to shift over. If you switch mid-season, you're doing so with the knowledge that Manziel won't have had any reps with the first team offense in months.
In the end, this is probably the option I would pick. Three weeks just isn't enough to judge Hoyer unless he's playing terribly and costing us games on his own. I'm also not in favor of sitting Manziel all season, because I think there's a limit to what you can learn in a meeting room. The hard part is drawing the line. Deciding what constitutes a good reason to switch is where all of the nuance comes rushing in. I honestly don't know how I would decide. Of course, the ideal scenario here is that Brian Hoyer plays lights out football and we just never have to worry about it. This is Cleveland though, so I'm not exactly counting on it. If the Browns are playing decent football but looking for a spark to get over the hump into the playoffs, maybe I would bring in Manziel. But that has its own set of risks. I do not envy Mike Pettine right now.
What do you think Browns fans, how long is your leash for Brian Hoyer? Is he running around the neighborhood free and wild, or is he tied to the porch?