Written by: Matt Shock (@shockwave_music)
Edited by: Curt Ashcraft (@cashcraft740)
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**Disclaimer – As you know, I highly considered divorcing the Cleveland Browns when they drafted Johnny Manziel in the first round. If there is any Browns fan out there who dislikes Johnny Manziel more than me, I’ll buy you a cup of coffee and we can drown our sorrows together when this little brat finally plays. That said, I’ve tried to objectively look at the situation in Cleveland and logically figure out if playing this turd is really the right move for my team. So, without further ado, here we go.**
It can only happen in Cleveland. Only in Cleveland can you be in the middle of the best season you’ve had in over a decade, be in the heat of a playoff race, and still be getting ready to bench your quarterback and go in a new direction. Only in Cleveland.
As it sits at the time of this writing (12/5/2014), the standings in the AFC North are as follows:
1. Cincinnati Bengals – 8-3-1 – Winning Pct. - .708
2. Baltimore Ravens – 7-5-0 – Winning Pct. - .583
3. Pittsburgh Steelers – 7-5-0 – Winning Pct. - .583
4. Cleveland Browns – 7-5-0 – Winning Pct. - .583
As you can see, this is one of the tightest divisions in the NFL, and the Browns are still very much in the hunt. That being said, their situation is very delicate, perhaps more so than any other team in the league.
As of late, their current quarterback, Brian Hoyer, has been absolutely dreadful in the last four games. Hoyer is in the final year of his contract, and their first-round draft pick quarterback, Johnny Manziel, is waiting in the wings for his chance to win the job. Switching quarterbacks is an action that is usually taken by teams that have given up on their season, and that’s usually done when a team is decidedly out of the race for the playoffs…which the Browns certainly are not.
The Browns are essentially tied for second place in their division with a 7-5-0 record. Decisive wins in two or three of their last games (one of which would be against the Bengals), and key losses by the rest of the division, could lock up a playoff spot. Needless to say, now is hardly the time to fold and throw in your cards.
On the other hand, two or three losses in their last four games could also drop the Browns completely out of playoff contention. If they lose the first two games, then that leaves them with two games to see what Johnny Manziel has to offer. As you know, I pretty well hate Johnny Manziel (fan hate...settle down). I seriously doubt whether he has what it takes to be a winning quarterback in the NFL. But even I think that if you judge whether or not Johnny Manziel is “the guy” based on only two games, then you are royally screwing both him and your organization over…especially with the offensive line being as banged up as it is.
So, do you play Manziel or not? Personally, I say not yet, but his time could be coming soon.
Frankly, Brian Hoyer has been flat out bad, and the offense has been stagnant in the last four games that the Browns have played. In those four games, the Browns are 2-2. If the Browns continue to play like they have been, they could easily wind up 2-2 in their last four games as well, bringing their overall record to 9-7. That is nothing to sneeze at, especially for the Browns, but that may or may not be good enough to get them to the playoffs. I think three more wins are necessary, one being against the Cincinnati Bengals, to get them into the playoffs. So in order to keep his job, Brian Hoyer must play better. Period. If his trend of bad play continues, then it’s time for a change under center in Cleveland.
Brian Hoyer is in the last year of his contract. He’s been playing to keep his job and get a contract extension all season. Until recently, he’s performed admirably. But his recent trend of sloppy play and bad decision making has proven that he can be a reliable back up in the NFL, but he doesn’t quite have what it takes to make it as a starter. There’s nothing wrong with that, it just is what it is. However, this realization leaves this team with questions to answer going into next season.
Bottom line, as a team, you have to find out if Johnny Manziel is “the guy”. If Brian Hoyer is looking miserable against the Colts this weekend and the Browns are getting blow out at halftime, it’s time to bench Brian Hoyer, put in Manziel, and never look back. Was it stupid to draft Manziel in the first round? I think so. But since the Browns went in that direction, they absolutely must not let that investment hold the clipboard any longer than necessary. The “Johnny Clipboard” pictures are all well and good (and kind of funny), but that plan isn’t sustainable. That said, if Hoyer comes out and smacks down the Colts this weekend, you play him for the rest of the season and give him the team’s full faith. You even issue a statement that Hoyer is your guy for the rest of the year, that way he can focus on winning you football games as the playoffs come near. After that, you discuss his new contract, or lack thereof, in the off-season (I mean come on, if he takes you deep into the playoffs, you can’t just ignore that and send him packing).
At this point, there is just too much uncertainty with Brian Hoyer at the quarterback position. Sure, Hoyer could snap out of his funk and lead your team screaming into the playoffs, that’s why you give him another game to see if he can figure it out. But at the same time, Hoyer could easily stay in his funk and cost you a shot at the playoffs. To be fair, Johnny Manziel could completely fall on his face and cost you the playoff’s as well. But that’s the risk you take when you draft quarterbacks in the first round. It’s an uncertain investment that has big returns if it works out, but more often than not these investments don’t work out. If he falls on his face, you still play him the rest of the season in order to see exactly what he’s capable of, and then you move on.
As an organization, you know it’s time to move on from Brian Hoyer. He’s not your long term solution at quarterback. Now, it’s time for the Cleveland Browns to find out if Johnny Manziel can be that long term solution. If he’s not “the guy”, then it’s time to move on from him as well.