When the Cleveland Browns open their season on September 7 against the Steelers, Johnny Manziel will find himself following in Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Steve Young, Brett Favre, and Dan Marino’s footsteps and pacing the sideline with a clipboard. The Browns sealed Manziel’s fate earlier this week, announcing that 29-year-old Brian Hoyer would begin the season as the team’s starter. And while plenty have pissed and moaned about the decision (the loudest being professional pisser and moaner Skip Bayless), we won’t be joining them. The Browns, in a move that runs contrary to their whole management philosophy, actually did the right thing – not just for their team either, for Manziel.
Let’s start with the team, which will be led by a 28-year-old, five-year NFL veteran rather than a 21-year-old rookie. Granted, Hoyer is no world beater: He’s started four NFL games and thrown for a grand total of 286 yards over three seasons. But those three seasons were spent under the tutelage of Tom Brady in New England. Hoyer has had time to learn the complexities of playing quarterback in the NFL, to understand defenses and to acclimate to the speed of the game. There’s no shame in needing time. Most of the game’s greatest did. Not everyone can be Peyton Manning.
Which brings us to Manziel the player. He won’t be sitting behind a future Canton enshrinee like Hoyer did, but he’ll be watching a pro who was good enough to beat him out for the starting job. Surely, he’ll be able to learn something. More importantly though, he’ll have time to get comfortable with the offense. The biggest threat to Manziel’s career right now is Manziel. If he plays too soon, before he completely understands his role, he’s going to spend every game scrambling like an over-caffeinated chihuahua. In the NFL, that’s a recipe for pain. Manziel is six foot nothin’ and 210 pounds soaking wet (presumably after pouring champagne on his own head), which is bite-sized for some of the leagues defensive ends. Beyond his inexperience, Manziel is too young. The Big Lead put together a list of quarterbacks who started in the NFL at 21. It’s not exactly a who’s who.
Does Manziel seem like a guy who could use a humbling experience? Absolutely. But the Browns don’t want to humble him too much out of the gate. Better to play second fiddle than have your violin broken by the schoolyard bullies.
Finally, let’s talk fans. Cleveland’s long-suffering loyalists are finally in a win-win position. Here are the potential scenarios: Hoyer surprises everyone and leads the Browns, who open the season with three tough games or he doesn’t and the Browns name Manziel the starter after the team’s week four bye. As a football fan, there’s little better than a quarterback controversy and the fantasies of a turnaround created by bringing in the other guy. Of course, if Manziel replaces Hoyer and Cleveland continues losing, the fans will be screwed. But at least their team will have seemed relevant for a month. For Browns fans, that’s like winning the Super Bowl.
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