The Johnny Manziel Conundrum

After one preseason game, it’s pretty clear who the better quarterback is. Josh McCown is easily the Browns No. 1 quarterback now, ahead of former first round pick Johnny Manziel. And in a few weeks that gap may close a bit, but McCown will still probably be the better quarterback. As of right now, Josh McCown is the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.

But McCown is 36 and probably isn’t going to lead the Browns to the Super Bowl. He’s a journeyman quarterback who’s never really succeeded anywhere except for a small sample size with the Chicago Bears. McCown owns a career 76.1 quarterback rating and 58.8 competition percentage.

Manziel on the other hand, is a talented second-year quarterback. He has his flaws, and had an awful rookie season marred by on-field and off-the-field incidents, but he’s still very talented, a playmaker. He just hasn’t figured it all out yet.

Whether Manziel makes it in the NFL is another story, but there’s a chance. Manziel was a first round pick and deservedly so. There’s a possibility he’s the quarterback of the future for the Cleveland Browns. There’s also the possibility, and probably a greater possibility he’s not.

The Browns’ ever so elusive franchise quarterback may still not be on their roster. Or he may be. And that is why I believe the Browns need to start Johnny Manziel.

McCown can lead the Browns to a mediocre 6-10 or 7-9 record in 2015, but he’s never going to make them competitive. He’s never going to lead the Browns to the Super Bowl.

There’s a chance, however so small, that Manziel could be that guy. He could be the next Russell Wilson. Nobody knows yet, six quarters is not enough to evaluate him. But he could be the Browns franchise quarterback.

And the Cleveland Browns need to find that out this year. Not next year, nor the year after. The Browns cannot give Manziel a redshirt year. In this day and age in the NFL, you can’t sit idly by without a quarterback. The Browns have a talented roster; they just need their franchise quarterback. But they can’t want another 1-2 years for him. They’ve already waited almost 16 for one.

It’d be nice if the Browns could give Manziel a redshirt year. Frankly, I love the idea. But then what do you do if he’s not the guy? You just passed on taking a QB in a talented 2016 draft class. Are you going to go through the entire QB development process again? Heck no.

The Browns need to figure out if Manziel’s their guy. And this is the year to do it. He’s matured and looks miles ahead of where he was last year. He’s been improving in training and looks to be starting to figure things out.

In the Browns first preseason game Thursday night, Manziel completed 7 of 11 passes for 42 yards along with 2 rushes for 14 yards and a touchdown. He was able to make reads, find the open receiver and scramble out of the pocket when needed. He didn’t do anything special, but he didn’t do anything awful. And that’s an improvement.

Manziel is on an upward trajectory. He may not be ready just yet to be the Browns starter, but he should be by the start of the regular season or at the latest a week or two in.

This year the Browns need to rise or fall with Manziel. If he’s their guy, they experience some growing pains by finish the 2015 season 6-10 or so knowing that they finally found their starting quarterback. If he’s not, the Browns fall flat on their faces, finishing 4-12 as McCown plays mop-up duty and the Browns draft a QB in 2016.

But therein lies the problem. Mike Pettine and the Cleveland Browns coaching staff might have their jobs on the line. Jimmy Haslam III fired Rob Chudzinski after one season at the helm. Who knows what could happen to Mike Pettine & co. this offseason. An NFL coach plays to win, not to figure out the future of an NFL franchise.

Mike Pettine doesn’t want to figure out what the Browns have in Manziel and risk losing his job. Because Manziel could fall flat on his face and the Browns could finish 4-12. Pettine could very well have his job on the line this year.

McCown could lead the Browns to a 7-9 or 8-8 record and give Pettine another year or two. Manziel doesn’t give him that security blanket.

That’s the Johnny Manziel conundrum. Figuring out what they have in Manziel is best for the Browns future but maybe not the coaches’ future.

So what should the Browns do? In an ideal world, Haslam would give Pettine & co. 3-4 years to figure things out, meaning he wouldn’t fire Pettine after this season, barring any unforeseen circumstances. But that’s not going to happen.

I say start Manziel, but then again I have nothing to lose. I’m not going to be fired if they go 2-14.

One way or another, the Browns need to figure out whether Johnny Manziel can be their quarterback of the future, and sooner rather than later, so they can go into the 2016 offseason, knowing whether they need to again, try to find a franchise quarterback.

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