The Cleveland Browns had a choice between a quarterback who isn’t ready, and a quarterback who isn’t that good. They went with the second guy, but there’s a good chance we’ll see the first guy in, oh, about a month.
That was the decision made by head coach Mike Pettine and his staff this morning when they named Brian Hoyer the Browns’ Week 1 starting quarterback over Johnny Manziel. In his coach-speak statement afterwards he couldn’t even muster praise for Hoyer’s play.
“He was the clear leader from the beginning. We’ve maintained all along that if it was close, I would prefer to go with the more experienced player. Brian has done a great job in the meeting rooms and with his teammates on the practice field and in the locker room.”
Roughly translated: “I wanted Manziel to step up and take the job, but instead he was a scattered, ball-spraying wreck. Hoyer was too, but at least he’s started an NFL game before, so he feels safer right now. Please excuse me while I go vomit repeatedly.”
In his preseason appearances so far Manziel has played like a quarterback from a college spread offense who’s still adjusting to the NFL, mostly because that’s exactly what he is right now. A year ago at Texas A&M when a play broke down he could improvise, creating something from nothing with his legs. Now even in the preseason he was chased down by second-team linebackers. Running daylight becomes darkness quickly in the NFL.
But that’s fine, or at least it is for now. We live in an era of spoiled riches, one with so much immediate success from first-round quarterbacks that even the slightest setback feels like a sign of looming long-term failure. Of the 11 quarterbacks selected in the first round since 2010, seven have been Week 1 starters.
In Cleveland, though, rushing Manziel became both obviously wrong, and senseless. The obvious part came from his performance, and the misaligned crosshairs which ended in a preseason completion percentage of only 51.9 so far, and a pathetic yards per attempt rate of 4.7. Of course, Hoyer was almost equally awful (completion percentage of 40.0, 5.4 YPC), but he has that experience thing happening. It’s easier to trust a more conventional pocket passer temporarily, though I’ll never really understand the fascination some have with a quarterback who’s started four career games (if that really still exists).
The senselessness lied in the situation, one that’s set to end in early facepalming for the Browns regardless of who’s under center. Look at their early schedule, and then look at an offense that’s about to lose Josh Gordon, making (big gulp) Miles Austin the Browns’ top wide receiver. They start on the road in Pittsburgh, and then host the Saints and Ravens.
It doesn’t take much imagination to see a future with the Browns 0-3 heading into that Week 4 bye. At that point Pettine will remember the fate of the man who came before him. Rob Chudzinski was axed after a single season, with little sympathy for the cruel quarterback hand he was dealt. Hoyer tore his ACL, and then Jason Campbell and Brandon Weeden couldn’t combine to provide even remote competence.
Chudzinski’s end was in part the result of new ownership coming in and making sweeping changes. But for Pettine, it’s still a reminder that head coaching employment is forever fleeting in the NFL, with the grasp on job security slipping after each loss.
That’s why we’ll likely see Manziel by Week 5. Ultimately when he starts more games this season than Hoyer, today’s decision will be looked back on as only the default solution to buy a still raw rookie more time to develop.
No one really “won” a starting quarterback job in Cleveland today. Hoyer just did a little less losing than Manziel.