The Cleveland Browns have had one of the most interesting training camp quarterback competitions in recent memory, and it took an interesting turn today.
Brian Hoyer had taken every first-team rep in camp until today, when Johnny Manziel took all of the reps with the first string. While many fans have jumped to the conclusion that Manziel is closing the gap, coach Mike Pettine said this was the plan from the start; the two will go back-and-forth taking the starting snaps on a day-to-day basis. Pettine would not commit to a starter for Saturday’s preseason opener at Detroit.
The competition all comes down to the basic factor of risk versus reward. Brian Hoyer is a serviceable NFL quarterback. He’s not mobile, doesn’t have the best arm and won’t do anything spectacular, but he’s a highly intelligent player who can get the job done (3-0 last season). His risk is low, his reward is minimal. Johnny Manziel, on the other hand, is high-risk, high-reward. While Hoyer’s game shows little flash, the rookie Manziel’s radiates like the sun. The Heisman Trophy winner can make plays with both his rocket arm and speedy legs. He’s a high-profile guy both on the field and off, and has inspired his own cult following of sorts; even fans of the other 31 teams love “Johnny Football”. He leads the NFL in jersey sales and his “Money Manziel” shirts are coming off the racks at blistering speeds. LeBron James, Floyd Mayweather and Drake are some of his biggest fans.
The high-profile nature of Johnny Manziel is most likely hurting him a bit in this QB battle. Naturally, the Browns have many more questions and concerns about him than they do about Brian Hoyer. The partying is the key concern. Before training camp, Johnny Football was “Johnny Life of the Party,” hitting up Las Vegas for a couple of weekends, most notably Memorial Day weekend. Multiple “sources” reported that the Cleveland organization was extremely concerned about his lifestyle, saying that the parties were holding him back from progressing as a quarterback. Now, since Brian Hoyer hasn’t been seen in photos at nightclubs, he gets an edge in the intangible part of the fight for first string.
However, the lifestyle part of this decision is being scrutinized far too heavily by media members, fans and the Browns. Since the rookie was going a little too hard on the weekends (weekends that he had no football activities, mind you), Hoyer is being seen as the grizzled veteran. Those people forget that he has only started four NFL games. In those four games, he has seven touchdowns and six interceptions, with a QB rating of 74.2. Experienced, quality starter? Not at all, he’s more like a Jake Locker-Blaine Gabbert type. Cleveland will never make it to the postseason if they play it safe all season long.
Manziel won’t be a Pro Bowler right away, and he certainly won’t take the Browns to the promised land immediately either. However, in the situation he’s in, the best way to develop him into a star in the NFL is to start him right away. This isn’t like Aaron Rodgers waiting behind Brett Favre, or Steve Young waiting behind Joe Montana. If Manziel is going to be the franchise QB, which we all know is a foregone conclusion, why should he have to wait behind a formerly undrafted player who has done nothing to show he could be a star passer in the league?
Brian Hoyer is a hard worker who has survived in the NFL longer than most undrafted free agents do. But if you disregard the off-the-field actions of Johnny Manziel for a minute and simply compare the two skill sets, the choice of who to start is clear as day. Manziel will mature and grow up just like any 21-year old kid does. When he does, Cleveland will be glad he’s under center at the stadium near Lake Erie.