After the Cleveland Browns made the moves necessary to get Johnny Manziel with the 22nd pick of the NFL Draft, the excitement amongst fans was off the charts. 2,300 season tickets were sold overnight and fans were not just talking about Manziel perhaps saving the franchise, but there were people using the ‘P’ word. Playoffs. The news of another potential suspension for Josh Gordon came out and sucked some of the energy out of the fan base; even having people call into radio stations demanding a refund for the season tickets. Unfortunate on its face, whether it is half a season or the entire season, Gordon’s suspension may be a blessing in disguise for Manziel and his path to success in the NFL and being what he and every fan hope he can be for the team.
Josh Gordon was so talented, so overwhelming that even with awful quarterback play and missing two games, Gordon was able to accomplish things that had never been done before. With Gordon playing a full 16, fans and media would talk themselves into the idea that Manziel could step in and play immediately and be great right from the start, which is incredibly unrealistic.
The word playoffs comes with the idea that Manziel is not only going to start as a rookie, but he is going to be good enough immediately to where he can lead a team and be successful enough to climb the difficult ranks of the AFC North. This kind of unbridled enthusiasm has not been seen since the Browns won the Hall of Fame game in 1999 against the Dallas Cowboys and suddenly, people thought 7-9 or 8-8 was reasonable with a shot of the playoffs if everything goes well. They lost the opening game of the year 41-0 to the Pittsburgh Steelers and went on to a 2-14 record.
The pending suspension of Gordon may prove to be the dose of reality fans need. Even if fans believe Manziel is the franchise quarterback that the Browns are betting on, he is coming into the NFL as a red shirt sophomore and just 21 years old. Manziel seems incredibly well equipped to handle the attention that comes with the pick, but there is still a substantial amount of adjustment that has to happen going from college to the NFL. The fan base in Cleveland the NFL are going to watch every step this kid makes on a completely different level than anything he experienced in College Station and the Texas A&M campus.
Manziel is going to have to adjust to life in the NFL, earn the respect and try to become a leader of men in the Browns locker room. There were definitely teammates, including Gordon, who seemed to be all in on the Manziel bandwagon. In fact, Gordon was not afraid to go on multiple national media outlets and ask for Manziel by name. Not everyone in that locker room may feel the same way. There will be some that are perfectly entitled to feel like Manziel has to prove it.
All of that is going to come before Manziel has thrown a single pass. At that point, he then has to work to be good enough to lead this team and beat out a teammate that has no interest in losing the job in Brian Hoyer. Head Coach Mike Pettine has not only been clear that he is not handing any jobs to rookies, he has also made it clear that he would like to sit a rookie quarterback. This is a smart play for any rookie quarterback, but especially with someone that only played 26 games in college. Experience matters and Manziel passed up on a good amount of it by declaring this past year. Pettine also appears to have the fortitude to disregard boos or any pressure from fans, the media or even the owner to put Manziel out there, which suggests he is the right man for the job.
While he may be a quarterback that needs to learn by playing, especially with his particular style of play, sitting has less to do with ability and more to do with comfort and confidence. Manziel has never lacked for confidence, but comfort might be another story. Adjusting to life in the NFL and being thrown into the fire as a rookie can be overwhelming for the most mature and experienced of rookies, let alone one in Manziel’s situation. Manziel does have issues to work on and improve and having the time to get things right could pay off substantially in the long run.
With Gordon’s situation being what it is, it might be significantly easier to sit Manziel and let Hoyer get his chance. Manziel is the future, but it is probably in everyone’s best interest if he is not the immediate present. That will be extremely disappointing for fans as well as media that is frothing at the mouth for every bit of Manziel they can get, but the job of Pettine and Ray Farmer is to do right by the team.
In 1999, the Browns intended to sit Tim Couch for his entire rookie year. That lasted two games before Ty Detmer’s ineffective play and a rabid fan base got what they wanted, having the rookie thrust into the fire. Couch had the best season of his career as a rookie and was really impressive considering the supporting cast he had. It also proved to be the beginning of the end for Couch. Terrible blocking and big time hit after big time hit took their toll. The rest of his career was largely a slow descent into Couch looking at the pressure and just trying to avoid getting hit again.
Obviously, the 2014 Browns will have significantly more talent and protection. Nevertheless, Manziel’s career is what truly matters in this equation; not just the 2014 season. Gordon likely missing a significant amount of time and significant questions at wide receiver make it far more palatable to sit Manziel. There are people already trying to make the argument that Manziel will raise the level of the players around him and hopefully he will, but he cannot perform alchemy and make medicore players into good ones.
Jordan Cameron is coming off of a Pro Bowl year in what is hopefully the first of many, but Nate Burleson is an average player at this point and while Andrew Hawkins is exciting, he has not proven much to this point. All of a sudden, Greg Little may have found himself with an opportunity at redemption.
The Browns should have far better protection as well as putting significant emphasis on being able to run the ball. They should also have a really outstanding defense. The key words in both of those sentences is ‘should’. Pettine’s track record is a top 10 defense every year and the investments made on that side of the ball should yield yet another one. Nevertheless, it may be the smarter play to let Hoyer have his audition this year as much as he can and plan for Manziel in 2015. If Hoyer proves to be great, the Browns can keep him if they choose or he can go be the starting quarterback for another team and the Browns can get compensation. If not, the Browns can keep him as a backup for Manziel.
The Browns need to do the best thing they can do for Manziel if he is going to be the franchise quarterback everyone wants. While it might be great for business to rush him out there, perhaps before he is ready, it is likely going to be bad for the long term. Sitting Manziel and letting him develop into the quarterback they want, earn the respect of teammates and become the leader everyone wants is the best play. Manziel redshirted in college. He should redshirt in the NFL. And while the Browns as a franchise can never count on Gordon in any real capacity, he may be able to play next year and be a bonus with a then ready to play Johnny Manziel.