Is There a Quarterback Controversy Brewing in Cleveland?
Simply put, Brian Hoyer’s play was dreadful in the Cleveland Browns’ 24-6 loss to the previously winless Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 7. It was the first truly bad game of Hoyer’s 2014 season, but when your backup quarterback is Johnny Manziel, you unfortunately don’t get the luxury of having an off day.
Immediately following the game, speculation as to when Manziel would get an opportunity to see the field started picking up steam. Fortunately for the Browns, they had the opportunity to learn how to handle a highly popular backup quarterback after watching Tebowmania in Denver. Tim Tebow, like Manziel, was one of the few backup quarterbacks in the league that was brought up at nearly every team press conference and had one of the best-selling jerseys in the NFL.
Up to this point, the Browns have done a great job of minimizing the Manziel talk. After the loss to Jacksonville, Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine finally slipped. The quickest way to start a quarterback controversy is to not give your starter a full vote of confidence and to hint that you were on the verge of making an in-game switch.
Pettine said in his post-game press conference that he and the rest of the Browns’ coaching staff had considered pulling Hoyer in favor of Mazniel on Sunday. While he followed that up by saying Hoyer is “still firmly our starter,” just the very mention of the staff considering putting Manziel in the game has opened the floodgates to a Manziel-Hoyer controversy. I had the opportunity to see firsthand just how crazy Tebowmania got in Denver, and at some point Cleveland is going to be in a similar situation.
At the time Tebow was drafted by the Broncos, Kyle Orton was the team’s starting quarterback but was able to hold off Tebow in back-to-back training camps to keep the starting job. By his second season in Denver, Tebow had seen just enough time on the field to have fans in a frenzy. With every incomplete pass that Orton threw, the “Tebow” chants grew louder and louder. Hopefully the guys now in charge in Cleveland took note.
The Browns’ options are simple. Go all in with Manziel or ride out the season with Hoyer, and Hoyer only. If they take the leap and give Manziel a series here and there and he plays well, the controversy and distraction will only grow larger with every passing week. In that situation, the only way to quiet Manzielmania would be for Hoyer to be near perfect in leading the Browns on a deep playoff run.
The Browns are also on the verge of having to make a tough decision on their future at the quarterback position. Hoyer is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2014 season and has played well enough that he would be highly sought after on the free agent market. On the other hand, Manziel isn’t the type of player who was drafted to be a backup. The reality of the situation is that there isn’t room for both Hoyer and Manziel in the Browns’ long-term future. If the Browns see enough out of Hoyer in 2014, they may be comfortable in locking him up for the long haul.
But to get an honest evaluation on Hoyer, they will need to do everything in their power to avoid starting any type of quarterback controversy in the second half of the 2014 season. If Hoyer is constantly looking over his shoulder and begins playing with a fear that his next mistake will cost him his job, the Browns would be better off just handing the job over to Manziel and going all in on their hyped rookie quarterback.