Browns and Loyalty: What's Manziel Worth?

nfl_a_johnny-manziel_mb_600x400 Tim Couch’s criticism of the Browns’ approach to developing quarterbacks likely raised few eyebrows among a contingent of Browns fans weary of analyzing why a suitable signal-caller continues to prove elusive.

“The biggest thing that frustrates me is the lack of commitment and loyalty to let a coach see it out and a quarterback play it out,” he told ESPN.

Couch’s lament on the Browns’ fear of commitment could be his way of predicting the fate that’s to meet Johnny Manziel.

And it’s a fair assessment. After all, 22 starting quarterbacks since reentering the league in 1999 should just about say it all.

Then again, after nearly two dozen quarterbacks have demonstrated to be inadequate, the Browns would be justified if they were a little skeptical and gun-shy about putting the next guy under center.

Chicken and egg, anyone?

Truth is, sometimes all anyone needs is a chance—even when they have squandered their full complement to that point. The league is full of guys who eventually made the most of an opportunity they had no business having.

But all the chances in the world cannot produce a quarterback where there just simply isn’t one.

Just as the law of conservation of mass states that matter cannot be created, neither can an NFL quarterback. However, contrary to Antoine Lavoisier’s findings—and to Couch’s point— a QB can be destroyed. For example, a porous offensive line and a seemingly never-ending game of musical quarterbacks with Kelly Holcomb might have contributed to Couch’s demise.

So could we soon be witnessing the first stages of yet another destruction by doubt with Manziel if his final two games are anything like his first?

Perhaps. Manziel might even be a prime candidate for this treatment given that his wild and reckless tendencies can make for the ugliest and most perplexing plays. By the same token, those reckless and improvisational tendencies can lead to spectacular plays other quarterbacks would never dream of attempting.

Ever since he decided to first enter the league, Manziels freewheeling play on the field—as well as his youthful abandon off it—has caused experts and armchair quarterbacks alike to draw parallels with him and Brett Favre. Favre himself said he thought he “was watching film of a young Brett Favre” while pouring over Manziel’s college tape.
Now, Johnny Football and Favre can add another commonality: less-than-stellar beginnings.

As a rookie for the Atlanta Falcons, Favre’s first professional pass was a pick-six. He attempted three other incompletions, was intercepted a second time and was sacked. It was the kind of start—and what could have been the end—to a career that prompted Atlanta coach Jerry Glanville to state that it would take a plane crash for Favre to enter a game.

As it turned out, Favre just needed a plane ticket out of Atlanta and a fresh start with a team and coaching staff willing to take deep breaths and swallow hard during the maddening times in order to have their persistence rewarded later on during the good ones. Green Bay brass thought enough of Favre to give Atlanta a first-round pick and hitch their wagon to a most unstable project.

At one point, when at the end of his paternalistic rope, Mike Holmgren famously told a young Favre “We’re either going to the top of the mountain together or we’re going to the dumpster together. But we’re in this together.” Holmgren so believed in Favre that he was willing to stick with him at risk of jeopardizing his own job security.

Which brings us back to Manziel, the issue of loyalty and the main question the Browns must address as they move forward: is he worth it?

Is it worth it to put up with the undisciplined antics, the unconventional mechanics and inevitable trying moments that could claim the job and hair that Mike Pettine doesn’t have? Or should those calling the shots in Cleveland cut their losses and start scouting for the next episode of The Search for the Franchise Quarterback?

Personally, I don’t believe a first-round quarterback simply loses all the talent, moxie and arm strength that made him the 22nd pick in May between the seven months he’s drafted and the time he takes the field. But what if all that talent, moxie and arm strength was never really as it was advertised and Manziel was just a product of the hype the Browns were all too interested in perpetuating? That he was, as Meril Hoge characterized, ‘sixth-round talent with first-round hype?’

That’s the rub with Manziel; it’s just too tough to tell. His skillset is so unique, so rare that he has even the keenest talent evaluators baffled as to what he projects to be.

If his 80-yard, two-interception performance that may have exposed his arm-strength deficiency and lack of pocket skills on Sunday gave us a hint, perhaps Manziel is indeed destined for the dumpster instead of the mountaintop. But the Browns have to decide whether it’s worth the risk of going dumpster diving with Johnny Football in order to possibly scale the mountain with him.

Sunday’s game at Carolina could go a long way in providing the next piece to the puzzle. But if the showing against Cincinnati was any indication, they have a long way to climb.
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