The Browns knew what they were getting into.
Cleveland has been a laughingstock for over a decade, with inconsistent quarterback play translating into one winning season over the last dozen years. Even then, the 10-6 record they posted in 2007 wasn't good enough to qualify for the AFC playoffs, as the magical, but unlikely season orchestrated by Derek Anderson's arm and Braylon Edwards' hands proved to be a fluke.
Since 2003, 19 quarterbacks have started a game for the Browns, by far the most in the league.
With a troubled, but talented franchise-caliber player available in the 2014 NFL Draft, Cleveland instantly injected new life into the franchise, drafting Texas A&M product Johnny Manziel in the first round, the No. 22 pick. By doing so, Cleveland all but assured their quiet, blue-collar city would become the next Dallas or New York, as far as the media were concerned.
Manziel was never able to dethrone incumbent starter Brian Hoyer in training camp, playing poorly in practice and being involved in numerous "public interest" stories over the summer. Late in the season, with Cleveland out of the playoff hunt and Hoyer struggling mightily, Browns head coach Mike Pettine decided to see what the rookie quarterback had in store, only to be colossally disappointed to the tune of back to back games with under 100 yards passing and zero touchdowns, the first start of which he posted a 1.0 QBR. In the final week of the season, Manziel was "late" for the Browns finale. "Late" appeared to be a bit of a subjective term, as sources indicated team officials found Manziel "totally drunk" in his Cleveland home, still suffering lingering effects from a party the night before, according to an ESPN report.
The collapse of the Browns and the utter ineptitude of Johnny Manziel was predictable, but the sheer speed of the downfall has been frightening. Manziel may have lost support of the locker room, as Kyle Shanahan quit as the team's offensive coordinator with two years remaining on his contract, while quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, who Manziel allegedly texted he wanted to "wreck the league" on draft night, was fired after the conclusion of the season. Teammates appear split on Manziel, as players speaking on the condition of anonymity stated Manziel viewed the season as "a 100% joke" and some suggested Manziel's draft-night text should have read "I'm ready to wreck this team", according to Jeremy Fowler of ESPN.
Manziel's hard-partying, devil-may-care ways were well-documented during his time at Texas A&M, where the former Heisman winner established a reputation as a transcendent, but arrogant figure. He had all of Tim Tebow's notoriety and fame, with all of Cam Newton's talent, but acted like Brian Bosworth, his signature "money" celebration mocking his run-in with the NCAA over illegally obtained benefits involving autographs. ESPN cited sources who don't feel Manziel will ever change.
"During the draft process, not one person interviewed by the team said he was going to grow up," said one source directly involved in the drafting of Manziel. "You can't blame Johnny. This is who he is. The team knew that."
The Browns certainly took a risk on Manziel, and after one season it seems as if that risk is in danger of blowing up in their faces. Part of the problem involves Manziel lacking a quarterbacking niche. He'll never have an arm like Aaron Rodgers, he'll never manage a game like Alex Smith and he'll never shake off defensive linemen like Ben Roethlisberger. He's not Andrew Luck or Russell Wilson, on or off the field. Luck uses a Samsung cellphone from 2003 and prefers staying in and playing Settlers of Catan with his friends and long-term girlfriend while Wilson spends his off days volunteering at hospitals visiting sick kids. Manziel is a party animal without a definitive, defensible level of talent.
And that's where Manziel and the Browns fit perfectly together. Admittedly, players like Rodgers or Luck come along once in a lifetime, but a player with Manziel's pre-draft hype is just as rare, a fact Manziel willing admits.
"I brought this on myself," Manziel said. "I brought these cameras and all these people that are in this locker room right now and I don't think it's fair to myself, I don't think it's fair to anybody in this locker room the distractions I've brought at points in time."
With Hoyer set to hit free agency, Manziel will have to make the most of his potential opportunity to ensure he lives up to his draft position, as well as making sure the Browns don't use a 20th starting quarterback next season. New offensive coordinator, John DeFilippo has been noncommittal as far as Manziel's future goes.
"We're not sure if our starting quarterback is in the building or not," DeFilippo said. "If he is, great. If he isn't, great too."
Either way, with Josh Gordon's career as a Cleveland Brown in doubt and not much else going for them, it's abundantly clear the Browns are miles behind the rest of the ultra-competitive AFC North, and the rest of the NFL in general. If the Browns need to restart their hunt for a quarterback is just goes to show the Browns will continue to be a laughingstock, and the future of Johnny Manziel as an NFL quarterback will be severely clouded.
Not many players can be tagged with the "bust" label after one season. If Manziel doesn't change, he will be tagged with that label whether he likes it or not.