Despite winning his start and looking generally decent and genuinely exciting, Johnny Manziel was benched by the Browns the minute Josh McCown passed his concussion tests. After Cleveland’s loss to the Raiders, coach Mike Pettine bluntly said the team isn’t considering going back to Manziel. Judging from this TMZ story, that won’t make some Browns players happy.
TMZ has anonymous quotes from who it says are three offensive starters, and they’re all team Manziel.
One player who admits he’s extremely frustrated with the QB situation says, “I love both Johnny and Josh but its f**ked up when you have Johnny come in and play well and has proven to the team that he is the right person for the job.”
“It’s frustrating to him and us when you sit a player down when he is playing well. Coach has got to understand you are messing up the chemistry and timing with players and its f**ked up.”
Another player tells us, “The team plays better when [Manziel] is in the game. I play better when he plays.”
“You can’t get better unless you play. We won when he played and coach has got to trust him like he trusts Josh.”
A 3rd player added, “When Johnny in the game it puts the defense on edge. He doesn’t just sit in the pocket, he makes plays. Coach has got to make the change now.”
TMZ doesn’t usually do locker room gossip, and these quotes are better and more colorful than just about anything in the “anonymous teammate backbiting” genre, so there was quick skepticism. (PFT’s Mike Florio laid it on thick, writing that “three different Browns players have supplied quotes to TMZ, according to TMZ.) But it’s not crazy that a TMZ stringer might have a random player on speed-dial, just as it’s not crazy that the three players might be “Johnny Manziel” and “Johnny Manziel doing two fake voices over the phone.”
But one Browns starter thinks the whole thing is a hoax:
I mean, Hawkins wouldn’t know if it were fake. But this appears to at least eliminate him from a very limited pool of possibilities. I think you can probably eliminate Josh McCown too.
So now I’m less interested in whether the sentiment in the story is true or widely shared than I am in the potential of this turning into a witch hunt and burning down the Browns locker room. This is Cleveland; it’s a distinct possibility.
The situation is already a mess with no clear out. Pettine says McCown gives the Browns a better chance to win. Fans, and surely some players, don’t believe that’s true, especially since Manziel owns their only win so far. But look at this schedule: there’s no one as soft as the Titans until maybe the 49ers in December. The Browns aren’t going to win many games no matter who’s quarterbacking.
The smart play would be to let Manziel, the potential quarterback of the future, develop. The shortsighted play would be to squeeze one or two extra wins out of McCown, who probably does offer a slightly better chance of winning as long as Manziel doesn’t improve by getting game experience.
It’s easy to infer that Pettine is concerned chiefly with keeping his job. In a functional organization, Pettine would feel safe handing the reins to Manziel, letting him suffer through his growing pains, and be in better shape for next year. But this is an organization that fired Pettine’s predecessor after just one season. This is not a functional organization. This is the Browns.