Johnny Manziel didn't win the Browns' starting job -- Brian Hoyer lost it
He didn't win the job.
Brian Hoyer lost it.
This is how Johnny Manziel's NFL career as a starting quarterback will begin Sunday when Cleveland hosts Cincinnati.
Such a fact could become just a footnote in a splendid pro career. Or it could be a harbinger of what's to come.
It now falls upon Manziel to make the most of his opportunity, which is one he repeatedly failed to earn on his own. Despite all the hoopla surrounding Johnny Football, Manziel couldn't beat out Hoyer for a first-string spot during the preseason. Nor would Manziel be starting now if Hoyer's glass slipper hadn't shattered into a million pieces with a pathetic showing in last Sunday's 25-24 loss to Indianapolis.
Hoyer left Browns head coach Mike Pettine no choice but to make the move. It's time.
Pettine gave Hoyer one final chance to keep his position. That decision wasn't made in a vacuum. Pettine polled his assistant coaches and the team's veteran leadership counsel who they thought should be under center.
That the sentiment was for Hoyer -- who had thrown just one touchdown and six interceptions in the previous three games -- didn't just reflect the respect he had earned with a 10-5 starting record before Sunday in two seasons with the Browns. It also showed that Manziel hadn't won the complete trust of those inside Browns headquarters who matter most.
NFL scouts I've spoken with questioned Manziel's work ethic while at Texas A&M where it was primarily his athletic skill that helped him become one of college football's most exciting players. The words "film junkie" and "Johnny Manziel" aren't being bandied about in the same sentence since his arrival in Cleveland either.
Manziel's propensity for creating off-field headlines by maintaining an active social life isn't helping his standing with Browns management. Neither did his decision to attend a Cleveland Cavaliers basketball game last Tuesday night rather than spend time buried in a playbook he probably hasn't mastered.
As FOX Sports NFL insider Jay Glazer -- who has owned the recent Manziel/Hoyer scoops -- reported last Sunday, that outing to watch LeBron James and Co. prompted Pettine to make his own "decision" and stick with Hoyer.
Again, none of this means that Manziel won't become the quarterbacking savior that Browns fans have sought since Bernie Kosar's heyday. Manziel has an inherent feel for the game that can't be coached. Some of that magic was evident once again in a Week 13 loss to Buffalo when Manziel capped an impressive scoring drive with a 10-yard touchdown run.
Because of his celebrity, expectations will be unrealistically sky-high for Manziel to instantly fix all that is ailing Cleveland's passing game. While I expect the Browns to deploy more shotgun/pistol formations and read-option plays to capitalize on his strengths, Manziel needs better support than what Hoyer got from a receiving corps that hasn't gotten the boost it expected when Josh Gordon returned from his 10-game drug suspension.
If the Browns (7-6) win their final three games and fail to make the playoffs, Pettine will face heavy criticism for not making the quarterbacking switch earlier. That comes with the territory. Regardless, this move does give Cleveland a head start toward the 2015 campaign by giving Manziel starting snaps that were inevitable anyway considering his lofty draft status and Hoyer's expected departure as an unrestricted free agent during the offseason.
After some NFL-mandated downtime, Manziel must approach his craft this offseason with the same zest as the nightlife. He needs to take a page from a quarterback like Drew Brees, who sets the standards for his entire New Orleans Saints team through intense preparatory habits.
One of his teammates once cracked Brees stays so late at team headquarters that he helps the janitor clean up.
Manziel should heed this lesson so his promising NFL career doesn't wind up in the trash.