CLEVELAND -- The avalanche has fallen. The last two months have been treacherous. Outward support from Browns officials has waned. And, as ESPN.com's in-depth look at a rocky rookie season showed, internal support is doing the same.
Yet there's still hope for Johnny Manziel.
The 22-year-old quarterback has been hit from every angle the last seven weeks, much to his own doing, but some from outsiders that waited for Instagram's favorite quarterback to fail, built from jealousy or a belief he was never an NFL quarterback.
It's important to remind in times like these that many of Manziel's traits that garnered first-round interest eight months ago are still intact. Manziel has adequate arm strength and ability to make instinctive plays, though the rushing ability looks less explosive at the highest level of football. He was learning a pro-style, language-heavy offense for the first time in his life, making at least marginal struggles inevitable in Year 1. At least a faction of the locker room believed the team's move to Manziel, despite a 7-6 record, was a surrender of sorts.
Manziel has the next seven months to spin the looming bust label into a positive gain.
Seven quarters of football was never enough to fully evaluate Manziel, even if the optimism is slim. Unless the Browns were completely fed up, it makes little sense to take this year's $1.874 million cap hit without seeing how he looks in training camp. The quarterback options on the open market (little chance for Jameis Winston or Marcus Mariota, a free agency-pool stocked with backups) aren't convincing enough to deprive Manziel the chance to make the necessary leap this offseason.
Let's see how he responds. Manziel has received tons of good advice about being a pro and changing his ways. Will he take it? Browns fans praised the drafting of Manziel in May, then quickly tore him down after his 80-yard, two-turnover performance in Week 15 against Cincinnati. Curious what Manziel has to say about that -- not with words, though. He's said enough, and he knows it. He knew it the day after the season, when he missed team activities and an explanation just wouldn't do. Words had become hollow.
If Manziel is going to get it, now's the time. This is it. The team owner and the new offensive coordinator have both made clear the Browns' starting quarterback might not be in their own building. The team's clear-cut theme -- we've got to find a quarterback -- suggests the Browns have searching to do. That means draft workouts and free agency phone calls, not nods to the incumbent.
Independent quarterbacks coach George Whitfield told me last month he and Manziel planned to work together at some point before Valentine's Day. Perhaps that will spark the fire Manziel needs.
Without one, Manziel's buzz remains as cold as the Aspen trip he took with Josh Gordon in January.
If Manziel wins the starting job in August, this might be an all-time Browns comeback story, not for ability, but for the trust rebuilt.