Can the Browns pass on the quarterback?

The endless debate about Johnny Manziel will end Thursday night.

Just in the past two days, reports from respected national reporters have said the Cleveland Browns are leaning toward Manziel if tackle Greg Robinson is already gone (he will be), and also that the Browns would not take Manziel.

Coach Mike Pettine denied that Manziel has been crossed off any list.

He told ESPN’s Sal Palantonio: “Our board is wide open. Everything is in play.”

Presumably Manziel would fall under “everything."

In some ways, General Manager Ray Farmer has people right where he wants them, and he’s smiling that he does.

He wants folks guessing at the Browns' plans, and boy are they guessing. A team that leaked so much negative and painful information about coach Rob Chudzinski during the team’s season finale has turned into the Hoover Dam, with little or no information getting out.

This much is clear: The Browns will take a quarterback high in the draft.

But Palantonio threw an interesting wrinkle into things with his report that other sources had told him the Browns were high on cornerback Justin Gilbert.

Combine this with the reality that this Browns regime is a lot more traditional in its approach, and it’s very possible the Browns could go with a player like Gilbert if the trade is right, or even an offensive tackle with the fourth spot. Robinson is one of the most intriguing players in the draft, and Jake Matthews could be a 10-year starter like his father.

But ... the question for the Browns is the same one that has been asked since the pre-draft hype started months ago: Can they afford to turn away if a quarterback is available at No. 4?

Doing so would take some serious intestinal fortitude.

It’s why I took Manziel fourth overall with the team’s first first-round pick. (Insert cracks about lack of intestinal fortitude for someone who has always favored receiver Sammy Watkins here.)

It’s difficult to find a quarterback, more difficult to pass on one. And those who do pass on a guy who turns out to be good ... well that can be a career-killing decision.

It’s a tough spot for a first-year GM to find himself.

But it’s also an exciting spot, because the right picks can do a lot for a team that needs something to go right.

Farmer wanted this job and he’s handled what has come his way adeptly to this point.

Now the draft is coming full bore right at him.