Browns' QB chase slowing; time to brace for Johnny Manziel-Josh McCown combo

CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Browns fans and media have expended months of offseason energy on the team’s search for a quarterback who can exorcise the numbing streak of 22 starters since 1999. Sam Bradford. Marcus Mariota. Nick Foles. They must be vetted, pursued, contractually rewarded.

That chase might be dead.


Grieve if you must.

Anything is possible, but it still comes back to this with the Browns’ quarterback situation: Giving Josh McCown $6.25 million guaranteed on a three-year deal would have been unlikely had the team felt the chances of trading for Bradford or Mariota were good.

They vetted the other options before closing on McCown.

Even if the Browns offered Eagles coach Chip Kelly the 19th overall pick for Sam Bradford -- like they reportedly did to the Rams when Bradford was still there -- Kelly would need much more than picks 19 and 20 to move into Mariota’s range. Not sure why he would want to do that unless Cleveland would part with the 12th overall pick, which is too steep for the injured quarterback.

The Browns’ top two quarterbacks in training camp could very well be -- as it seemed all along -- McCown and Johnny Manziel.

Even Browns center Alex Mack knows that.

"It’s going to be a quarterback battle," Mack said. "Josh McCown’s coming in. I think Johnny Manziel’s going to be back, and we will see how Johnny does."

Not the most attractive option, but the most likely.

The Browns could prove that wrong with an aggressive trade play in April. But when GM Ray Farmer talked up his current crop of quarterbacks when speaking to the media at last week’s owners meetings, he sounded like a guy who knows he has no choice.

If nothing changes, what exactly will the Browns get from a McCown-Manziel combo?

  • Expect McCown to enter training camp as the first-string quarterback: McCown will be the safe play unless proved otherwise. The Browns had two offseason quarterback plans: one with Manziel, one without him. McCown has started 49 NFL games since 2003 and is being paid slightly above backup money, roughly $14 million over three years, with the chance to earn an extra $6 million in incentives. Based on that payout and McCown’s experience, the job is his to lose.

  • The Browns could keep the starting job open early in training camp: The Browns could treat this training camp like the last, deciding on a two-quarterback race after the second preseason game. This gives Manziel the chance to assuage his 2014 ills with a more productive training camp while trying to minimize the pressure he faced as a rookie.

  • Don’t expect the Chicago Bears McCown or the Tampa Bay Bucs McCown, but something in between: McCown had everything working in 2013 after throwing for 13 touchdowns and one interception -- including four Pro Bowl-caliber playmakers to get the ball. He won’t have that luxury in Cleveland. But he also won’t be as bad as his 1-10 record in Tampa suggests. McCown battled a thumb injury, shaky offensive line play and the abrupt departure of offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford. Expect numbers in line with McCown’s career -- 59 percent passer, slightly above a 1-1 touchdown/interception ratio.

  • Manziel will come back refreshed and focused, but the on-field concerns remain: By all accounts, Manziel is taking his two-month treatment stint seriously. He could come back as a different guy. That will help him. But that doesn’t solve a few on-field concerns, including accuracy and his escapability, which was supposed to be a strength. The Browns had to cobble together a late-season plan for Manziel that backfired, but this time new offensive coordinator John DeFilippo can try to figure out which plays work best for Manziel.

  • Connor Shaw will have the inside track on the third-string job unless a draft pick makes a move: The Browns brought in Thad Lewis for competition but they like Shaw, who doesn’t have a huge arm but showed savvy and toughness in a Week 17 near-win at Baltimore. Drafting a second-tier quarterback such as Bryce Petty or Garrett Grayson would fuel competition.