<
>

Status of Johnny Manziel part of puzzling Browns QB situation

The Browns are going into the season with Josh McCown, left, as their starter and a hobbled Johnny Manziel as the backup, with little to count on behind them. Ken Blaze/USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Browns have said they are not worried about their backup quarterback situation.

I wonder how they can’t be.

Not just about the backups but about the group as a whole. It merely takes a realistic assessment to generate concern.

The Browns are going with Josh McCown as the starter. He’s done a lot of good things in preseason and he’s a tremendous individual, but his track record remains his track record. He’s 36. He’s never started 16 games in a season. He’s had one year in 12 when he had a winning record as a starter. His career completion percentage is 59 and his career rating is 76.1.

McCown has done all the Browns have asked, and generally done it well. But to assume he’ll transform into a starter who can guide a team to the playoffs is assuming Frodo will play running back. There’s just nothing in McCown’s past to justify the belief.

Which would lead to the logical conclusion that the Browns fortified the backup spot in case McCown does not play 16 games.

They didn’t.

They depended on Johnny Manziel coming off a disaster (his word) of a rookie season and 10 weeks of rehab to be whole physically and mentally.

Manziel has shown signs of growth, on and off the field. His actions off the field have been professional and proper. He’s drawn little attention to himself.

On the field, he’s shown improvement. But that improvement has to be measured against the low bar Manziel set following his rookie season. The way he played in 2014, anything positive would be an improvement. Manziel may be more ready than he was a year ago, but if he has a heartbeat he’s more ready than he was a year ago.

Now Manziel has a sore elbow. His status would seem to be week-to-week. The Browns insist that treatment and rest and getting away from training camp will solve the issue.

It would be great if that happened.

But when a 22-year-old has an elbow issue, it’s a concern. And coach Mike Pettine admitted that not knowing when the backup will be healthy causes “angst.”

Perhaps the Browns could not have anticipated the elbow situation. That’s fair. But at the least, the Browns knew in the offseason that there would be uncertainty with Manziel given his 10-week stay in rehab.

What did they do to fortify the backup spot?

Sign Thad Lewis and proudly proclaim at the NFL spring meetings “don’t sleep on Connor Shaw.” Shaw started one game a year ago, and is done for the season after thumb surgery. Lewis has six career starts and has not been in a game since 2013. After being sacked six times and throwing a pick-six in the preseason finale, Lewis also may be headed to the waiver wire.

Which leaves the Browns with McCown and his track record and Manziel and his uncertainties.

Oh, and Terrelle Pryor, who played quarterback Thursday night despite the strong statements from the team that if Pryor made the team it would have to be as a receiver. Well, this receiver appears headed to the roster without a single preseason reception -- or a single preseason pass thrown his way.

If Manziel’s elbow heals, he can be the backup the way he was last season. The Browns carried two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster in 2014, and Shaw on the practice squad. Given the distance Manziel has to travel and McCown’s history, it's dicey. But it can work.

Keep in mind, though, that in each of the last two seasons the Browns used three starting quarterbacks.

If Manziel's elbow doesn't heal, then perhaps Lewis stays or the Browns sign another quarterback off the waiver wire. The waiver wire may even come into play if they keep only McCown and Manziel.

That is never ideal -- a new guy coming in the week of the opener having to learn a new offense with a new team and new teammates. It’s a tough transition.

The Browns, though, are not overly concerned.

Best hope they are right.