<
>

QB market for 2015 could lead Browns back to Brian Hoyer

BALTIMORE -- Coach Mike Pettine talked quarterback after the Cleveland Browns ended their season at 7-9 with a 20-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

“I think,” Pettine said of the position, “it’s pretty obvious it’s still a big question mark.”

“We’ve got to figure it out,” owner Jimmy Haslam said.

They do. But maybe it’s not as tough as they think. Because short of working out the impossible and trading for Andrew Luck, their best option is right in front of them.

That would be to keep Brian Hoyer.

Hoyer's late-season struggles cannot and should not be ignored. But among the available quarterbacks, he presents the most viable option for success, professionalism and continuity. The Browns can continue searching for their “savior,” but Johnny Manziel has not shown he can be the answer to any question the team has about the position. The free agent market is shockingly thin.

Even if a Jay Cutler or a Robert Griffin III hits the market, the Browns need to keep Hoyer.

He knows the offense. He won games. And you’d like to think that given a commitment without the weekly looming specter of a celebrity possibly replacing him that he’d relax and play more consistently. Hoyer isn’t afraid of competition for the starting spot. He just wants to be sure if he wins it, the position is his and won’t be the subject of a weekly debate.

If nothing else, the Browns would have a guy who knows how to be a pro at the position, a guy who has the respect of his teammates and the locker room.

If it's not Hoyer, who is the guy?

Option 1 is Manziel. One day he’s talking about taking things more seriously; a few days later team security is at his door trying to find him when he was not present at the facility.

Already some are calling for the Browns to cut Manziel and move on. ESPN’s Merrill Hoge was one, saying the NFL is “not a babysitting league.” He’s right, as he has been when he criticized Manziel all season.

Manziel is paid too much -- by the Browns and Nike -- to have what happened Saturday shrugged off. And it’s compounded by the fact that Manziel played poorly when given a chance to play. It was evident that practice squad player Connor Shaw did more to prepare himself to play than Manziel did as the backup.

Haslam indicated the team would keep working with Manziel. Perhaps he expects a miracle, because at this point counting on him for 16 games in 2015 is counting on an illusion.

The draft is the second option, but to move up to get a talented quarterback the Browns would have to give up all the picks they acquired to build their team a year ago. Which would be foolish given they'd be trading for more potential.

The free agent market is the other option, and there is little help there.

Jake Locker, Matt Cassel, Mark Sanchez and Ryan Fitzpatrick are not upgrades. Nor is Colt McCoy. Or Chad Henne. Those are the names available

Hoyer has been in Cleveland. He knows the offense. He knows the system.

He has the respect of his teammates, some of whom feel the finish to the season would have been different had the team made a firmer commitment to Hoyer earlier in the year. They point to Andy Dalton responding in Cincinnati after that horrible game against the Browns and helping the Bengals make the playoffs.

Hoyer is not Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. But signing him back does not stop the search for a Brady or Rodgers.

Hoyer could provide the Browns some sort of continuity and commitment. He has never avoided competition on the field, nor would he. Competition on the field can take care of who starts -- as opposed to salivating over potential or a guy’s celebrity.

The Browns did not agree to a deal with Hoyer prior to the season that would have paid him bottom-end starter’s money only if the Browns made the playoffs.

Had they agreed to that deal, they’d at least have Hoyer under contract for two more seasons. Which is a whole lot better off than they are now.

At this point, Hoyer has to be under consideration to be part of the team’s future.