<
>

Morning Kickoff: Has Johnny Manziel played his last game for the Browns, or is a real commitment to him in the works?

Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.

Johnny’s done: For the second year in a row, Johnny Manziel’s season has ended prematurely with him not on the field as result of an injury.

Last year it was a mysterious pulled hamstring after taking a shot to his shoulder in the 15th game against Carolina. This year it was a concussion, the diagnosis coming two days after his last game against Kansas City.

The difference in his second season is that Manziel has not been banished to the locker room, away from view, to serve a timeout for missing a rehab session after partying, while his teammates slog through the 16th game.

At least for now, Manziel will conclude his second season with no active demerits.

Coach Mike Pettine said Wednesday that he found no reason to discipline Manziel for the Christmas Eve video of him partying with a can of alcoholic beverage in his hand.

“He was at home on his day off,” Pettine said. “As far as the judgment of [the video] getting out there, I question that.”

Such is the progress Manziel has made off the field that sighs of relief are heard when Manziel confines his partying to home.

Progress on the field was more profound.

A year ago, Manziel couldn’t recite the required plays in the huddle or identify a Mike linebacker from the man on the moon. By the end of his second year, Manziel was proficient in the basics of the position and had instilled in his teammates their trust that he would do his job to the best of his ability.

But is all of it enough for the Browns to commit to 2016 as another Season of Johnny?

Or will the last image of Manziel in a Browns uniform be of him slamming his helmet to the ground in frustration of time running out on a possible signature win?

What now?: As owner Jimmy Haslam decides how to pick up the pieces of this 3-12 (so far) season, how and if Manziel fits in the future football regime are the most pertinent questions.

Drafting first or second overall, the Browns earned the chance to select one of the top two quarterbacks in the draft for the first time since their inaugural expansion season of 1999. Tennessee, currently No. 1, doesn’t need a quarterback but may trade the pick to a team that does.

Either way, the Browns may have a choice between passers Jared Goff of California and Paxton Lynch of Memphis – both of whom more resemble the traditional NFL quarterback model in size and style.

For that reason, Haslam has to decide whether to make a commitment to Manziel or move on and select the quarterback that will unify the organization, rather than polarize it.

Since the night Manziel was drafted in 2014, he has been a lightning rod of division between Pettine and his coaches and the other forces – namely, Haslam, GM Ray Farmer and President Alec Scheiner.

While Pettine’s complex defense clearly has been a disaster in 2015, the constant drama with Manziel – when to play him, how to use him, how to tolerate his off-field issues – has paralyzed the organization and stymied the team’s growth.

The confluence of the team’s draft position and need to restructure the football operations gives Haslam the perfect opportunity to rectify this situation once and for all.

What should he do?: If Haslam wants to commit to Manziel and pull everyone on the same page, the way to do it seems obvious.

He should renew efforts to lure fired Eagles coach Chip Kelly, who recruited Manziel earnestly as coach at Oregon and would employ a quick-read, up-tempo, spread offense to maximize Manziel’s skill set.

Or Haslam can dip into the college ranks and recruit Kevin Sumlin, Manziel’s coach at Texas A&M, or a similar hurry-up offensive guru such as Gus Malzahn of Auburn, who was Cam Newton’s offensive coordinator when Newton ran and passed the Tigers to the national championship in 2010.

These options are fraught with extremely high risk vs. questionable reward on a number of fronts.

First, there is no track record to suggest the offenses of Kelly, Sumlin and Malzahn can sustain themselves in the NFL. Kelly was de-geniused in Philadelphia, and Sumlin and Malzahn are unproven college coaches who easily could be eaten up in the shark-infested waters of the NFL.

Then there are Manziel’s issues on the field and off. Given his durability concerns, could he be trusted to withstand 16 games playing the free-lance style that would maximize his skills? More important, could he be trusted to stay clean through another offseason and beyond?

And what is his ceiling as an NFL quarterback, after all? Would surrounding him with a re-committed Josh Gordon and other taller, faster receivers guarantee he take the Browns to the playoffs and beyond?

That’s quite a leap of faith for a quarterback whose two career wins have come against Tennessee and San Francisco, teams with a combined record of 7-23.

The alternative would be for Haslam to bring an end to the Manziel drama and trade him to covetous Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

It would be a perfect exit strategy, situating Manziel with his home-state team and setting up the next Browns regime with a real chance to cure the hangover of Manziel Mania.