Now is not the time for the Browns to lean on Josh McCown

(Photo: Northeast Ohio Media Group)

When the Browns passed on Teddy Bridgewater and selected Johnny Manziel in the 2014 NFL Draft, they made a potentially historic gaffe. Given the way Bridgewater’s career has started with a not-so-good Vikings team that was without Adrian Peterson for his rookie season, that much is clear.

A year later, Cleveland’s brass may be compounding the quarterback problem by handing the reins to Josh McCown. It’s like knowing you’re heading in the wrong direction, feeling as if you’re already in too deep and covering it up with an amount of confidence that looks ridiculous to anyone looking at the situation objectively from the outside.

Manziel’s maiden voyage in the NFL was an unquestionable disaster, but shouldn’t the Browns at least have an interest in seeing their former first-round pick (a guy they traded up for) through?

Plenty has been written about McCown. By now, everyone knows he’s a career backup that has thrown just two more touchdowns than interceptions in his 12-year career. But beating his subpar stats to death is too easy, and it’s missing the bigger issue.

It’s not about how bad McCown’s numbers have been over the years. No matter how small the sample size, he’s proven that he at least has the ability to be an effective quarterback and a good leader. The things his coaches and teammates are saying are all great, and it’s not fair to go as far as saying they’re wrong. They’re telling the sincere truth.

The biggest problem with McCown being in Cleveland this season? He’s 36.

Even if he does well and benefits from a good defense, veteran receivers, a rock-solid offensive line and an effective running game, he’s the wrong quarterback at the wrong time.

Nobody — not even the Browns front office — can really be under the illusion that the Browns can make significant gains with McCown at the helm. Cleveland faces a tougher schedule this year than they did when they crawled across the finish line at 7-9 last year.

Maybe McCown will have another revelation this year and make the Browns better. But even if they’re a better team this year, will they finish with a better record given their opponents? Maybe 8-8?

Say 8-8 happens. It’s probably not good enough to make the playoffs, though anything’s possible.

In that scenario, the Browns will be a year further down the road with a 37-year-old incumbent at quarterback and a mid-to-late pick in the first round that may or may not yield a good quarterback option.

And they still won’t know about Johnny Manziel.

Starting Manziel this season may sound like a fireable offense for Mike Pettine and his staff given the way things went last year, but consider this:

If the Browns subscribe to the thought that Manziel’s antics and poor play last year make him unfit to play at the beginning of this year, that’s fair enough. But if he somehow works his way onto the field via poor play by McCown or injury, the worst thing that could happen is the Browns struggling to find their way offensively again and finishing with a losing record, improving the chances of landing a promising new quarterback in next year’s draft.

The best thing that could happen is Manziel proving that his new attitude has led to some marked improvement, making him capable of leading the Browns to wins, continuing to grow and solidifying the quarterback position for the future.

Either way, the Browns learn something with Manziel on the field. McCown’s a known quantity, and to act as if adding him to the fold will keep things moving forward is foolish. He doesn’t need to be a starter to be a valuable mentor.

This isn’t yet another look at how bad Josh McCown is. It’s not an argument that he’s useless. He might be just fine, but almost certainly won’t be the difference. Maybe Johnny Manziel isn’t either. Regardless, the Browns need to find out sooner rather than later.

As things stand right now, they just seem to be wasting time.


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