Believe it or not, it all comes down to what Johnny Manziel does on the football field.
Fans who struggle with that notion can be forgiven, as the media circus, revenue-driver of sorts that is Johnny Football has no offseason. He's the new Tim Tebow, just an edgier edition who comes equipped with inflatable swans and money telephones.
Except Manziel still has a chance to actually win a starting gig outright.
See, the funny thing is, what Manziel does off the field has yet to hurt his chances at beating out Brian Hoyer for the starting job in Cleveland. Until (if) it does, everything about his off-field activities is white noise, a notion Browns owner Jimmy Haslam seems to concur with at the moment, per the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot:
"I don't want to wear this subject out. Johnny said it himself. He made some mistakes. We expect better from him. I'm sure he'll perform now. We're anxious to see what he can do on the field, which is what really counts."
It is beyond worn out, Mr. Haslam.
Coach Mike Pettine has already confirmed that he and his staff will select a starting quarterback before the third preseason game. That makes sense, as the third game sees starters suit up for the most playing time of the four preseason contests, sans those (un)lucky enough to participate in the Hall of Fame Game.
In other words, plenty of time remains for Manziel to prove that a player can both have a social life and learn a playbook.
But of course, just like all of the "reports" and "sources" surrounding his off-field life, early work out of Berea, Ohio, has been somewhat of a mixed bag. He has done normal Johnny things, like escaping pressure for a gain:
Ditto for pocket improvisation gone awry, per Daryl Ruiter of 92.3 The Fan:
Johnny Manziel tries Johnny Football scramble drill; nothing doing & he throws it to the fence behind the fans— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) July 28, 2014
Translation: Manziel is bouncing along the rocky rode any rookie signal-caller does in his first pro training camp.
His direct competition, a 28-year-old Michigan State product who has attempted 192 career passes in five seasons with three different teams, enters coming off an ACL tear and has had similar performances to date.
It is easy to see why some may consider Manziel at a disadvantage, as Hoyer did have the Browns looking quite strong with a couple of victories before his unfortunate medical mishap. Even Pettine admits that beating out Hoyer is a tough job for a rookie, per Cabot:
I would say it's a tall task, for a couple reasons. One, he's a rookie coming in learning the system. It's not like (Miami's Ryan) Tannehill, who came in running his college system. He's learning something that's completely new to him, so he's got all new verbiage and reads and that type of thing working against him.
And then the guy he's competing with is an NFL veteran who's learned from one of the best in the game, who's very prepared, very focused. It's a very true statement, it will be difficult.
Alas, Hoyer's career numbers show that the Browns may very well be up the proverbial creek no matter which signal-caller they roll with on opening day:
Nobody would be silly enough to suggest Manziel can match those numbers as a rookie, but let's see him in the live action of a preseason game, when he can put that improvisation to use within the scheme, before declaring the competition is already decided.
Pettine may not like starting a rookie right out of the gate, and his references to players such as Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and even Carson Palmer confirm that. But he is also a realist who has his own job security in mind, and if Manziel gives his squad the best chance to win, Manziel it will be.
Will Manziel be the Day 1 starter?
Two games and a host of practices sit in the way of the Browns' decision under center, if not more. It may not seem like a lot of time, but it is plenty for injuries to occur, mistakes to happen and more. Given the amount of snaps and real-game scenarios, to count Manziel out at this stage of the game is a mistake.
Hoyer may very well win the job, but this saga is far from over.