Can the Browns Learn from the Johnny Manziel Disaster, Their Worst Mistake Yet?

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterMarch 11, 2016

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 13: Quarterback Johnny Manziel #2 of the Cleveland Browns looks to the sidelines during the third quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 13, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Andrew Weber/Getty Images)
Andrew Weber/Getty Images

The minute Johnny Manziel was released, the texts and calls started pouring in. The consensus among front-office executives and scouts: The drafting of Manziel set the Browns back a good two to three years—if not longer. Manziel was, they agreed, the second-worst draft pick in the history of the NFL. That's how much picking him 22nd overall and wasting two years considering him a future franchise quarterback damaged the organization.

The second-worst draft pick of all time. Behind Ryan Leaf. This is what they all said. Their words. And it wasn't just one or two sources who made the comparison. It was four.

I've heard this sentiment before from team officials but not to the extent or with the ferocity that I heard it Friday. There wasn't just an I told you so tone to the remarks. There was, well, disgust.

Disgust the last Browns regime fell for the Manziel okey doke. Disgust that it didn't see, as so many in football did—and there was consensus over this—that Manziel was an inevitable bust, doomed from the beginning because he never truly took football seriously. Disgust at the waste of it all. Disgust at the unbridled stupidity of taking him.

Craig Ruttle/Associated Press

"What makes this all so frustrating," one scout said, "is how easily avoidable this was."

Manziel has become a symbol of the Browns' inability as an organization to help themselves, to avoid bad decisions. They're the equivalent of the person who's been divorced three times and thinks the drummer in the rock band who keeps asking to borrow a credit card would make an excellent fourth spouse.

There has never been a more preventable self-injury in draft history. Manziel was a bust in training, the football equal of picking a bank robber to watch over your safe. Yet the Browns were drawn to him. Because they're the Browns.

While in college, Manziel showed no propensity for leadership or learning from mistakes. He did whatever the hell he wanted, and this was a continued pattern in Cleveland. He partied instead of working. He lied to coaches about a video. There were accusations of violence against women.

Mostly, Manziel never grasped that he had entered into adulthood.

There is obviously some type of substance-abuse problem, whether it's alcohol or something else. It's why Manziel checked himself into a treatment clinic. You feel for him on some level. Still, there are cold, harsh realities to football, and Manziel should have always been another team's problem.

But he was destined to be a Brown, because Browns gonna Brown. Never forget their infamous list of starting quarterbacks since 1999: Tim Couch, Ty Detmer, Doug Pederson, Spergon Wynn, Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Luke McCown, Trent Dilfer, Charlie Frye, Derek Anderson, Brady Quinn, Ken Dorsey, Bruce Gradkowski, Colt McCoy, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Brandon Weeden, Thad Lewis, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, Manziel, Connor Shaw, Josh McCown and Austin Davis.

I'm probably missing a couple. They're all on the jersey:

Brokaw @BrokawInc

White tape supply running dangerously low. How about some help @theduckbrand https://t.co/xs8thOGH0X

Conversely, in that same time period, the Patriots have started Drew Bledsoe, Tom Brady and Matt Cassel.

This is what the new leader of the Browns, Sashi Brown, is up against. There has rarely been a level of organizational incompetence like the Browns' over the past two decades. Draft picks such as Courtney Brown, Trent Richardson and Justin Gilbert. Terrible free-agent signings. Horrible coaches. The only things missing are locusts and Jim Cantore.

What I will say is that the organization recently has hired some smart people, namely head coach Hue Jackson. He's considered one of the brightest in the sport. That is perhaps a sign that things might change. Hiring Jackson was one of the few intelligent moves the franchise has made in decades.

In two seasons with the Browns, Manziel played in 15 games, starting eight. The Browns won only two of his starts. He had seven touchdowns and threw seven picks. His passer rating was 74.4. All of the trouble, all of the headache, all of the embarrassment for that.

My guess is that Manziel won't just not play in the NFL this coming season but also might never play again. Most teams know he's not worth the risk. There could be a sucker. Maybe Manziel talks his way into a backup role. Maybe. And maybe I'll be selected to lead a mission to Mars.

It's fascinating to watch this analysis now:

Merril Hoge basically said the coaching staff of any team that took Manziel in the first round would be fired in two years.

Two years later, here we are. Manziel is gone, and the last coaching staff joined him on the street. Manziel didn't just get himself fired. He got coaches who probably didn't want him fired.

If it was that obvious to Hoge and the rest of us, how was it not obvious to the Browns?

Because that's who they are. That's what they do. It has to change.

Hell, it can't get any worse.

Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.


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