What Do You Do With An Injured Passer?

The title comes from the sea shanty “What do you do with a drunken sailor?”… It is a sad commentary on political correctness that I thought about not using it because someone might think I was cracking on Johnny Manziel.

The reason it popped into my head is that the singers have no clue about how best to get the protagonist ready to work. Which is pretty much the position the Browns find themselves in:

  • Josh McCown has a concussion and might not be cleared to start.
  • Johnny Manziel developed tendonitis this year, which might last the eyar.
  • Austin Davis was signed on Sepember 7, and Mike Pettine admits he won’t be ready to play Sunday.

Result: It’s only game #2, and the Browns already have no idea who their starting quarterback is. Oy, gevalt….

The long-term situation isn’t any easier to analyze, given the following facts.

1. McCown was signed to be the starting quarterback. The minute you pull the plug on him– unless you do so because one of the other quarterbacks has outplayed him by a sizable margin– you’re officially announcing that Chris Palmer’s “Runaway Train” has left the station.

2. McCown is 36 and highly-respected. Even people who think he is a terrible player say he is a great asset to a roster. Ergo, a lot of people would be upset if he weren’t given a full shot to play himself out of the lineup.

3. McCown can’t play worth dirt, and unless the Tennessee-Tampa game was a mirage (or just Tampa being Tampa), the number of games the Browns can win with him playing quarterback just dropped to one– Oakland in week three.

One week is not a solid basis for judgment, but if we look at the results (with upcoming opponents in bold), we see:

  • Tennessee crushed Tampa like a grape, with Marcus Mariota getting a perfect QB rating (don’t ask why 158.3 is perfect).
  • Oakland not only lost 33-13 to Cincinnati, but saw QB Derek Carr get injured.
  • San Diego whipped the Lions 33-28. looking very solid.
  • Denver beat Baltimore 19-13 in a game where defense ruled.
  • St. Louis beat Seattle 34-31, with Nick Foles looking awesome.
  • Arizona drilled New Orleans 31-19.
  • San Francisco beat Minnesota 20-3.
  • Kansas City beat the Texans 27-20
  • Pittsburgh, lost 28-21 to New England, in a game marred by charges that Ben Roethlisberger was shot up with elephant tranquliizers during a pileup.

4. Barring some change in performance (their own or the opponents’) the Browns are likely to end up between 0-4 wins, with one of the first picks in the draft (probably with Tampa, Washington and Oakland).

The pressure to pick Rufus Le Petomane (my generic name for whatever guy the morons in the national media decide is a franchise quarterback) will be intense. If the Browns don’t pick a QB, Jimmy Haslam might as well move the team to Los Angeles.

5. The prospect of being able to draft Le Petomane will shape the rest of the season:

  • It means Johnny Manziel has less than a season to prove himself.
  • It means playing Austin Davis (who might be able to manage them to several wins, if the opponent has a bad day) hurts the team’s chances to get a high pick, which will upset fans.

6. Manziel isn’t close to being healthy. After the game, he told the media that his arm wasn’t hurting much. That he admitted it was bothering him at all indicates how much pain he must have been in.

Run that statement through the Universal Translator for Jockspeak, and you get “It was killing me, but I wasn’t gonna let down the team and force Brian Hartline to get under center.”

7. Manziel also knows some percentage of the team still feels he’s a drunken brat. Playing hurt is a way to win back the locker room. And the only way he can win back the fans, the media or the other teams is by playing.

8. Because the Browns have been grossly understating the extent of Manziel’s injury– suggesting that his tendonitis flares up every year, that they knew all about it, that it is no big deal and he’s only been rested as a precautionary measure– people believe that he is close to 100% and can play.

As a result, if he doesn’t play– or doesn’t play well– the games will knocj down his value.

9. Manziel, if he washes out with the Browns, will find it very hard to catch on with another team. It won’t be impossible– after all, Tim Tebow is still around– but teams won’t be lining up to sign him unless he plays well.

10. Davis won’t be ready to play for weeks. He was an undrafted free agent from Southern Mississippi– where he was a walk-on who won the starting job. Then he joined the Rame, where calling the offense the head coach Jeff Fisher and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer used “primitive” is understating it.

As a friend who knows him said, it’s as if Brian were on a mission to show that his dad’s shortcomings were caused by genetic mutation. He embodies all of Marty’s worst traits without any of the virtues.

And Fisher has been grinding quarterbacks into hamburger his entire career. A Buddy Ryan protege who inherited the distaste for spending picks on offensive players– especially linemen.

The report on Davis is that he’s an excellent athlete whose mechanics cause problems on accuracy and deep balls… and that it takes him a while to pick things up. The comment was “He’d be a lot better for you in October than September, and even better in November.”

11. Davis’s performance in 2014 was so vastly superior to what either McCown or Manziel did that he arguably deserves to start now.

12. If the Browns started Davis now, they would need to remove most of the misdirection and complexity– and rely heavily on the run game. Which, at the moment, is the weakest ares of the offense. (OK, maybe tight end.)

So there’s no clear path to salvation here. Questions?

Why don’t the Browns just go with Davis?

Regardless of whether the NFL neurologist clears McCown to play?

Yes. McCown can’t play. Manziel isn’t healthy.
Davis has the best track record and a chance to be good.

That would blow up the season in over a dozen different ways:

  • You’d be issuing a public vote of no confidence in McCown. So this would alienate:
    • The player,
    • The teammates who support him and think he should play,
    • His agent (Mike McCartney of Priority Sports), who negotiated a deal after the Browns told his client that he was being bought to Cleveland to be the bridge to Johnny Manziel,
    • All of the firm’s clients, because the agents would steer them away from the Browns,
    • Every other agent, because the Browns would look like such an unstable organization– promising McCown the starting job, then benching him after one quarter– that they’d advise clients never to deal with them if they had any other choice,
    • Writers and broadcasters (local and national), who would tear the team to shreds for being insane enough to sign McCown and dump him before he produced a “smoking gun” reason not to play him,
    • Any fans who think he should play (presumably there are some; there are people who think the sun revolves around the earth)
    • The NFL, who would assume this sort of decision would not be made without input from the General Manager– who has been suspended for the first four games and cannot weigh in on it.
  • This would be seen as a repudiation of Manziel. Because the Browns weren’t honest about his injury, everyone would assume they were ditching their #1 pick from last season– a player they traded up to get– to go with a waiver wire pickup. Except for the NFL, you’d have the same list of people upset.
  • Davis would instantly become the lightning rod of a huge controversy.I’m assuming he probably isn’t prepared to deal with all the uproar.
  • You’d be playing someone who isn’t ready. Nobody plays well, when they don’t know what they are doing.
  • You’d be jeopardizing Davis’s chance to succeed. I do think he could be a good player– but not running a playbook with half a dozen runs and a dozen passes.

It all ends with Jimmy Haslam blowing the team up again… and with every agent in the NFL warning their coach and executive clients to have nothing to do with you, you’d be lucky to get Mike Lombardi and Rob Ryan.

So what are you saying we should do?
Play a guy who isn’t any good?

Again with the “We” stuff. You’re not a member of the organization, and I absolutely am not. If I’m a member of the front office, Josh McCown gets signed over my dead body.

This is a very simple issue. Part of the reason the Browns have trouble getting better is that they have trouble signing free agents of any stripe. Except for the occasional guy who was born in the region and wants to play/coach here (Hartline, Donte Whitner, Rob Chudzynski, Brian Hoyer, Joe Jurevicius, Dave Zastudil, LeCharles Bentley), the only people this team gets are:

  • People they overpay to a ridiculous degree
  • People who have no other choice

That has been going on since the team returned. Carmen Policy, Eric Mangini, Mike Holmgren (as a GM) and Joe Banner were legendary– even before they came to Cleveland– for their bad behavior and poor treatment of players, coaches and agents.

They’ve been interspersed with people like Butch Davis, Phil Savage and Ray Famer– who (based on their behavior on every other front) probably didn’t know what they were doing wrong, but didn’t seem to care when it was pointed out to them.

This is just a rumor, but the story floating around the NFL is that Farmer never even spoke to Brian Hoyer’s agent after the season– not even to tell him that the Browns were going to sign Josh McCown.

Hoyer and his agent (Joe Linta) are both considered good guys and straight shooters. This story couples with the treatment Rob Chudzynski got— everyone know he was going to be fired except Chud– to basically stamp this place as a vile cesspool that you don’t go near unless the alternative is Arenaball.

For the Browns to get good, that has to change.

So the Browns have to tank the season
just to be hospitable? No thanks. 

No– they have to keep their promise.

In order to sign a veteran to a contract, you make him certain promises. If you ever want to sign other free agents, you have to keep the promises.

McCown could have signed with Chicago; he used to be a backup for John Fox and he didn’t poison the well there with his play or his behavior. He could have signed with Buffalo. He picked Cleveland because they told him “We’d like you to start for us for two years– or until Johnny Manziel is ready.”

I would never have made that offer, but the Browns did. McCown came partly because he wanted to have another chance to start– to see if just maybe that 2013 stretch of games was no fluke.

If he loses the job with his play, that’s one thing.

If he gets beaten out by someone playing better, that’s part of the game.

So is sitting down because the doctor says you have to.

But you can’t bench a veteran who is a good guy– who has done nothing wrong– and then expect anyone else to take the franchise seriously.

I don’t care about that. I care about winning.

OK, well, do you care about winning without Mitchell Schwartz? He’s a free agent at the end of the year… guess who his agent is? Deryk Gilmore, of Priority Sports.

He’s a stiff. Who cares if he signs?

Yeah, the Browns could go back to using Oniel Cousins or Tony Pashos. No problem there.

Alex Mack is a free agent at the end of the year; if he doesn’t like the way you treat McCown and he opts out and won’t even talk to you, are you good with that?

After the way he played Sunday, yes.

OK, fine. I assume you’re OK with losing Tashaun Gipson. He’s a free agent at the end of the year– and also a Pro Bowl player. But he fumbled an interception, so let’s dump him too.

The list of Browns players with expiring contracts also includes Travis Benjamin, Craig Robertson, “Clank” Barnidge,  Johnson Bademosi and Rob Housler. None of those are crippling losses but if they all decide they’d be better off somewhere else, you have to draft or sign people to replace them.

And it gets very hard to do that if nobody wants to play for you.

So you play McCown forever?

No, you play him until he begins playing like Josh McCown usually does. Everyone expects him to stink, so you won’t make any waves if you pull him after 3-4 bad games.

Or you can wait until Manziel is healthy (which he won’t even be if he gets drilled half a dozen times), and has some good outings in relief.

Or you can wait until Davis learns the playbook and looks good finishing out a game.

Or you can wait until McCown gets hurt. Which, if he keeps diving headfirst, isn’t going to be long.

And we just let another year go down the tubes?

That, from all appearances, it looks like they don’t have any control over. If a lot of things that happened Sunday don’t stop happening, the difference between McCown at QB and Austin Davis on his best day won’t save the Browns.

While Jabaal Sheard was off with the Patriots (a) making three tackles (including a sack of Ben Roethlisberger) and (b) pressuring him 3-4 other times and (c) sealing off the edge and playing very sound run defense, the Browns watched Scott Solomon jack up his ankle and probably miss half the season.

They now have Meowkevious Mingo out there on the edge– with either Armonty Bryant or Nate Orchard behind him. Three undersized guys who can’t play the run,– two of whom they spent high picks on.

You were wrong on Orchard. He had a back injury.

An injury we heard nothing about… until people said “Hey, how come your #2 pick was a DNP-CD?” Sure, I believe that.

In the last injury report for the week, Orchard was listed as “questionable”, meaning a 50-50 chance of playing. There were five players with that status:

  • Mingo, who played 21% of the snaps,
  • CB K’Waun Williams, who played 70% of the snaps
  • WR Dwayne Bowe, who didn’t play
  • CB Justin Gilbert, who didn’t

It’s not terribly tough to suppose that Williams and Mingo didn’t make miraculous recoveries, while Bowe and Gilbert made brave battles and lost.

What can they do about Gilbert?

Nothing. The most recent incident means he is now 100% bust– all they can do is cut him.

They’ll probably do that in mid-season– around the time Bowe departs– when the losses pile up and the frustration sets in.  They won’t make any big moves until Snapchat returns.

You have anything positive to say?

Not at the present time. A friend who has a Pro Football Focus account informs me that only four Browns got a positive (+1.0 or better) grade. Joe Thomas (of course) and P Andy Lee (60 yards punting?!?). , On defense, Jamie Meder made one good play and Craig Robertson made two. I must have missed them

Obviously this is just one game and a solid outing against Tennessee could make things look brighter. If the Browns beat Oaklans, they could even be 2-1.

But at this point, I’d have to see it before I assume it will happen.


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