With the signing of Josh McCown to a 3 year, 14 million dollar contract (With a lot of it frontloaded), it seems pretty safe to assume that the Browns don’t really intend on bringing back Brian Hoyer for the 2015 season.
Now, it’s very possible that the Browns think that Josh McCown is going to be able to start at a high level for them. They’re wrong. However, he’s a pretty good backup in the NFL and a consummate professional. Considering he was able to act as a stabilizing force for Jay Cutler, it seems reasonable that he could do the same for Johnny Manziel. Is a backup worth the contract that McCown got? Not really, but you’ll have to remember that the Browns don’t have a ton of cap space invested at the position. For what it’s worth, even if the Browns traded up to #1 overall to draft a QB, their three quarterbacks will have a combined cap hit of roughly 12 million dollars, which is less than what 13 teams spend for their starter alone*. In that context, the Browns have a bit more to work with in terms of cap space, making their payment for McCown less egregious.
With that being said, if McCown can’t be a good player, what can we expect out of Johnny Manziel? His performance in 2014 was abysmal. A 42.0 QB rating is only marginally better than a quarterback who throws incomplete on every pass (39.6). Manziel’s 5.1 QBR places him 79th amongst all players who threw a pass last season, behind individuals such as Brandon Bolden, Ryan Nassib, Bilal Powell, Russell Shepard, Ryan Lindley, Case Keenum, and Darren McFadden. None of those players are even remotely franchise quarterbacks, and many of the players I mentioned are not in fact, quarterbacks by trade. Is there hope? Maybe. I suppose. I won’t pretend to have secret information on that. The odds however, are long and he’s starting from a truly awful point in his sophomore campaign. Rehabilitation is NOT helping his cause, although it’s very needed for him as a human, the fact is that he’s not getting the same resources in a rehab clinic to improve his football skills and ability to read defenses, which were amateurish in 2014.
In terms of further upgrades, it’s not clear what’s in store for the Browns this year. They COULD package their 1st rounders to move up for Marcus Mariota or Jameis Winston (More likely the former), but then their time table to compete gets pushed back a year, and neither of these prospects are a slam dunk. They could wait and take a slightly lesser prospect like Brett Hundley, Bryce Petty, or Garrett Grayson, but all three are fairly raw prospects who’ll need development time. However, all three will likely be available with a second or third round draft choice, allowing the Browns to capitalize elsewhere on the field. I will predict that the Browns will stay the course, considering they’re giving Manziel 1st rounder cash and had somewhat limited time last year. However, with little to show for last year (Could not beat out a pedestrian Brian Hoyer for the starting job, was awful when the job was handed to him, etc.), and with few receiving weapons surrounding him, the Browns seem like a prime candidate to regress this season, even with a modest 7-9 record in 2014. The Browns might be in a position in 2016 to look at adding a franchise QB then, with Rust Belt/Midwest players Cardale Jones, Christian Hackenberg, and Connor Cook all projecting to be 1st round caliber quarterbacks.
* – Using an estimated cap hit of 5.1 million for the #1 overall pick, 4.67 for Josh McCown, and 2.25 for Johnny Manziel