CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Once upon a time the Cleveland Browns were 7-4 and in first place in the AFC North.
Although the events of the last 3 years make it feel like a decade ago, it was just 2014 and things were looking up for the franchise.
But then Johnny Manziel was forced onto the field and the Browns have yet to recover.
Left tackle Joe Thomas talked about that time and the decision to bench then quarterback Brian Hoyer in favor of the No. 22 pick in the 2014 draft and how it sank the season, and ultimately Mike Pettine’s time in Cleveland during his most recent podcast with former Browns receiver Andrew Hawkins which was released Thursday.
“The problem with the Mike Pettine experience in Cleveland as a head coach was Johnny Manziel,” Thomas said on UNITERRUPTED’s ‘ThomaHawk Show’ podcast. “He was drafted in the first round. He was the heir apparent as the quarterback, and people in the front office wanted to sell tickets and they wanted Johnny Manziel playing.”
The pressure from the front office Thomas referred to came from former team president Alec Scheiner among others in the building to get Manziel on the field because Hoyer had hit a rough patch and began throwing interceptions over a 3-week span at an alarming rate. Thomas said he could see the change coming a mile away.
“Everybody that was on the football side of things that saw him practice, that saw him prepare – or lack of prepare – saw him in the meeting room, saw that he wasn’t mature enough, [knew] he wouldn’t be able to handle it,” Thomas said of Manziel. “But the first moment that [Brian] Hoyer slips up, now you’ve got those very powerful people in the front office saying, ‘You gotta play this guy, you gotta play this guy’ and it went on for a couple of weeks and finally it got to the point where they won the argument and we had to play Johnny and as soon as that happened it was like everybody on the football side just gave up because they knew what the results were going to be like.
“They knew that while the whole run around and throw the ball up in the air works in college, that’s not something that works in the NFL. You have to have that baseline amount of preparation to be able to go out there and proficiently operate offensively to give your team a chance to win and if you don’t do that it’s just not gonna happen.”
Manziel, who threw for just 80 yards, couldn’t get the Browns past midfield in his debut as a starter in a 30-0 blowout by the Bengals. Manziel threw a pair of interceptions and was sacked 3 times in the game. That loss dropped the Browns to 7-7 and all but ended their chances to win the division or make the playoffs.
“I don’t think Johnny was ready to play,” Hawkins added. “I think Johnny would say that. If we had Johnny on the show right now I think Johnny would tell us that it was a bad look for him to be thrown into that situation. It probably helped his trajectory in the opposite direction because we were rolling. We were 7-4 in 2014, but it’s decisions like that that get you fired because it’s hard to get to 7-4 in this league. It’s hard to get 7-4 in this division ans especially with the history that we have with the Browns.”
Pettine along with GM Ray Farmer were fired after a disastrous 3-13 2015 season while the Browns have gone 4-47 since that fateful decision to start Manziel.
Manziel, whose off the field escapades included an accusation of assault wile with the Browns, has yet to play a down of football since being cut in February 2016 but he has been offered a contract by the Hamilton Tiger-Cats of the Canadian Football League.
On Sunday Manziel trolled the Browns with an Instagram post that included the caption “0-16szn,” which he later removed.
While what Thomas shared Thursday on the podcast is revisionist history, it’s a reminder of an awful decision that has led to the franchise completely spiraling out of control and it’s one they’ve yet to recover from.
UNITERRUPTED’s ‘ThomaHawk Show’ podcast is available on iTunes and the Android store for subscription and download.