Johnny Manziel's time as the starting quarterback Cleveland Browns may not be through, and the second-year passer could be back in the huddle as early as next week against the San Francisco 49ers, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.
While Manziel's return to the starting lineup is largely dependent on the performance of Austin Davis, who nearly led the Browns to a victory over the Baltimore Ravens on Monday, it has also raised questions about Mike Pettine's authority. The Browns head coach has been firm about his decision to demote Manziel to third on the depth chart, but Rapoport said some in the organization believe Pettine is just trying to "exert his presence."
If Davis plays well, Pettine's decision to keep Manziel on the sideline can be validated, but if the team is forced to turn to its 2014 first-round pick again, it could further reveal a divide between the head coach and an organization that is 2-9 and has a healthy history of incompetence and impatience. Via Conor Orr of NFL.com:
It seems as though the relationship between Pettine and the rest of the organization is not quite as simpatico as we're led to believe. When a team is this universally unhappy with a player, you often hear about a potential cut or trade. If Manziel's attitude is this detrimental in the eyes of everyone, why is he still on the team?
Manziel has appeared in seven games for the Browns in 2015 with three starts. His 59.4 completion percentage is much higher than the 51.4 percent he posted as a rookie and he threw five touchdowns with two interceptions. Manziel was named the starter for the remainder of the season and then benched just one week later after video surfaced that showed him partying. The Browns inserted Josh McCown back into the starting lineup in his place and dropped Manziel to third on the depth chart, behind Davis.
McCown suffered a broken collarbone against the Ravens that sent him to injured reserve, and the Browns will start Davis on Sunday against the Cincinnati Bengals, which is a much tougher test than Baltimore. Davis made eight starts for the St. Louis Rams in 2014, leading the team to a 3-5 record in those starts with 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
One advantage of reinserting Manziel in the starting lineup is that it will give the team more of a chance to evaluate the 23-year-old quarterback before the 2016 offseason. While he has made strides since entering the NFL, there are still plenty of questions about his development yet to be answered and more time to watch him could give the Browns a better idea of what to do in the offseason.
If the Browns elect to part ways with Manziel, the Cowboys, Eagles, Rams and 49ers have all been speculated as potential landing spots for the former Heisman Trophy winner.