Brian Hoyer or Johnny Manziel?
The long term answer is obvious, and there will be plenty of season previews in the future to dissect and analyze Johnny Manziel's game, but for now the former Heisman Trophy winner and 22nd overall draft pick will start the year as a backup QB.
In a typical year where a team invests a high draft pick on a quarterback, the combination of that team not having anyone better on the roster and the promise of the new guy leads to an easy decision for coaches, to go with the promise and start the rookie right out of the gate.
But while Manziel certainly fits the role of QB with potential, the Browns may still have a better option in holdover Brian Hoyer.
The 28-year-old journeyman QB started three games for the Browns last year, after the team mercifully gave up on the Brandon Weeden experiment and before he was lost for the year with a knee injury.
In Hoyer's three starts, he threw for 615 yards and five touchdowns to three interceptions, completing nearly 60 percent of his passes. Perhaps more importantly, Hoyer's three starts accounted for three of the team's four wins on the season.
In a perfect world, the undrafted free agent would have escaped Kiko Alonso's tackle and played out the rest of the year. In that scenario the Browns would have a better idea if Hoyer is a legit talent or just a mediocre QB who got injured before he could come back down to earth from his hot streak.
Now ex-general manager Michael Lombardi was Hoyer's biggest fan and the new regime drafted Manziel in the first round for a reason, but that doesn't mean they won't employ the veteran at least as a stop-gap.
“I would say it's a tall task, for a couple reasons,” head coach Mike Pettine told The Chronicle-Telegram of Manziel's chances of starting Week 1. “One, he's a rookie coming in learning the system. He's learning something that's completely new to him, so he's got all new verbiage and reads and that type of thing working against him.”
“And then the guy (Hoyer) he's competing with is an NFL veteran who's learned from one of the best in the game, who's very prepared, very focused. It's a very true statement, it will be difficult.”
Still, Manziel is no doubt the future, and unless the Browns start 3-0 under Hoyer the sooner the better for Browns fans. Manziel has been good in camp, slowly stealing first-team reps from Hoyer, and putting up a 30-59 for 296 yards and two touchdowns line in the preseason. Most believe Manziel's time will come midway through the season, probably around the same time the Jacksonville Jaguars start Blake Bortles and maybe even when the Oakland Raiders turn to Derek Carr. It won't be until then that the rookie QB race is on and all eyes will be on Manziel, and not just Monday to Saturday.
Whether it's Hoyer or Manziel, either would have benefited from the presence of receiver Josh Gordon, who is arguably a top three pass catcher in the league. But it looks like that's not going to be the case. Gordon, who led the league in receiving yards with 1,646 last year, will be suspended for multiple marijuana busts.
The Browns conducted the longest head coaching search of the off-season this year, after firing Rod Chudzinski after just one season. Mike Pettine may end up being a solid choice, but it would be hard for the Browns to argue he was there first choice. After seeing a number of candidates accept other positions, or stay in their current situations, Pettine seemed closer to a leftover hire than a coach in demand.
While Manziel dominated all the headlines in early May, he was only the second player taken by the Browns after CB Justin Gilbert was nabbed with the eighth overall pick. Gilbert, like high second round pick Joel Bitonio, an offensive tackle out of Nevada, aren't nearly as flashy as Manziel but should be stable talents and building blocks for the Browns for years to come.
Two of the Browns big free agent signings are NFL talents for sure, but may not be as good as the guy they're tasked with replacing. After releasing longtime Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson, Cleveland signed former Arizona Cardinals LB Karlos Dansby and once safety T.J. Ward left via free agency, the Browns grabbed the next best safety on the market in Donte Whitner. Two other intriguing free agent signings were RB Ben Tate and WR Andrew Hawkins. Each have shown flashes of talent in their limited roles before signing on for bigger roles in Cleveland.