Despite the presence of 2014 first-round pick Johnny Manziel, the Browns will be open to upgrading the quarterback position during the offseason, reports Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer. Head coach Mike Pettine noted last week that the club would still have doubts about Manziel even if his play improved over the last two games of the season. Manziel missed most of today’s game against the Panthers after suffering a hamstring injury, and with his status for the season finale uncertain, Cleveland will have even less information with which to make a judgement on its rookie signal-caller.
The new contractual bargaining agreement likely plays a role in the Browns thinking in this situation, as the terms of the CBA drastically reduced the earning potential of rookies, even first-rounders like Manziel. Manziel, chosen twenty-second overall, will count only $1.87MM against the cap in 2015, $2.25MM in ’16, and $2.62MM in ’17; Cleveland will then hold a fifth-year option for 2018. The Texas A&M product has just the 15th-highest cap figure on the Browns roster this season, and only the 12th-highest in 2015. Essentially, the CBA allows the Browns to retain Manziel at such a low cost that it’s conceivable they could simply employ him as a backup quarterback. Additionally, the modest cap numbers make Manziel more attractive to clubs interested in acquiring the young QB, if Cleveland is inclined to trade him.
League sources tell Cabot that Browns general manger Ray Farmer has long been fascinated by Oregon quarterback Marcus Mariota, who is widely expected to be a top-five pick in the 2014 draft. Cleveland will hold two mid-first-round picks thanks to its draft-day trade with the Bills earlier this year — given the current standings, the Browns would pick at No. 14 and No. 19. As Cabot writes, a move up to acquire Mariota is possible, but unlikely, given that the cost could rival what Washington parted with to select Robert Griffin III. In addition to both its 2015 first-rounders, Cleveland would probably have to surrender its 2016 first-round choice in order to move up.
Cabot also speculates that the Browns could bring in a veteran quarterback next season, either to replace Manziel if he’s dealt, or to act as a bridge as he continues his development. Hoyer is unlikely to return to Cleveland, as the Browns don’t view him as a long-term starter. But Jay Cutler is believed to be available via trade, and a number of mid-tier options, such as Mark Sanchez, Ryan Mallett, and Jake Locker will be unrestricted free agents after the season.