Johnny Manziel, who faces the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on Sunday, is one of 23 different quarterbacks to start for the Cleveland Browns since 1999 — 12 more than Seattle over the same span.
On April 27, 2012, the Seahawks crossed their fingers, selected linebacker Bobby Wagner in the second round of the NFL draft, and hoped against hope that Russell Wilson would be available when they picked again.
He was, at No. 75 overall, much to the chagrin of numerous teams who swore after the fact that they were on the verge of selecting Wilson. That masterstroke by the Seahawks has repaid them in multitudes of ways, including 50 victories in their next 69 games (playoffs included) and the elimination of quarterback as a question mark for the next, oh, decade or so.
Contrast that with the Seahawks’ opponent on Sunday, the Cleveland Browns, who have been unsuccessfully searching for a productive — and lasting — field general since they were reincarnated as an expansion franchise in 1999.
Johnny Manziel, who lugs his baggage into CenturyLink Field on Sunday, is one of 23 different QBs to start for the Browns since ’99 — 12 more than Seattle over the same span. And not one of them has stuck, some flaming out in spectacular fashion, others slinking off in anonymity, never to be missed, and barely to be remembered. Manziel is their third starter this year, along with Josh McCown and Austin Davis.
In an entirely related development, the Browns have also gone through coaches at a whirlwind rate, another area where the Seahawks are a fount of stability in comparison.
To understand why the Seahawks have been a consistent winner (nine playoff berths in the past 12 seasons) while the Browns have become an NFL joke, one need look no further than their contrasting history at the intertwined posts of coach and QB. (Though Cleveland fans would be happy to provide you with a litany of other misfortunes, bungles and various indignities that have contributed to their ongoing ineptitude.)
Mike Pettine — the man who opined on Wednesday that Wilson is not quite elite, from the vantage point of watching his own starter be light years away from elite — is in his second, and quite possibly last, season as Browns coach.
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Pettine followed the one-and-done Rob Chudzinski, who followed the two-and-done Pat Shurmur and Eric Mangini. Heck, this is an organization that didn’t even have the sense to hang on to to Bill Belichick, who was fired by former Browns owner Art Modell (I’ll pause for the reflexive booing by Cleveland fans) one week after the franchise’s move to Baltimore was announced in 1996. I’ve lost track of Belichick since then, but heard rumors he landed on his feet.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, thrived in a 10-year span under Mike Holmgren (whose magic would not rub off on the Browns during his three-year stint as team president). Matt Hasselbeck was their quarterback throughout Holmgren’s tenure, leading them into the Super Bowl in 2005. After one year with Jim Mora, Seattle is in its sixth season under Pete Carroll, resulting in the franchise’s greatest successes, including a Super Bowl title.
Much of that is due to the decision, second-guessed at the time, to hitch their wagon to the undersized Wilson. In that same 2012 draft, the Browns used their first-round pick on 28-year-old Brandon Weeden, who would wash out in Cleveland much like Tim Crouch (No. 1 overall in 1999), Brady Quinn (first round in 2007), Colt McCoy (third round in 2010) and Charlie Frye (third round in 2005), not to mention the rogues’ gallery of veterans brought in. They’ve tried both McCown brothers, Luke and Josh; they’ve tried ex-Seahawks Trent Dilfer and Seneca Wallace; they’ve tried past-their-prime veterans like Jake Delhomme and Jeff Garcia, and barely-knowns like Thaddeus Lewis and Spergon Wynn.
From 2007 to 2012, the Browns started a different QB in the opener each season: Frye, Derek Anderson, Quinn, Delhomme, McCoy and Weeden. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2002, or won a division title since 1993 (three years before the franchise moved to Baltimore). They’ll bring a 3-10 record, tied for the NFL’s worst, into Sunday’s game, ensuring their eighth straight losing season.
On Wednesday, Pettine talked about how Manziel is slowly winning back the team’s confidence after an off-field incident earlier this season in which he was photographed partying during Cleveland’s bye week.
“Outside of the hiccup that’s been talked about way too much over the bye week, outside of that incident, his preparation has been very much on point,’’ Pettine said.
The Seahawks, meanwhile, are on the verge of clinching their fourth straight playoff berth. And they are watching Wilson thrive in a four-game stretch the likes of which the NFL has rarely seen. Carroll said recently it takes a good six or seven years for a quarterback to fully master the intricacies of the position in the NFL and reach his peak.
“He’ll continue to get better for the next few years,’’ Carroll said of Wilson. “Then he’ll pretty much have seen everything he could see, and he’ll have been through it all.”
Maybe one day, the Browns will actually see one of their quarterbacks make it through that entire cycle.