By Rixon Lane
Wow, how about that 2014 season, huh? Not exactly what you anticipated, was it? Then again, a 7-9 record might have been just what you were picturing back on May 8th. You remember that night. It was the night that the stars aligned (for real this time) for your Browns!
The Browns traded with the Philadelphia Eagles for the right to select Jonathan Manziel, a Heisman Trophy winner and lightning-rod quarterback out of Texas, the 22nd-overall pick who would help put the franchise on the road to prosperity. Never mind that you had seen that exact pick play out rather poorly with a golden boy Golden Domer (Brady Quinn, 22nd pick in 2007) and a quick-trigger Cowboy with the experience of a grizzled vet (Brandon Weeden, 22nd pick in 2012). This time it would be different. This was Johnny Football.
And then, Johnny Football arrived.
Since that evening in Radio City Music Hall, your future quarterback has stunned team officials with his partying habits, been photographed rolling dollar bills in a bathroom in Texas, ridden an inflatable swan, flipped off an opposing bench during a preseason game, made his first career start (in which he completed 10 passes for 80 yards and was intercepted twice), gotten injured in his second career start, thrown a party while on injured reserve which led to a player oversleeping for a team meeting, and required team security to locate him during the week of the regular season finale.
Browns fans, you're in a bad relationship.
If this fling doesn't work out, and it's off to a pretty rocky start, Manziel still has a $4,318,980 signing bonus, an annual salary of over $2 million, endorsement deals, and a bevy of blonde Aggie co-eds waiting for him whenever he comes home. You, meanwhile, will have nothing.
Unless you take a chance on Connor Shaw.
Listen, Cleveland, I know he's not what you hoped for when this season started. However, if you're going to make an omelet, you have to crush some eggs. Manziel is the egg that has gone bad unbeknownst to you and is inevitably going to crack open at the most inopportune time. You don't want that slimy gunk all over you when it happens. You get enough of that from Lake Erie.
Meanwhile, Connor Shaw is your basic ham and cheese omelet. No one is going to mistake him for a smoked mozzarella and roasted red pepper frittata, but, by gosh, you know what it's going to taste like when you bite into it.
I. He's Been Here Before
You might not realize it, Browns fans, but Connor Shaw wasn't always the pride and joy of Gamecock football. In fact, not too long ago, there was another quarterback who South Carolina fans clamored for on game day and who drove those fans to both ecstasy and despair.
Shaw arrived in Columbia in January of 2010 after playing two years of quarterback for his father at Flowery Branch High School in Georgia. As a sophomore, he was a wide receiver, which may have something to do with why the Browns put him at safety on the scout team for part of the 2014 season. When he got to South Carolina, the starting quarterback job was up for grabs. Except that it wasn't.
Stephen Garcia, a confident sword-enthusiast from Florida was South Carolina's starting quarterback. He was also three arrests and three suspensions into his Gamecock career and was wearing on the patience of some South Carolina fans. There were those who hoped the former coach's son would unseat Garcia as the starter.
Then, Garcia led the Gamecocks to a win over top-ranked Alabama and the school's first appearance in the SEC championship in 2010. And when Shaw started the 2011 season opener and needed Garcia to bail him out of a 17-0 hole against East Carolina, it appeared that his window to start for the Gamecocks had closed. Garcia broke the window open weeks later when he failed an alcohol test and was dismissed from the program.
Shaw proceeded to go 27-5 as a starter for a team that had only one double-digit win season in its history prior to his arrival.
In fact, Cleveland, South Carolina's football program isn't all that different from yours. Both have incredibly loyal fan bases who longed for competitive, winning teams through many lean years. Shaw's been the guy who helped put a team on the map. And, if we're being totally honest with each other, you've trotted out way worse over the years.
There was Luke McCown, who Butch Davis brought in because he liked how he played in high school. There was Ty Detmer, who you paid $3 million dollars and who started exactly one game before losing his job to a rookie. And there was Spergon Wynn, a quarterback who completed less than half his passes in college that you picked ahead of Tom Brady and who threw for 17 yards in his first career start, which was a 48-0 loss to Jacksonville.
Browns fans, you've seen 22 different starting quarterbacks since 1999. Things didn't go well with the first 21.
II. He's Not The Other Guy
No, that's not a dig at Johnny. It applies to pretty much anybody you could possibly consider quarterbacking the Browns.
Brian Hoyer? He's been benched for a rookie this season and produced one touchdown in a span of 29 possessions. Tyler Thigpen? Arrested for DUI at a Wendy's last month.
How about Manziel? Well, from the comments on your city's fine websites, it appears that Cleveland fans are already beginning to turn on Johnny Party. Shaw is married with an infant daughter, which he means he won't be sitting courtside with Drake anytime soon. He has never made headlines for late night escapades (although I did once see him standing outside a tavern in Columbia this summer, where he was not holding a stack of money as if it was a cell phone).
If you want swag, he's not your guy. The coolest thing he did during his college career was having a touchdown handshake...with the backup quarterback. This is about as much bravado as you'll ever get from him.
Speaking of people he's not, he's also not Doug Pederson, who took six years to earn his first start in the NFL. He's not Charlie Frye, who was benched after one half and traded after 48 hours. He's not Bruce Gradkowski, who racked up a grand total of 18 passing yards on 16 pass attempts.
I know it's painful to remember these things, but, in order to know where you're going, you must know where you've come from.
Connor Shaw isn't any of the 21 previous quarterbacks you've tried in Cleveland over the past 15 seasons. Which, frankly, means he's as qualified as anyone to try and take the job. Not being what you've had isn't the worst resume at this point.
Because you will learn, Cleveland, that Shaw is exactly what you are.
III. He's You
We've been honest with each other up to this point, so I'm not going to stop.
Connor Shaw is not going to lead your Browns to the Super Bowl.
That's alright, though. Because we both know you don't really need him to win a Super Bowl. You don't need him to even win a division. You need him to be what, in all likelihood, he will be in the National Football League.
A .500 quarterback.
The Browns haven't had a winning record since 2007, haven't made the postseason since 2002, and haven't won a playoff game since New Year's Day 1995. The team they beat that day, the New England Patriots? They've gone to the playoff 14 times since then and have played in six Super Bowls. You're 34-78 since 2008.
You're a .300 franchise, stuck in NFL purgatory. Not good enough to compete for anything meaningful, not incompetent enough to give fans hope for a top draft pick.
Connor Shaw will be watchable, which is all you care about. If LeBron James can't get your city a championship before he hangs up his sneakers, it's not going to happen anytime soon. Basketball is your chance, football is a distraction. And if you go with #9, all the distractions will be on the field, not in the local speakeasies.
You need more talent around him in order for this to work. The five receivers on your roster not named Josh Gordon caught six combined touchdowns this season and the one named Josh Gordon won't be around in 2015. You had the worst run defense in professional football this year. An 8-8 season will require more pieces.
But one of those pieces won't have to be at quarterback and the cycle of drafting and losing and replacing at the most important position in sports could stop.
Which frankly, after what you've been through over the last 15 years, would be shawsome.