This is the NFL's version of, "We'll treat you like an adult when you act like an adult."
The coaching staff kept him glued to the bench Monday night, even after Josh McCown left the game with a season-ending collarbone injury. And Manziel again will ride the pine this coming Sunday, with 26-year-old journeyman Austin Davis instead receiving his first start this season.
What exactly is Cleveland trying to accomplish here? Yes, Manziel was irresponsible yet again, and after finally being named starter no less. It is inexcusable for Johnny Football to put himself ahead of the team, especially if he wants to be handed the offense. But it's also ridiculous for the Browns to prioritize teaching Manziel a lesson over the present and future of the organization.
When McCown was coming back from a prior injury (ribs), coach Mike Pettine announced in no uncertain terms that the starting quarterback job was his to have when healthy.
"We’re tasked as coaches to put the roster out there that’s going to give us the best opportunity to win," Pettine said in a press conference prior to Week 10.
That statement was debatable then—did McCown actually give the Browns' offense more hope than Manziel? It's hypocritical now. So long as Manziel is showing up to practice and putting in his time on and off the field right now, there is no universe in which Austin Davis gives Cleveland more of a chance.
Worse yet, the longer Cleveland keeps Manziel in timeout, the more harm this whole situation threatens to carry over to 2016.
The Browns are headed into yet another uncertain off-season, with Pettine and GM Ray Farmer at least in danger of losing their jobs, if not already buried. Manziel's future is up in the air, too. It doesn't take much to connect the dots on a trade that sends Manziel to Dallas; Pettine has made it rather clear he's not going out of his way to facilitate the Manziel era with Cleveland.
As the situation stands now, though, as of the first week of December, Manziel is the best option the Browns have for their projected 2016 starting QB. Maybe the draft changes that, or free agency or a trade, but Manziel without question presents the most upside of any in-house option.
Not McCown, despite the three-year contract he signed prior to 2015. Certainly not Davis, who was no more than average during eight starts with St. Louis last season.
Lest we forget amidst all this uncertainty, Manziel was a Round 1 pick just last year. And he showed legitimate, tangible progress when Cleveland allowed him on the field this season, especially in a Week 10 loss to Pittsburgh—the very game before which Pettine made his McCown or bust declaration.
The Browns' plan to lock Manziel into the backup role during camp worked. It took the pressure off of him, allowed him to regroup from a tumultuous offseason and to learn behind McCown. He served that role well. His apparent improvement as an NFL quarterback was a bonus, because it's not at all easy to take those steps forward without seeing meaningful game action.
But if the Browns have any plans to start Manziel next season—and they should, barring another addition at the QB spot—then they need to learn by doing now.
They already handed him a rather stiff punishment for his night on the town, stripping him of his starting job ahead of a Monday night game and then using Davis as McCown's injury replacement. Extending this stalemate further is unnecessary and unhelpful.
Pettine owes it to his team to live up to those earlier words. So, which quarterback "gives [Cleveland] the best opportunity to win," both for the remainder of 2015 and beyond?
The answer is obvious: Johnny Manziel.