Oh, what a difference 80-something days can make. Not even three months ago, Cleveland Browns fans were all too eager to punt on the 2015, even before it officially started. And why? To lock down the pole position in next year's NFL draft, figuring that Ohio State quarterback Cardale Jones would be the belle of the ball.
Funny how life works. The Browns' season has been every bit the failure those fans hoped for -- with five games left in its season, Cleveland is positioned to receive the No. 2 overall pick, behind only Tennessee. With the Titans still invested in the Marcus Mariota Project, the Browns would have their pick of any quarterback they wanted. #FailForCardale is playing out to perfection.
The Browns' season is in the dumps, and their quarterback position has been a mess. Josh McCown has been an admirable veteran, turning in respectable performances and offering stability alongside the messy PR nightmare that has become Johnny Manziel's career.
But McCown, for all his strengths, is 36 and not a long-term solution. Manziel is supposed to be answer under center, but last month he held the official starting job for mere days before dropping to third on the depth chart. The reason: Not so much his weekend party binge in Texas, but rather his decision to lie to the team about it.
Cleveland's front office is annoyed, its coach is disappointed, and Manziel's two years with the team have yet to show he can be their franchise quarterback. The stage is set for Cardale Jones, right? #FailForCardale worked! Cleveland's best export since LeBron James is coming back home to right the ship!
There's only one problem: Cardale Jones.
After a stunning three-game run to a national championship last year, Jones enjoyed an offseason with all the hype and expectation you reserve for, say, a Johnny Football. Jones threw out first pitches, he met superstars, he turned down the NFL to spend another year at Ohio State. His coach, Urban Meyer, convinced him he was a raw product, in need of refinement that would come with another year at the college level, where he could polish his considerable talents and enter the 2016 NFL draft as the runaway favorite of a lucky, moribund, QB-hungry franchise.
Ugh, if only dreams were reality. Jones stayed humble and vowed to work hard during the offseason, but this season didn't produce positive results. After an unimpressive run as Ohio State's starter, Jones was bench midseason for J.T. Barrett. After a small sample size in 2014 where he posted an adjusted QB rating of 72.1, Jones managed just a 51.3 in 2015.
In other words, the #FailForCardale bandwagon dissolved overnight. But the Browns kept tanking, except that they were trying very hard to win games. Browns fans did not see this coming: They thought they would have to make an effort to be bad. Instead, "bad" became this team's ceiling.
Now Browns fans are in a pickle. Josh McCown was injured Monday night, and he'll miss the rest of the season. That likely opens the door to Manziel returning to the starting job, using the rest of the season as an audition. Is Cleveland willing to hang its hopes on Manziel, warts and all, or hope that he crashes and burns, prompting the Browns front office to cut bait and draft another quarterback?
Jones won't be at the top of anyone's draft board, as many draft experts see him as a mid-round prospect. His talents are still raw, and there are maturity issues to consider. Manziel has already put the team through the ringer, so drafting a questionable character like Jones means Cleveland can only blame itself if the pattern repeats itself.
You'd think Browns fans, for all the suffering they've endured over the years, would have learned every lesson in the book. Sadly, Cardale Jones offers the franchise yet another cautionary quarterback tale. The Browns did their part -- they failed. Unfortunately, so did Cardale.