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Johnny Manziel looks like an NFL starter -- even if it's not in Cleveland

Cleveland Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel looks to pass on the run in the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Thursday, Nov. 5, 2015, in Cincinnati. The Bengals won 31-10. (AP Photo/Frank Victores)

Johnny Manziel has three more games worth of time in the shop window. Like a store display designed to lure in customers before the holidays, his time is limited, but it could secure him a buyer.

Maybe his career in Cleveland can be rescued over that time, too, but it seems more likely that Manziel’s best bet is putting enough impressive play on tape that a quarterback-needy team comes calling, intrigued by his upside and prepared to bite given the dearth of other options around.

The bottom line is that Manziel has at least shown something for the Browns this season, in a league where far too many quarterbacks see the field who don’t show anything. He has produced positive grades in his last two starts, and in pretty much every game he has played this year he has made a couple of big plays — even if they haven’t always outweighed the bad.

Johnny Football was never likely to be a prototypical NFL passer, but what always intrigued teams was the X-factor he brought to the game that few others could. The way Brett Favre would always make occasional “wow” plays, often before making other “oh, wow” bad plays, Manziel has the ability to improvise and succeed when the script runs out of instructions.

This season, while most quarterbacks see their passer rating under pressure drop by over 30 points, Manziel’s only slips from 91.9 to 84.2, and it actually went up against the 49ers — to 116.7 — when they were able to apply heat. He still makes plenty of poor plays when pressured, and his overall grade is far worse, but the encouraging part is actually how he has played when kept clean.

This is usually the starting point for viability in the NFL, and Manziel this season has completed 68 percent of his passes from a clean pocket with a positive PFF grade on those plays. Compare that to the Jets' Ryan Fitzpatrick, for example – a similar maverick style of player – and he comes out looking very favorable. Fitzpatrick has a negative PFF grade from a clean picket and has completed only 63.6 percent of his passes, with a lower yards-per-attempt figure and a slightly higher passer rating (93.7). Fitzpatrick has the Jets at 8-5 and firmly in the playoff hunt, and is not a terrible starter at the position.

We are only talking about plays here in which both players were kept clean in the pocket, but that is the first step, and the perceived weakness of Manziel as a prospect. Could he operate as a pocket passer from within the pocket without having to break it down and improvise? So far the answer has been a resounding yes, and at least on the field he has earned the chance to develop the other aspects of his game.

Of course, Manziel brings off-field baggage with him, and it’s that baggage that has tested the patience of the Browns and meant he has only been turned to as an option of last resort. But Manziel is a talented player, and even if the Browns are done with him, it makes sense for them to keep him in the shop window, because he might show enough over the final three games of the season for another team to come calling and offer the team something in a trade.

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