Conventional wisdom might suggest the Cleveland Browns need to find their quarterback this offseason. If the options aren’t right, however, it doesn’t make sense to force a decision.
The Cleveland Browns have been a struggling franchise ever since returning to the league as an expansion team in 1999. The biggest problem has been the lack of a franchise quarterback, and until the Browns find one, it feels unlikely that the team will develop into a legitimate contender.
This is why there is a lot of buzz about the Browns and their quarterback search this offseason. There is a need and there are multiple options for the team to take. The Browns seem interested in acquiring a veteran quarterback like New England Patriots backup Jimmy Garoppolo. However, league insiders like ESPN’s Adam Schefter remain adamant that the Patriots aren’t going to part with Garoppolo.
“They know the value of quarterbacks and they’re not in the market of getting rid of 25-year-old quarterbacks even if they have a year left on their contract,” Schefter said during an appearance on SportsCenter, per Mary Kay Cabot of Cleveland.com. “Jimmy Garoppolo is not going to be traded.”
The Browns might be able to make the Patriots an offer they cannot refuse, of course, and if the team cannot get Garoppolo, there is always the draft. The team is armed with the first and 12th overall picks in the draft, nine other draft picks and a ton of cap room. They also have a first- and three second-round picks in next year’s draft.
Cleveland has the ammunition to take any quarterback it wants in this draft class, but is there a reason to do so? Should the team use a package of high picks to secure Garoppolo?
The answer to both questions is no. If Cleveland isn’t totally enamored with any of the incoming signal-callers, then there’s absolutely no sense in drafting one this year. There also isn’t a reason to mortgage the team’s draft future for Garoppolo when he might be a free agent next offseason either.
The reality is that the Browns are not a quarterback away from being a legitimate contender, and the general consensus is that none of the quarterbacks in this class will be ready to start from Day 1. Unless the Browns believe one of the quarterbacks has enough upside to develop into a champion, there’s no reason to even think about forcing a pick this year.
The belief is that next year’s crop of quarterbacks will be stronger. Guys like USC’s Sam Darnold and UCLA’s Josh Rosen could be available and could be worlds ahead of where this quarterback class currently lies. Teams are already so high on Darnold, for example, that he was apparently one of the biggest topics at the scouting combine.
Text from NFL exec– biggest talk at Combine, and it’s not close–USC QB is rare. (It’s tough to ignore him when you’re studying other guys)
So unless the Browns believe a guy like Mitchell Trubisky, Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson can eventually be better than a guy like Rosen—even if it takes longer to develop him—then it makes more sense to wait and make a play for a quarterback next offseason. This year’s picks could be better spent elsewhere.
This is believed to be a draft heavy in defensive talent. It’s not unrealistic to believe the Browns can get three or even four quality defensive starters with the selections they currently hold. The team transformed the offensive line in free agency by adding Kevin Zeitler and J.C. Tretter while extending Joel Bitonio. Cleveland could similarly transform the defense by focusing on that side of the ball in the draft.
By the time Cleveland is ready to make a play for its quarterback next offseason, the team could be much closer to competing. Adding a Darnold or a Garoppolo next offseason might be enough to push the Browns into playoff territory.
The question for now then becomes, what do the Browns do at quarterback. The only signal-callers on the roster now are second-year guys Cody Kessler and Kevin Hogan. Well, rolling with Kessler might not actually be the worst idea in the world.
I wrote last season that it might not make sense to continue starting Kessler, but the situation then was different. Kessler seemed to have hit the rookie wall, was consistently getting battered behind a woeful offensive line, and the Browns wanted a final look at Robert Griffin III.
Considering Kessler’s rookie limitations and the limited talent around him, though, he really didn’t perform that poorly. Kessler struggled to push the ball downfield, but he did complete 65.6 percent of his passes and post a quarterback rating of 92.3. Pro Football Focus rated Kessler 17th among all quarterbacks in passing and 36th among all quarterbacks overall. Pro Football Focus also rated Hogan and Kessler second and third overall, respectively, among all rookies for the season.
There’s a very real chance that Kessler or even Hogan could be more ready to start this season than any of the rookies. It might be worth it to see how they perform with a reliable line in front of them as well. This isn’t about developing one of the quarterbacks the Browns have, it’s about having enough ability under center to develop other positions. If Cleveland is only going to win a handful of games in 2017, the team can do it with a guy like Kessler at quarterback.
What’s another lost season for a franchise that has won five or fewer games 13 times since 1999? There’s just no rational reason to panic and pull the trigger on a quarterback this offseason if there’s a legitimate chance of landing a truly special talent next year.
Waiting is a risk, obviously—Watson seemed like a pretty special talent this time last offseason—but panicking is how the Browns ended up wasting time on guys like Brandon Weeden and Johnny Manziel. Time is one thing the Brown shouldn’t be wasting on the quarterback position, not when waiting just a bit longer might finally solidify it.