The working assumption for months has been that the Browns would use the No. 1 pick on Myles Garrett. And then, a mere two weeks out from the 2017 draft, came this from ESPN’s Adam Schefter:
“At No. 1, they are deciding between Myles Garrett, the presumptive No. 1 pick, and Mitchell Trubisky,” Schefter said during a TV spot, after tweeting a similar sentiment. “There are people in that organization who want to take Mitchell Trubisky. There is legitimate love and respect for his abilities. While Myles Garrett may be the top-rated player in this draft, Mitchell Trubisky might just be the top-rated player at the most important position in the draft, and there’s a certain value placed on quarterbacks that isn’t attached to other positions.”
Obviously, swapping out Garrett for Trubisky atop the draft would have a wide-ranging ripple effect. What would it all mean for the Browns, the 49ers, the rest of the top quarterback prospects and even Garrett himself?
Let’s take it from the top …
Maybe. Any rumor that surfaces earlier than about 48 hours before the draft has to be met with some skepticism, but it’s clear that the Browns (correctly) do not feel all that confident about their current QB group: Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan and Brock Osweiler. Let’s not forget that when the Browns completed their surprise trade with Houston for Osweiler, they announced it by touting the second-round draft pick they had received.
At the combine, before Cleveland traded for Osweiler and released Robert Griffin III, coach Hue Jackson was asked if he’d be O.K. heading into 2017 with the QB depth chart as is.
His response: “I think we have to feel that way because that potentially could happen. … But I know we’re doing anything and everything we can to improve that position.”
Along with Garrett going No. 1, it has also been a foregone conclusion that the Browns would use pick 12 or 33 to add a quarterback, be it by drafting one or trading for, say, Jimmy Garoppolo. So, if the Browns have a QB they want at 12—the tea leaves read Ohio native Trubisky before Schefter’s report—pulling the trigger at 1 would save them the nail-biting wait that would come during the next 10 picks.
Jackson has a long history as an offensive coach, and he was forced to stumble through his debut Cleveland season with Kessler, Griffin and Josh McCown splitting time as his starter. Should the Browns nab Trubisky to open the 2017 draft, it would be safe to assume Jackson’s fingerprints were all over the decision.
Pretty simple one here: They’d take Myles Garrett. Probably. Unless …
Well, unless they, too, have fallen in love with a quarterback. In this scenario, that QB would have to be someone other than Trubisky, so the 49ers would have to be quite smitten with Patrick Mahomes or DeShone Kizer or Deshaun Watson to bypass Garrett after he fell into their laps.
This spins back to the point Schefter made: Quarterbacks tend to be valued differently during the draft (at least by teams without a starter) than any other position. How many positional bonus points would a prospect need to leapfrog Garrett, in the eyes of the Browns and/or 49ers?
Even if Cleveland and San Francisco shift their respective boards to account for their need at quarterback, that should not completely offset the draft values of the other prospects. Garrett, for example, does not become any less impressive a player just because the 49ers presently have a Brian Hoyer/Mark Sanchez combo at quarterback. A QB should only hop over a non-QB prospect if the two were extremely close in evaluation to begin with.
If the 49ers have a desire to trade down, as it appears they do, Trubisky coming off the board at No. 1 would help them on almost all levels. The 49ers could float Garrett to any number of teams—pick a franchise within striking distance and it could use the Texas A&M product. They also could dangle the other QBs, if they’re set on not taking one.
However, it seems rather obvious the 49ers should race to the podium for Garrett if the Browns pass.
Whenever the first quarterback comes off the board, it ratchets up the desperation level for the other teams eyeing that position. Supply and demand. Not only would a Trubisky-at-1 scenario open up the 49ers’ options, it would give any GM hoping to trade down a natural starting point for talks.
The questions are: Which teams are willing to sit out the Round 1 QB derby? And which might be anxious enough to move up?
Cross off Tennessee, Carolina, Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Baltimore, Tampa Bay, Denver, Detroit, Miami, the Giants, Oakland, Seattle, Dallas, Green Bay, Pittsburgh (unless Ben Roethlisberger changes course and follows through on that retirement threat) and Atlanta. Those teams are not taking a quarterback in Round 1. Add the Rams, Patriots and Vikings—none have a first-round pick, and one has Tom Brady.
That leaves 12 franchises as possible QB landing spots: Cleveland, San Francisco, Chicago, Jacksonville (assuming you buy that the Jaguars would bail on Blake Bortles), the Jets, the Chargers, Buffalo, New Orleans, Arizona, Washington, Houston and Kansas City. A handful of teams on that list are more obvious than others, but all could be in the market.
“There’s no fine line,” said Chargers GM Tom Telesco of when it’s time to look for a QB of the future. “Since I’ve been here, we’ve always done as much work, [put] as much resources in the quarterback position as every other position—even though we have Philip Rivers. Philip’s still playing at a very high level. Has a number of years left in his career. But that’s such an important position. We’re always evaluating it, always putting a lot of work into it. There’s really no fine line. We’re working at that position just like we’re working all the others.”
O.K., so a dozen teams might take a QB in Round 1. Eleven are still in the picture after the Browns nab Trubisky in this hypothetical.
Whether or not the Browns take that leap, the draft is set up for a possible QB run either in the top-10 range (Buffalo at 10, New Orleans at 11 and Arizona at 13 are included in that designation) or at the tail end of Day 1 (Houston has pick 25, Kansas City has 27). If Trubisky is off the board immediately, though, it’s hard to imagine the rest of the QBs lingering until those Texans and Chiefs spots.
If the Browns take Garrett at No. 1, they still have enough ammunition—picks 12, 33, 52 and 65—to climb back into the top 10 or maybe even the top five to add a QB, as well.
In theory, they could use the same approach even if they go with Trubisky out of the gate. Take the UNC QB with the first pick, then pull off a trade with the Jaguars, Titans or Jets (at picks 4, 5 and 6, respectively) for a player like Marshon Lattimore, Jamal Adams or Solomon Thomas. Exiting the opening round with Trubisky and one of those prospects would make for a terrific haul, unconventional as the path to that combo would have been.
Should they stay put at 12, the Browns likely would find at least one of the following players: Reuben Foster, Jonathan Allen, O.J. Howard, Leonard Fournette, Derek Barnett, Malik Hooker, Jamal Adams, Mike Williams and Corey Davis. Those are all prospects with top-10 buzz, but they all won’t make it into the top 10—though Lattimore and Thomas are virtual locks to be taken in picks 2 through 10.
Howard arguably fits the least of the Browns’ needs, since they already have Gary Barnidge on the roster, but any of those prospects would provide a substantial talent boost.
Cleveland’s front office also could look to then trade down to keep stockpiling picks or to swing pick 12 or 33 elsewhere for a known quantity.
“I think it provides us a lot of flexibility in terms of how we build the roster and [what we] could be patching together to move up to get a player we covet and target,” Cleveland GM Sashi Brown said. “Could be again acquiring a player from another roster. So it gives you a lot of flexibility as you move forward. Kind of our ‘worst-case scenario,’ we have a bag of young talented players that we frankly need to build our foundation and move on toward winning.”
Is taking Garrett at 1 worth potentially missing out on Trubisky, assuming that is the quarterback Cleveland wants? Would, for example, a Trubisky-Foster or Trubisky–Gareon Conley combo move the Browns far enough down the road back toward competitiveness?
Those are interesting conversation starters, and the Browns without question are having those talks. Still, turning down Garrett at No. 1 would count as a shocking twist. The pressure would be on Trubisky, then, to justify such a decision.