The Cleveland Browns are thankfully going back to DeShone Kizer as their starting quarterback in Week 7 after coach Hue Jackson benched him for last week’s beat down by the Houston Texans. But does this mean Kizer will finish the season with the job?
It wouldn’t truly be Browns football season if we weren’t talking about them mismanaging their starting quarterback position, the most important player of each NFL team.
But Jackson obliged by unreasonably benching his promising rookie quarterback, opting instead for unheralded former Stanford Cardinal signal-caller Kevin Hogan. He picked Hogan, who had played sparingly in mop-up and relief duty in a couple instances in prior weeks, despite previously committing to his inarguably more gifted rookie passer.
Now, Hogan did flash a little in small pockets, and Kizer was not exhibiting a great deal of development as far as outcomes and even nuance are concerned. But it’s pretty unfair to assess a player after less than four full games. While that’s true, he wasn’t yet showing that he was learning much from his mistakes. He was still making those same painstaking errors, holding the ball too long because he was missing reads, and ultimately still losing games.
It’s understandable that Jackson wanted to shake things up a little, both to motivate Kizer, give him a chance to breath and remove himself from the spotlight, and possibly to ignite his stagnant offense with Hogan. It’s hard to blame him, his job seat is getting warmer as he has to answer for achieving only one win in his first 22 games as Browns head coach. The losses seem to just keep piling up.
As we all know, Jackson’s desperate hope to redirect another apparently failed Browns season ended miserably. Hogan performed so terrible, maybe worse than any Browns quarterback in recent memory, that it’s unimaginable Jackson could make the decision to go back to him again.
The Browns were, thanks to Hogan’s futility, properly annihilated by the Texans in a game that was never really close despite an only two-touchdown final differential. Two touchdowns were not the difference between those teams last Sunday, more like six, or more. Still, it’s even worse, because rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson — the guy the Browns traded away the rights to draft to Houston — continued to maestro the Texans’ offense like a passing virtuoso, leaving the Browns on the apparent losing end of another passed over quarterback for draft equity maneuver.
There are two schools of thought on what happens next. The first approach says to give up on Kizer because he doesn’t appear to be a long-term answer, or that he needs more time to develop off the field in order to make that determination, mainly arguing that he shouldn’t be playing now at all. The second view is that Kizer needs to play now in order to develop, because growth happens best for NFL quarterbacks when playing, evaluating and implementing changes to fundamentals and approaches.
Hypothetically, if he doesn’t play because of the first approach, and the team inserts Cody Kessler as starter to finish the season, they have effectively lost the chance to evaluate his development and long-term potential while also potentially losing a chance to find a replacement. The worst-case scenario for the Browns is the one above. If Kessler wins some games and looks decent, and the team still doesn’t know what it has in Kizer, they may miss out on a premier quarterback prospect, either because of draft position or uncertainty and hope that Kizer can polish some things and improve next year. But that hope can’t be relied on. It would be empty and lacking game film and proper evaluation to support it.
The second school seems to make more sense. The Browns should allow Kizer to play in order to let him learn from mistakes, or not learn from them, to demonstrate one way or the other if he has the tools to progress in their offense. He doesn’t need to be a rookie of the year candidate, but some kind of measurable observance of progression has to take place. If he fails and doesn’t meet their benchmarks — not wins and losses — those categoric improvements in fundamentals, field progression and accuracy, then there should and would be some hesitancy to move forward with him as their pegged starting quarterback.
One season’s outcomes are not enough to give up on a player, but you can learn enough from how quarterbacks respond to mistakes in like circumstances in order to project their future development. That’s the goal. The end goal isn’t short-term results in the win column, or short-term development of a young wide receiver or offensive skill player. The quarterback’s potential for progression is and should be the primary focus of every offense that doesn’t have the position settled.
Should Kizer start the rest of the Browns season? It’s pretty clear that’s a good idea for the long-term health of their franchise. In order to solidify the quarterback position, the team needs to commit to the second approach and stick with it, not flip-flop. It takes courage and honesty, and an organization that’s in lock-step to stay true to a course that will undoubtedly face criticism due to those bad short-term outcomes.
We’ll see if Jackson is again ready to commit to his young quarterback to evaluate his future prospects. At this point, he doesn’t have many other good options, and their fates may be rightfully or wrongfully linked, for better or worse.