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An Unusual Approach To The Browns’ Quarterback Position - Ez Like Sunday Morning 5/28/17

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A Way Sashi Brown Could Be Increasing Our Odds

Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens
Cody Kessler was drafted near the end of the 3rd round
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Over the last two offseasons, the Cleveland Browns have had the opportunity to draft any quarterback that they wanted, except Jared Goff. Now, perhaps Goff is the ONLY quarterback head coach Hue Jackson wanted and since we couldn't have him, nobody else was worth it, for two years. Could also be that we just did not like any of the guys that were available (including Goff) and instead are waiting for the apparent pot of gold at the end of next draft season’s rainbow (assuming several underclassmen declare). Another possible explanation is: perhaps the strategy is not to draft 1st round QB’s, ever.

NFL: Cleveland Browns-OTA
DeShone Kizer was taken in the latter half of the 2nd round
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t say this to be miserly or judgmental - other than to say that if the Browns are doing what I think they’re doing, I would judge it to be quite sage. If not, then I would be curious to know what it is that’s going on. Having as many swings of the bat as they have had and not pulling the trigger on a guy until after all the ‘top-tier’ prospects have passed seems counter-intuitive for a franchise that’s been as starved for quality QB play as Cleveland has been.

“Quality” though, can really be defined in the case of the Browns as anyone that can start every game for an entire season. That is how low the bar is; that one thing has not happened during the rebirth of the franchise except once, by Tim Couch, in 2001. Last year, our woes at the position were of such ridiculous magnitude as to cause us to start an eye-popping FOUR different quarterbacks, with two others (including WR Terrelle Pryor) having to finish out games. You don’t have to look much further than that to understand 1-15, however if you want to anyway the defense is a great place to start.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
Remember that one time Kevin Hogan was actually our best option?
David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

At any rate, since we used the first pick of the expansion era on Couch we have not used a pick higher than (magical) number 22 on a QB, which of course we have done three times. Our other (lame) attempts at solving the issue via means other than the draft include Kelly Holcomb, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Derrick Anderson, Jake Delhomme, Seneca Wallace, Jason Campbell, Brian Hoyer, Josh McCown, and just last year, Robert Griffin III. That’s an impressive list

So then, after plodding through a period of ineptitude so profound as to reverse the once-established view of the Browns’ franchise as formidable (which did indeed last all the way up to the end in 1995) and with this being directly attributable (presumably) to the failure of the franchise to identify and acquire that ever-so-elusive QBOTF, why not then go for it when you have had so much capital in both 2016 & 2017? It is not as if there were not talented options.

Venturing beyond the make-up of the players we have had the opportunity to consider, I’m looking at some things that are a bit larger than getting a correct evaluation on a player. The first of which is: when you draft a QB in the first round, you are making a commitment to that prospect that essentially guarantees that he is going to start for you at some point. There really are no exceptions to this, and as such it puts an impossible kind of pressure on the incumbent.

Cleveland Browns Training Camp
Brian Hoyer never stopped hearing the footsteps
Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

It is also true that you really can’t expect a guy to come into the league and be a quality starter at the quarterback position, it’s just not something that typically happens. Guys tend to have to grow into it, and that means time - lots of it. My general rule is to wait three years before making definitive evaluations either on players or draft classes, and you probably need to broaden that window even more for quarterbacks.

Now, combine that time factor with the second important macro-consideration: Regimes (defined here as the combination of the Front-Office and Coaching Staff) are held responsible for QB’s they draft in the first round. That’s the deal - you don’t get a 2nd chance after missing on a 1st round QB, unless you are Ozzie.

This is to say that there is a political component to the player management in the game of football, and this is especially crucial with regard to the quarterback position. It’s not for nothing that in the particular case of the Cleveland Browns, no Head Coach has lasted for longer than two years since Romeo Crennel, who patrolled the sidelines from ‘05 to ‘08. That’s right; we are almost a full decade from having anyone last longer than two seasons. The results speak for themselves.

All of this is to say that when Sashi Brown came aboard to take over the team-building aspect of this endeavor and to right this ship, I think he takes all of these things into consideration. You have a league that is dominated by the quarterback position, so you MUST find one in order to be effective/competitive. However you also exist in this reality where if you choose the wrong one, it’s basically your only bite at the apple, and if you fail, you’re done.

When you really examine the job teams have done over the years in identifying and selecting talent at the QB position, and with the benefit of hindsight, it seems pretty obvious that everybody appears to be mostly bad at it. It depends of course on how you judge such things, because how you can say whether or not a guy is successful varies from person to person. I’ll say simply that if he’s a player you would want to re-sign after his rookie contract expires (which is five years if the option for the final year is exercised) then it’s a hit. If not, it’s a miss.

Withholding consideration of the last three drafts (as those players are still in the evaluation/development stage) and going through 2014, you can say that of the 21 QB’s selected in the 1st round, 12 of them did not live up even to the modest standard I lay out for success (one contract renewal). It demonstrates just how inexact this science all is. Oh and also - all those misses resulted in the management of those teams getting tossed.

At the same time, several years were invested into each of these players, and (to varying degrees) all of them were given more time to prove themselves than their talent/ability warranted. That’s time wasted in terms of team development, and because of the importance of the position renders whatever other progress that is being made on the roster utterly worthless, because large chunks of those players’ careers are being spent with teams who are invested in wastes of time (Joe Thomas, sadly, comes to mind).

This is of particular relevance when considering how much talent has been infused onto our roster in the apparent team-building strategy of Analytics. We have added, over the last two seasons, four 1st-round draft picks - and you can pretty much count Emmanuel Ogbah, taken at 32 (which was the 1st pick of the 2nd round but was a pick higher because of the Patriots/Deflategate) as a fifth. We have added eight total players in the top 65, a massive haul over a short period of time.

If all goes right, those guys (as well as the ones taken after/already on the roster) are going to “bloom” over the next few years, and become forces at their respective positions. It’s exciting! However, if we were to be forcing ourselves into a situation where we had to spend two or three years “developing” a dead-end at the QB position, then much of that talent infusion/development won’t matter for much, especially if it results in (yet another) corresponding coaching/front-office blow-up.

NFL: Cleveland Browns-OTA
Brock Osweiler here demonstrates how much better super-tall guys can hand the ball off
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been all of two years, but I think we have seen enough to get an idea of the plan here. The first move to address QB came with the (VERY team-friendly) signing of Robert Griffin III last year. The team also drafted Cody Kessler near the end of the third round in the 2016 draft. Griffin, for all intents and purposes, assumed the starting role right from the rip, with no expectations of Kessler. They therefore took two relatively low-risk, potentially high-reward shots at the position, and as it turned out, either of them could have solidified himself as the starter moving forward.

Of course, neither ultimately did, but for slightly different reasons. Griffin played poorly in the season-opening loss to Philadelphia and got hurt at the tail end of it, missing most of the rest of the year. When he returned to close out the final four games of the year, he performed better but still did not do anything to convince anybody that he was the answer. He was released shortly before the start of the offseason.

In between, Kessler had his moments. They were mostly good, IMO, but then whatever positivity ascribed to his performance is mitigated mightily by the number of injuries (especially concussive) that he endured along the way. I was surprised to learn that he started eight games, though he certainly did not finish nearly that many. Still, for all the terrible QB’s we have both drafted and/or traded for/signed via F/A, it’s hard to just discard out-of-hand a rookie that comes in (on a 1-15 team, no less) and throws down numbers like these:

2016

Cmp% Yds TD Int Lng Y/A AY/A Rate QBR Sk NY/A ANY/A Sk% AV
Cmp% Yds TD Int Lng Y/A AY/A Rate QBR Sk NY/A ANY/A Sk% AV
65.6 1380 6 2 44 7.1 7.2 92.3 49.6 21 5.74 5.88 9.7 3

That is not to say that those numbers are tremendous, or even that numbers themselves tell a full story. Still, they do mean something, and to me the blind eye showed that the kid was not totally clueless behind center last season. He made mistakes, certainly. He also needs to get better at his pre-snap reads in order to avoid getting killed all the time, but there’s reason to hope that he can - he was a rookie, after all.

All that to say that neither Kessler nor Griffin established themselves, but Kessler gets a 2nd crack at it whereas Griffin’s already out the door. If he does not show improvement from last year or gets injured and is out for a significant stretch again, then he probably will have exhausted his shot at being a starting pro quarterback. At that point, it’s on to DeShone Kizer.

How much time it takes to get to the decision to move on with Kizer and shelve the Kessler project depends entirely on the performance of the individuals involved, not any kind of external political pressures born out of taking a guy with a very high pick. THAT is the wisdom at play here. We select Kizer with the twentieth pick in the 2nd round, meaning that he’s somebody we are going to give consideration to and a legitimate shot if nobody else (Kessler) seals it up in front of him.

There is no pressure in either direction, which is what makes the logic of this paradigm take hold in my mind. If Kessler is not the answer, we’re probably going to have that figured out sooner than later (my famous three-rule notwithstanding). We are not likely going to force ourselves to see if he can get over the hump if he’s continually showing that he can’t do it. The same will be true of Kizer if he eventually takes the reins.

Then in next year’s draft, instead of targeting any of the talented underclassmen that so many are excited about right now, we draft another guy in the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th round, who will come in and sit behind Kizer until such time as he either proves himself to be the man or flames out and gives the next man up his chance.

All the while, we acquire high-quality prospects (like Corey Coleman, Emmanuel Ogbah, Myles Garrett, Jabrill Peppers, and David Njoku) with our (ever-multiplying) 1st-round selections. Since we are also not paying a quarterback a massive salary (until this scheme pays off) we’ll be able to re-sign these talents when their rookie contracts expire in 5 years. Cap-space is a not-insignificant aspect to this.

I almost failed to mention Brock Osweiler in all of this, yet another scratch-off lottery ticket that we were essentially paid to take off the Texans’ hands. Even a wild-eyed optimist like me is not expecting anything miraculous here, however he’s another example that fits the profile: a cheap option that might pan out. I say “cheap” even though he’s due $16m this season. That is because next year we can dump him and his salary for no penalty, so in essence we’re simply deferring some roll-over cap-space for a year, and perhaps we can eat a large portion of it and trade him to some desperate team in the preseason for a 4th-5th round pick. Either way, he’s another no-risk, possible reward option generated by Team MoneyBall.

NFL: Cleveland Browns-Press Conference
Sashi’s smart enough to know that you don’t necessarily get three years to evaluate a QB
Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The whole point, it would seem, of the Analytics/moneyball approach we think we are seeing play out, is to mitigate risks (and costs) and to maximize value/opportunities. The Browns know they no better (and perhaps significantly worse) than other teams with respect to identifying and selecting the right QB. As such, they are averse to expending the highest of draft resources on a position which is the toughest to accurately evaluate.

Moreover, investing multiple years into the development of a dud is wasting everything other positive thing that is happening on our roster. Ours therefore is an approach which takes shots at prospects of high value, but not in the 1st round. Until someone wins the competition outright and proves himself to be THE guy, it will continue. Instead of spending 2-3 years determining if we have our man, we can probably accelerate the cycle to about .5 to 1.5 seasons.

Eventually, we will get our Andy Dalton/Russell Wilson/Dak Prescott. Until then, we just keep adding building a solid team around him, so that when he does arrive, we’ll be ready to win immediately.

Poll

What Do You Think, Plausible?

This poll is closed

  • 12%
    No, we just haven’t found the guy we like yet
    (186 votes)
  • 87%
    Yes, it’s seems consistent with the rest of the way the team is being built
    (1298 votes)
1484 votes total Vote Now