The second set of OTA practices may have just begun for the Cleveland Browns, but it appears a dark horse has emerged as the team’s top option at quarterback this year. No, it’s not Cody Kessler, from whom the starting job must be pried, nor is it rookie DeShone Kizer, the man assumed doing the prying if Kessler is not under center in Week 1.
It’s Brock Osweiler.
The former Houston Texans starter for whom the Browns traded in March, presumably for a coveted Texans’ second-round 2018 draft pick, is on just the second of a four-year $72 million contract that the Browns took on when acquiring the quarterback. It was widely assumed that Osweiler’s presence in Cleveland was only temporary, with the Browns eventually finding a trade partner (and a taker of the financial share of the remaining $16 million guaranteed in Osweiler’s deal). But whispers have emerged from OTAs that may lead to Osweiler sticking around for a while.
A week ago, Osweiler reaffirmed his belief that he has the chops to be an NFL starter—”the proof is in the film,” he said—and this week, he’s drawing praise from an all-important source, his head coach. Following OTAs on Wednesday, Hue Jackson said that Osweiler has “been a pleasant surprise,” and “has done a good job.”
#Browns HC Hue Jackson said QB Brock Osweiler has been a "pleasant surprise" and has done a good job— Nate Ulrich (@NateUlrichABJ) May 31, 2017
Jackson’s praise didn’t end there; the coach continued (per Pro Football Focus): “Since he’s been here he’s been outstanding. I don’t judge people by what everybody else says, I judge them by what I see... The guy’s been outstanding in our building and that’s what’s most important.” The Athletic’s Zac Jackson also sang Osweiler’s on-field praises, though he did note that the sample size at this point is still quite small:
Through 2 practices that I've seen (that mean nothing big picture), Brock Osweiler has been the best QB on the field. By a bunch.— Zac Jackson (@AkronJackson) May 31, 2017
Between Osweiler, Kessler and Kizer, Osweiler is the most senior and experienced quarterback on the roster and in these early days of offensive installation and no pads and no hitting, it come as no surprise that Osweiler is looking sharp. Indeed, throws against air with no pressure to be found are not areas in which Osweiler struggled as a starter, particularly last year in Houston. So it’s hard to read too much into Osweiler’s strong start at OTAs and come away feeling he’s going to jump to the top of the depth chart.
Jackson’s comments help, of course. They help assuage skepticism about the trade being made for Osweiler in the first place or about his ability to be able to contribute anything in Cleveland. They also help Osweiler feel wanted and appreciated as a person instead of the bag of dollars and draft picks that he’s been objectified down to in recent months. Jackson knows that he must provide incentive for Osweiler to make any sort of effort given the not-so-secret-secret that the ultimate goal of Osweiler being in Cleveland is for him to not be in Cleveland.
Thus, Jackson’s comments help in another sense—finding a suitor for Osweiler’s services this summer. The sign-and-trade Osweiler plan is not complete without that second, “trade,” part and time is of the essence.
There aren’t many months left where the Browns can feasibly trade Osweiler; indeed, they are getting down to the crunch time in which trades for players like Osweiler are the result of injuries rather than bona fide solutions to a roster deficiency. Talking up Osweiler’s OTA performance is a tactic to draw interest from teams still in the quarterback market. Jackson saying Osweiler has been “just okay,” isn’t going to get the phones in Berea ringing; “outstanding,” though, is a whole other story.
Perhaps Osweiler continues to be leaps-and-bounds better than the other quarterbacks on Cleveland’s roster. Should that come to pass, there will be difficult and probably unpopular decisions to be made in the months ahead. But until the assumed plans for him are confirmed scrapped, Osweiler’s strong showing at OTAs means that a trade partner for the quarterback could finally emerge. There’s no need for Quarterback Drama mode just yet.