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Making sense of the Browns’ free agency options at QB

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With Alex Smith off the table, where do the Browns go from here with respect to their starting QB in 2018?

Green Bay Packers v Cleveland Browns
Which way do we go?

Between the Chief Wahoo news (Indians), Kevin Love breaking his hand (Cavaliers), and the stunning news of the Browns already being out of the Alex Smith sweepstakes, this hasn’t been the best start to a week for Cleveland sports fans.

If you haven’t heard, Tuesday night, the news broke that when March 14 hits, the Chiefs have agreed to trade Smith to the Redskins in exchange for a 3rd round pick and CB Kendall Fuller. Smith will also sign a 4-year, $94 million extension, $71 million guaranteed with the Redskins.

Let’s try to make sense of the Browns’ options at quarterback now.

Missing Out on Alex Smith

I had already had visions of Smith in a Browns uniform for the next two years, helping guide a turnaround for the franchise so that he could hand it off to whoever the team drafted at No. 1 or No. 4 overall this year. But it sounds like the Chiefs wanted to do right by Smith, putting him in a situation that isn’t as dire as the 0-16 Browns. Also, with the type of contract Smith signed, I think he’s getting a lot more than if he would’ve come to Cleveland.

We heard Mary Kay Cabot of the Plain Dealer say that GM John Dorsey tried to trade for Smith. We don’t know any more details than that, but the Chiefs also got a really good and young (22 years old) cornerback. I’d say that Fuller’s value might have escalated to be viewed like a second-round pick, but it’s an even sweeter deal because he is a proven commodity (whereas a draft pick, no matter how high, is still a crapshoot). I don’t know of anyone equivalent that Cleveland could’ve given up, and besides, that would’ve set the Browns’ defense back.

So, while it sucks to have missed out on Smith, this doesn’t sound like an instance where Dorsey and the Browns were asleep at the wheel.

The Kirk Cousins Hype

With Smith off the table, the Browns’ attention should first turn to QB Kirk Cousins. The problem is that there are probably 6-7 other teams who will be doing the same thing, including some that could be playoff contenders immediately with him on board.

The Browns’ advantage is cap space:

But as cap specialist Joel Corry of CBS Sports says, teams who are lacking cap space can get creative when making a run at Cousins:

The other day on Pro Football Talk, Cousins said that if he has to make a decision in free agency, he will prioritize winning over money:

“It is about winning, and that’s what I want more than anything, so I’m going to be willing to make sacrifices or do what has to be done to make sure I’m in the best possible position to win, and that’s what the focus is going to be.”

Maybe Cleveland could reach a money threshold that even Cousins couldn’t turn down. For example, if his highest offer is $30 million/year, and Cleveland just blows it out of the water with $35-40 million/year, is that enough? That is putting a hell of a lot of faith in Cousins, and while Cleveland would have the cap space to do it, you’re going to run into an issue at some point where you lose the ability to re-sign the (hopefully) promising players you’ve been drafting.

So, for a variety of reasons, I am not optimistic about the Browns’ chances at landing Cousins.

Other Options

I’m almost resigned to the fact that A.J. McCarron will be the Browns’ next quarterback. I would’ve hated the deal if the Browns gave up a 2nd and 3rd round pick for him. But if he is somehow able to skirt the restricted free agency rule and become an unrestricted free agent, we’ve already gotten the sense that he doesn’t have a problem playing for Hue Jackson. I think he knows he’ll have a sense of loyalty from Jackson, and the team could pack him with a heavily-incentive-laden contract. As much as the move wouldn’t excite me, signing McCarron gets us a “veteran” short-term, while still allowing the team to draft the future at No. 1 or No. 4 overall.

Other options that come to mind are Tyrod Taylor, Chase Daniel, Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, and Nick Foles. None of them will get me as excited as I would have been for Smith, but with him off the table, I believe the Browns still must acquire a veteran quarterback for the next year or two, even if it’s not a sexy move.

And then there’s always Colin Kaepernick.

What Do You Think?

If you had to react right now, what are your thoughts on what the Browns will ultimately end up doing at QB?

Poll

What do you think the Browns will ultimately end up doing at QB?

This poll is closed

  • 16%
    Offer Kirk Cousins the most money possible (well above other teams), and he will sign.
    (386 votes)
  • 69%
    Sign a short-term veteran option that will still allow the Browns to draft a QB at No. 1 or No. 4 overall.
    (1656 votes)
  • 14%
    Start Kizer or the 1st round QB in 2018; draft a later-round QB or sign a backup veteran.
    (338 votes)
2380 votes total Vote Now