Underappreciated castoff quarterback Tyrod Taylor believes in himself, despite no one else seemingly sharing the sentiment. Nobody, except for maybe the Cleveland Browns coaches who are counting on him this season.
But even their beliefs have caveats.
The Browns love him for what he is, but also what they hope he can be, and both sides need him to become that this season. Taylor and the Browns may be on very different paths, but this year their fates are very much intertwined.
Whether he keeps the job or not this season, it’s obvious that Taylor—win, lose or indifferent—is not long for Cleveland. His contract expires after this season, so the one-year stint he’ll play there is overshadowed by its caretaker nature.
And despite being named Jackson’s unconditional starting quarterback for 2018 before the draft, Baker Mayfield was taken with the No. 1 pick. So while he has the job now, and assurances that he’s secure, let’s not forget how coach Hue Jackson has repeatedly waffled in his past convictions.
If Taylor fails, his dreams of becoming a franchise quarterback could vanish quickly, along with the tasty salary that comes with it. And if he fails, Jackson could quickly find himself out of a job, thus shuffling coaches again for the Browns.
Since being traded to Cleveland for a third-round pick in last April’s NFL draft, though, Taylor has handled himself as well as anyone in this situation could. He has done, said, and acted just as you’d expect an NFL starting quarterback. He has been a true professional, partly because he knows teams are watching, but mainly because that’s who he is as a person.
It seems like he’s going to excel. It seems like it’s time for underdogs like the Browns and Taylor to finally get the credit they deserve. But things could not be as they seem.
It’s true Taylor’s play this season has immense repercussions, as we have discussed, but whether he’ll do it or not is still a very strong unknown. Let’s take quick look into where he has been in order to put his chances of success in the most accurate light.
The Virginia Tech product was selected by Baltimore with the 180th pick in the 2011 NFL draft, his name finally getting called after 10 other passers came off the board during the three-day rookie draft. Six quarterbacks went in the top 36 picks—three of them are no longer in the league. The next four are also out of work, including someone named Nathan Enderle, a guy who never played a down in the league and went 20 picks before Taylor. Former Crimson Tide signal-caller Greg McElroy was the only quarterback picked after him, and he’s gone too—long gone.
Once he got the Buffalo, a place he was relied on to be the guy, Taylor was benched twice, once despite having public assurances and votes of confidence by the Bills (sounds familiar). That includes a benching last season, which turned into rookie Nathan Peterman’s infamous five-interception game and only lasted one half. Taylor came back in out of necessity, not confidence from his coaches, and he ended up quarterbacking the Bills to the postseason.
The Bills dumped his as quickly as they could this past offseason, and the Browns happily brought him on board. After all, their quarterback situation has more resembled the Petermans of the league than the Taylors.
Taylor’s scouting report has always been that he’s good enough, but not great or even good. That he’ll play within a system and not lose many games for his teams. That he just doesn’t have it as far as making game-changing plays where other quarterbacks fall short.
We’ll find out this season whether those thoughts are true, or if Taylor maybe has a little more to him than many seem to think.
Taylor has every reason in the world to play his best this season, and the stars have seemingly aligned to allow him to do it. If he’s the guy he believes he is, not the sixth rounder who can’t change games, then he’ll succeed with veteran coordinator Todd Haley calling plays along with the handful of Browns offensive players who all appear to be on the verge of breakouts.
And if he does seize his opportunity, then he’ll get his pay day, and the Browns will have reassured ownership they have improved their franchise. That is the ideal outcome, where Taylor gets his paycheck and the Browns head into 2019 with hopes of taking the next step in the coming years with Mayfield at the helm.
This is the script for his journey from under appreciated to solidified NFL starter, but it’s only a rough draft. Taylor has to finalize the first chapter on Sunday against Pittsburgh.