The second Baltimore game and in particular the second half filled me with doubt about Baker’s future as a franchise QB. In advising myself that the fourth season is too early to have the standards that I’ve been measuring for Baker’s progress I decided that I should look at some comparisons.
I had offered an earlier opinion that if Baker were to serve as the Brown’s QB for ten years his ceiling comparison would be Joe Montana. In the past people have compared his gunslinger style to Brett Favre and others have compared his accuracy to Drew Brees. I think that his leadership, accuracy and audacity more closely matches Montana. I also offered the opinion that as a ten year starter his floor would be Dave Krieg. There is the possibility that he could totally fall apart and become another "bust" but that wouldn’t require any evaluation or judgment so I’ve stuck with the opinion that he will be a long term starter in the NFL.
To give a more broad evaluation I decided to add some more past QBs who have characteristics like Baker. I went to the NFL list of the top 40 QBs for throwing yardage since a 10 year starter would be on that list. Without looking at any other statistics and relying upon my memory of the players I added Andy Dalton, Donovan McNabb and Jay Cutler to the list. Dalton is nearly the same size and played in nearly the same era. McNabb and Cutler were both highly drafted, long time starters who did not advance to the upper tier of QBs. I also considered Tony Romo but decided that he wasn’t as good a comparison as the others. In retrospect that might be wrong but, but I don’t think that it would have changed the conclusion.
Looking only at the first 4 years that each QB was a starter I looked at their completion percentage, yards per attempt and season approximate value (AV). An interesting note is that at the end of 2021 Baker will be about #137 on the career yardage list.
Baker’s numbers are actually depressed more by his year under the Kitchens offense than by this season. I do note that he got a head start on most of the comparison QBs becoming a starter in his rookie season at 23 years old. Looking at Brees we can see similar size, accuracy, age at elevation to starter and performance during the first four years as a starter. Where he falls short is the completion percentage. You can see the gunslinger aspect as his completion percentage more nearly compares to Favre. I still like Montana as a ceiling comparison for the intangibles of his personality.
I do think that I need to change my opinion of his floor comparison. Dalton became a starter as a rookie, is of similar size, shows the same early career AV numbers and has about the same completion percentage (allowing for the Kitchens impact).
So if I discount the potential for Baker to implode and become a total bust I need to remind myself that of the above long time successful NFL QBs only Favre, at the same age, had four years of starting experience with clearly better performance. I don’t expect Baker to replicate Favre’s career. On the other hand Dalton as the close comparison in performance at the same age with four years experience as a starter appears to be a clearly inferior QB by the eye test.
If we ride with Baker and he continues to evolve, is able to stay healthy and has a good supporting cast we should expect that six years from now Baker will have become a QB better than Dalton but not as good as Favre. It might not mean a Super Bowl but it will probably mean that we have a consistently relevant and competitive team.
The alternatives to riding with Baker are easy to contemplate since we’ve tried each one multiple times over the past 30 years:
We can try to replace the QB through the draft. I’ll note Couch, Frye, Quinn, McCoy, Weeden, Manziel & Kizer failed before we got Baker. Even only looking at early first round QBs since 2000 we can readily see that the unqualified success rate isn’t better than 33%.
‘* Active ! Rookie contract
We can try to rehabilitate a failed veteran. That would be Detmer, Holcomb, Garcia, Delahome, Anderson, Hoyer, Campbell, McCown and Griffin. That has worked recently for Tennessee and with Alex Smith in KC a few years ago. I can’t think of another recent such success although they have occurred in the past every few years.
We’ve got Baker under his fifth year option next year. We can readily keep him with a tag in 2023. I’m guessing despite all of the discussion about why the Browns haven’t done an extension Baker doesn’t want to sign until he has a big year. He is probably also interested in doing an extension after the new television deal and maybe an influx of gaming income as well.
I seriously doubt that AB’s approach will be to mortgage the future for a couple of years of a superstar (Rodgers or Wilson). I’m also dubious that any superstar will want to move with their celebrity wives to a small market on the shores of Lake Erie. I’m equally dubious that AB will cut loose Baker to gamble on a post hype QB like Mariotta, Winston or Trubisky.
I doubt that AB would use an early draft choice on a QB while Baker is the starter. The most likely change would be a fortuitous late round draft choice of a surprise star (ex. Wilson, Brady, Prescott) or signing a minor FA or UDFA who ascends to the peak (ex. Kurt Warner, Tony Romo). That is to say the kind of luck we’ve seldom seen.
In conclusion we should all take a chill pill and root for Baker to achieve a special ceiling (Montana?) because there is no doubt that he will be our QB in 2022 and 2023. In my mind there is little doubt that he is our QB for at least the next five years.