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QB competition brewing in Cleveland? Yes - and no

The Number 2 spot seems to be wide-open

NFL: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns Scott Galvin-USA TODAY Sports

Is it true there is a quarterback competition going on with the Browns? There are two answers to that question – yes, and no.

No, Baker Mayfield’s job is not in jeopardy for the starting nod.

But yes, his backup position appears to be full throttle and wide-open for the taking. Which is a very important job on the roster. Think about it, if Mayfield was to become injured, who would take his place? What type of player would that be? Would the new guy be just as capable?

Or would the club be doomed in Baker’s absence? It happens. Just look at the Dallas Cowboys last season when their starting QB Dak Prescott was lost for the season. The offense was ranked Number 1 at that point and then floundered for the remainder of the schedule.

No Browns’ fan wants that. To spend all this time and money and research and scouting to get these certain guys in for this offense, and then the field general goes down and all is lost? Yikes.

So yes, the backup quarterback position is currently not a certainty.

Contenders

The two main players are seasoned veteran Casey Keenum and the youngster Kyle Lauletta.

Keenum (6’-1”, 215 pounds) exudes experience being a 15-year veteran. Steady, reliable, NFL starter, division-winning quarterback, career backup. Lauletta (6’-3”, 222 pounds) is just in his fourth season.

But so far this preseason, it has been the Kyle Lauletta show.

Against Jacksonville, Keenum drove the Browns down on two drives to which two field goals placed six points on the board. For the game, he was 12 of 17 for 115 yards with zero touchdowns and zero interceptions with an 89.1 QB rating. In the same contest, Lauletta was 19 of 27 for 212 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions with a 118.1 QB rating. Lauletta was the only one sacked and helped Cleveland score 17 points.

In the game against the New York Football Giants, Lauletta went 14/23 for 152 yards without any touchdowns nor interceptions with an 80.3 QB rating and was sacked once. Keenum went 9/12 for 74 yards with one touchdown and one pick with an 83.3 QB rating and was sacked twice.

Yes, it is preseason. Yes, these stats came against the Number 2 defenses of both opponents. Yes, both of these quarterbacks played behind the Browns’ backup offensive line. Yes, they didn’t have OBJ or Jarvis Landry or Nick Chubb or Austin Hooper in the lineup.

Against the Giants, Pro Football Focus graded Lauletta at 57.9 and Keenum 33.0.

But so far, Lauletta is the only quarterback in NFL preseason with over 300-yards passing plus two touchdown passes and ranks second in total passing yards.

The NFL road so far

Keenum has several items in his toolbox that Lauletta doesn’t.

As the starting QB for the Minnesota Vikings in 2017, Keenum’s team posted a 13-3-0 season. Conversely, Lauletta is still looking for his first winning season. Keenum has quarterbacked an NFL team into the playoffs. Lauletta has not. Keenum has won a playoff game. Again a zero for Lauletta. Keenum has taken his club to the conference championship game. Lauletta has watched the conference championships from home.

NFL: Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars Matt Pendleton-USA TODAY Sports

Keenum (age 33) has been active for 128 NFL games. He has played in 69 and has started 62. Lauletta has played in just two NFL contests.

Lauletta (age 26) was a fourth-round pick of the Giants in 2018 after a standout career at Richmond. There he was a three-year starter and attempted 1,194 passes with 758 completions for 10,465 yards with 73 passes and 35 interceptions for a career 63.5 pass completion ratio.

He remained on New York’s roster his entire rookie season and saw his only game action. At the end of training camp in 2019, he was a final roster cut. He landed on the Philadelphia Eagles and Atlanta Falcons practice squads for the next two seasons. In October of last year after being cut from the Falcons, the Browns claimed him where he remained on the practice squad till season’s end.

Keenum went undrafted in 2012. He went 31-11 in high school and won a state championship. He was a four-year starter at the University of Houston where he was twice named the Conference USA Offensive Player-of-the-Year, placed eighth in the Heisman Trophy voting, named Two Time First Team All-Conference USA, Second Team All-American, and was a Two Time Sammy Baugh Trophy winner.

He threw for over 5,000 yards three of those four years and ended up tossing 19,217 yards with 155 touchdowns and a 63.4 pass completion average. Keenum broke six NCAA quarterback records including the only quarterback in college football history to have three 5,000 yard seasons.

And one more item in which Keenum holds an advantage: he was once Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski’s starting quarterback.

Coming in last year, Keenum already knew the new coach’s system, the audibles, the check downs, the language, the signals and the playbook before training camp. While Mayfield was be busy asking questions in the quarterback room, Keenum was finishing Stefanski’s sentences.

So here’s a question: is there a possibility of a quarterback competition in this year’s training camp for the Number 2 spot?

Going forward

Lauletta has looked very good in preseason so far. The interception Keenum tossed in the end zone of the Giants’ game was a horrible mistake. Against Jacksonville, Keenum could not find the end zone and the Browns had to settle for field goals. Lauletta has found the end zone on multiple occasions.

However, the big question looms: If Mayfield was to ever go down in an actual game, which quarterback would you want to come in and take over the offense?

Keenum is a perfect fit for this kind of offense. If for some reason Baker would be injured, Keenum could come in and operate the offense at 100%. In theory, you don’t miss anything. It’s pretty much the perfect setup - again in theory.

NFL: New York Giants at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

As a backup your job is to support the starter as much as possible; which includes understanding the system and how to deal with what you are going to see from defenses from week-to-week. But you also can ideally step in and win a game or two. Which Lauletta has done.

What does each QB have to do to win the job?

Keenum has been a part of winning teams, and there is something to be said for a guy who understands his role and can play it. He has a ton of starts for multiple teams.

This offense seems to be tailored to Lauletta’s strengths. He is excellent at getting out of trouble when the pocket collapses and able to keep good vision downfield. He has put in the work, internalized the system as much as he can, lined up and played well so far.

The stats so far favor Lauletta. The experience and game management belong to Keenum.

Last year, the Browns kept just two quarterbacks on the active roster: Mayfield and Keenum. They had Garrett Gilbert on their practice squad until the Cowboys claimed him. This set into motion Cleveland getting Lauletta for the void Gilbert left behind.

It seems only reasonable that the Browns will once again only keep two QB’s and then make a claim on a young QB to ride the practice squad. And for now, there are two guys slugging it out for that last spot. In all probability, Cleveland will play its starters for at least the first half in their final preseason game against Atlanta. That leaves just two quarters for these two men to show why they should be the backup to Mayfield.

Keenum is the steady veteran with all the NFL starts. Lauletta is the emerging player who has another week to win the job. If he continues to shine, the Browns are not going to be able to waive either signalcaller with the intention of claiming the other and stashing that one on the practice squad.

If Cleveland wants both players, they will have to place them both on the final roster and carry three quarterbacks. If they are going to retain excess players at any position, it will be either cornerback or safety - not quarterback.

Poll

Which QB do you feel will win the backup job?

This poll is closed

  • 74%
    Case Keenum
    (534 votes)
  • 25%
    Kyle Lauletta
    (184 votes)
718 votes total Vote Now