Before the 2023 season even began, in fact, the whispers began in training camp, that the Cleveland Browns have a very good roster this year.
The speculation was the easy part. Playing the actual games is the tough get-going and where men become men on a mission.
Currently, Cleveland is 4-2-0 with 11 games remaining on the schedule. Can the Browns at season’s end claim one of the playoff spots? Is it possible this roster can go deep into the post-season? After getting thumped by the Baltimore Ravens in Week 4, is a Super Bowl appearance out of reach or even possible?
The issue of quarterback play for the Browns has been raised. It has been documented here on Dawgs By Nature that the position of quarterback is at critical mass.
DBN staff writer Thomas Moore stated in this deep dive regarding the QB problem, “Deshaun Watson is broken and the backups are not good. So, what can Cleveland do now?”
Watson played in Sunday’s 39-38 shootout victory against the Indianapolis Colts but became injured. He was questionable all week prior with a shoulder injury and then left the game in the first quarter after taking a hard hit on the artificial surface. After clearing concussion protocol, Watson never returned.
As the game rolled along and Watson did not return, it appeared that head coach Kevin Stefanski was being cautious and looking forward to the next game against the Seattle Seahawks. That would be strange if indeed true. He was cleared from his shoulder injury weeks ago and yet did not play the next two games. And now, he didn’t develop a new injury and sat out? For his safety?
His backup, P.J. Walker, played his second game in a row and won his second consecutive game. Walker played fair and at times looked pretty good while other times was awful. He did drive Cleveland down in the final minutes to set up the go-ahead touchdown. However, two questionable defensive penalties were the catalyst to place the Browns in a scoring position plus negated a Colts fumble recovery which certainly helped Cleveland in the win but wasn’t a result of Walker getting the team in a position to win the game.
Walker’s backup is rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson who was the darling of the preseason. In fact, he looked so promising that GM Andrew Berry shipped off Watson’s backup Josh Dobbs to Arizona for a low draft pick. Now, the Browns need Dobbs.
So as Moore’s article states:
“So, what are the options if general manager Andrew Berry and head coach Kevin Stefanski can’t live with the idea of Walker or Thompson-Robinson being one Watson hit away from seeing the field?”
Watson is slated to be the answer. Back in May, DBN went in depth about the possibility of the franchise’s fate if Watson were to become injured and forced to miss games.
Since Berry was hired to be Cleveland’s GM in 2020, he has always prepared for the eventuality of when the quarterback would be injured and miss snaps or even games. QB Baker Mayfield was the first overall pick in the draft and yet Berry inked veteran Case Keenum as his backup. Keenum had 62 NFL starts at the time. With Watson, journeyman Jacoby Brissett was signed to the roster.
But this year? Everyone has already seen the result of what DBN had questioned back in the May roundtable discussion article. Take a moment, click the link, and read it again.
Some highlights from the Watson article that ring true today:
“The Browns are all in on Watson because they have to be. In the AFC you HAVE to get that QB and they paid the price. So if it doesn’t go well, it’s going to be bad for a while.” Matt Wood - DBN Staff
“Honestly, that’s not what I’m afraid of the most. If Watson by chance does not return to the levels of prominence he once displayed, chain reactions will reverberate in every Browns fan’s home after this season.” Marcus Donald – The Mr. Deacon Experience Podcast
“If Watson does not regain his Pro Bowl form and is something more along the lines of being mediocre, then a full tear-down is likely to commence at the start of the 2024 off-season.” EZ Weav – DBN Staff
“I believe Deshaun has “IT” still in him. He was definitely showing improvement after a few games of wiping away the cobwebs. This man has a talent that won’t just go to sleep. This is why we paid so much for him.” Kristy Acuti – Browns Fans Only Facebook fanpage
“Do the Browns need to sign an experienced backup? There is also the issue of if Watson becomes injured. Then what? Are any of these guys quality backups? Can they come in and take control of games and add to the win column until Watson returns?” Barry Shuck – DBN Staff Writer
Cleveland is 27% of the way through Watson’s contract, yet he has essentially not played in 61% of contests. The Browns are going to waste the best years for this roster. Big contracts are due next year with critical positions and yet the quarterback situation is not solved. Watson has played in 10 games since being signed to his monster contract, but how many actual games of that number has he been really, really good and looked like a franchise quarterback?
The defense this year is killer. A mediocre offense is all that is needed for this defense to control games as well as time of possession.
A legit quarterback
There are questions going forward: Is Deshaun Watson the answer? If so, can he remain healthy? Can he regain his Pro Bowl form? Can the Browns make the playoffs with him?
Think about it. Even if the coaching staff believes that Watson is the answer going forward as soon as he is healthy, signing an experienced backup is an insurance policy in case this happens again. It has already happened twice already this year. Doesn’t it make sense to bring in a guy who has not only a lot of games played but playoff experience as well?
One thing for certain: great teams have good-to-great-to-elite quarterback play. It is possible to play – and win – in the Super Bowl without an exceptional quarterback. Don’t shake your head no, it is not only conceivable but has been done.
The New York Football Giants ended up in Super Bowl 25 with a ferocious defense headed by Lawrence Taylor, Carl Banks, Harry Carson, Leonard Marshall, and Mark Collins, to name a few. They defeated the Buffalo Bills 20-19 and were quarterbacked by backup Jeff Hostetler. The Baltimore Ravens captured Super Bowl 35 with Trent Dilfer at the helm. Jim Plunkett and the Los Angeles Raiders won Super Bowl 18. What about the 1985 Chicago Bears with QB Jim McMahon? Mark Rypien with the Washington Redskins in Super Bowl 26? Ninth-round pick Brad Johnson guided the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a victory in Super Bowl 37.
What did all of these championship teams have in common? A monster defense, a great kicker, and an average quarterback. Sound like the 2023 Browns?
With this season rolling along, Watson needs to become what he was while at Houston very soon in order to avoid becoming a noteworthy trade disaster that will make the Herschel Walker trade look like a tea party.
In the interim, should the Browns prod along with Walker as their starter? Is DTR ready to be inserted now? If not, will he be ready if Walker becomes injured?
Bringing in solid candidates
Perhaps the Browns need to sign a veteran quarterback. Now. One that has plenty of NFL experience and can be plugged in and manage games until Watson is ready. Or even play out the entire season if needed.
Yes, it is seven weeks into the 2023 season. The argument might be that anyone worth anything is already on somebody’s 53-man roster or is signed as an emergency QB protected on a team’s practice squad.
There is some chatter brewing that perhaps the Browns will reach out and attempt to obtain former signalcallers Case Keenum, Josh Dobbs, or Jacoby Brissett. On the surface, this seems appealing and would make the most sense.
Here is what Moore stated about the unlikelihood that Washington will part with Brissett:
“The problem with that is current Washington quarterback Sam Howell is not good. So even though the Commanders’ season is spiraling down the drain after losing four of their last five games, even a head coach as limited as Ron Rivera will likely realize that the team will eventually need to sit Howell, and having a veteran like Brissett on hand can help a head coach fighting for his job.”
And maybe the return of Dobbs? For one, he is their starting quarterback. Moore explained:
“Berry could always give the Arizona Cardinals a call about fan and media favorite Joshua Dobbs, especially now that Kyle Murray is getting closer to returning to the field. But it is fair to question whether the idea of Dobbs playing quarterback is better than the reality of Dobbs playing quarterback.”
Keenum is the backup with the Houston Texans. Their starter is rookie C.J. Stroud who is having a fine season. With this in mind, no coach is going to allow an experienced backup to leave while a rookie is leading the offense. So before the question is asked, that answer is no.
Let’s examine some candidates that Berry just may be able to bring in.
Matt Ryan (6’-5”, 228 pounds) – free agent
The 38-year-old is currently an analyst with CBS, but has made it known he has not officially retired. A call to head up the Browns and this defense may sway him to suit up once again.
Ryan played 15 years with 234 games played and 234 games started. That means he is very durable. He also has 10 post-season starts including one Super Bowl. This in itself is an advantage for Cleveland to have an able body that has been there. Ryan has tossed 381 touchdowns to 183 interceptions with 1,539 rushing yards and a career QB rating of 93.6.
He has gone to four Pro Bowls and In 2016, he was named the NFL MVP and holds 16 NFL records. He would instantly bring maturity, experience with good arm strength, and reliable velocity on short to intermediate passes.
Cooper Rush (6’-3”, 225 pounds) – Dallas Cowboys
If you have seen Rush play you may wonder why he isn’t a starter on an NFL club. The reason is that he is QB2 to Dak Prescott. Although listed as the backup to Prescott, the Cowboys last month traded for former first-round pick Trey Lance so there is wiggle room here. Plus, Dallas would be trading out of the conference which is usually a sticking point and they may see it as a way to get back their fourth-round pick they sent to the San Francisco 49ers in the Lance trade.
Rush, age 29, started five games last year (4-1-0) when Prescott was injured. In those contests, he threw 162 attempts with 94 completions and 1,051 yards with five touchdowns and three picks. His QB rating was 80.0 in those games. In all, Rush has played in 19 NFL games.
He is a good pocket passer which is the opposite of what the Browns run but has been known to scramble for yardage with his 4.93 speed and has good touch. Very intelligent which means he can learn fast. Rush also has the anticipation and accuracy to counter his lack of velocity.
Joe Flacco (6’-6”, 245 pounds) – free agent
The New York Jets employed Flacco the past two seasons so he has not been out of the game very long. The 38-year-old has stated he is still interested in playing.
Flacco told Jamison Hensley with ESPN.com not long ago:
“I still believe I have all of the athletic and physical tools to play quarterback in the NFL despite finding that there isn’t really too much that was biting. When people are really pressed to win some games and need to find a quarterback whose experience and knowledge of the game allow me to learn an offense on the fly, listen, I can still play.”
He also has playoff experience and won Super Bowl XLVII with the Ravens in which he was named the game’s MVP. He has played 15 years with 232 touchdowns to 147 interceptions, 862 rushing yards, and a career QB rating of 84.0.
Flacco has always had solid mechanics with pure physical abilities. He has played 183 regular season games with 180 starts which brings to the table good durability. He also has 15 NFL post-season starts going 10-5.
Marcus Mariota (6’-4”, 222 pounds) – Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles drafted Stanford rookie Tanner McKee this year as the third QB year so there is another backup on the roster.
Mariota, age 29, was a college sensation and the former second-overall draft pick. He has played in 87 games with 74 NFL starts. His stats include 15,656 passing yards with 92 touchdowns and 54 interceptions and a career 89.3 QB rating. He is also an avid runner with 2,012 career rushing yards coupled with 17 scores.
With Mariota, the offensive scheme would not have to change.
Zach Collaros (6’-0”, 193 pounds) – Winnipeg Blue Bombers
Collaros was one of the greatest quarterbacks at the University of Cincinnati and then was in Tampa Bay camp before venturing into the CFL. The 35-year-old has found great success north of the border and is a Three-Time Grey Cup champion and was named the Canadian Football League’s MVP for two seasons, including last year.
This season, he has thrown 37 touchdowns to just 13 picks and is tearing up defenses with 4,183 yards. He also has two rushing TDs and is a good runner. Collaros is an experienced quarterback with a lot of post-season starts. This year he has the second most passing yards but has played one game less than the leader. The Blue Bombers are 13-4-0 and lead the Western Division.
Players from the CFL can go to the NFL with minimal effort. This has been possible since 2020. That year, the CFL Players Association struck an agreement with the CFL that would allow any player to opt out of their contracts. This agreement was reached to ensure players can explore other opportunities if they believe it’s in their best interest.
What should the Browns do at quarterback?
This poll is closed
Let Deshaun Watson play when healthy, then insert one of the backups when he is injured
Start P.J. Walker
Start Dorian Thompson-Robinson
Sign either free agent Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco
Trade for either Cooper Rush or Marcus Mariota
Go after the CFL banger Zach Collaros