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Browns QB problem after Deshaun Watson’s injury: Creative solutions

The loss of Deshaun Watson is crippling but the season rolls along

Baltimore Ravens v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

Just when the Cleveland Browns thought they were headed towards the post-season with an offense that finally was hitting on all cylinders, QB Deshaun Watson was lost for the year. He had already missed several games this season, but in the comeback win over the Baltimore Ravens, he sustained a high ankle sprain. While going through an MRI, he complained about his shoulder. Upon examination, it was determined that Watson had a displaced fracture to the glenoid of his already banged-up throwing shoulder.

Although Watson wanted to shoot pain medicine on game day and play through the injury, it was determined that this injury would require immediate surgical repair to avoid further structural damage. In the end, Watson was placed on IR and a full recovery is expected for the start of the 2024 season.

Ouch. What makes matters worse, is that the cupboard is pretty bare behind Watson. Since the Kevin Stefanski/Andrew Berry began in 2020, there has always been a reliable backup at the QB position. With Baker Mayfield, Berry had signed season veteran Case Keenum who at the time had 62 NFL starts with playoff experience. When Watson was brought into the fold but hit with an 11-game suspension, journeyman Jacoby Brissett was the backup plan who had been the starter with the Indianapolis Colts and started some games while with the Miami Dolphins.

The plan was if the starter went down, the next man up was capable. For 2023, this plan included Josh Dobbs. But he was traded away to the Arizona Cardinals for peanuts and a bag of footballs. The thought process was that rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson was the darling of the preseason and he suddenly became the backup. DTR definitely looked great in preseason – against the other team’s second and third-string defense. When placed in a real game against real defenders, he was completely outmatched and looked like a fifth-round rookie trying to stay alive.

Cleveland Browns v Seattle Seahawks
PJ Walker #10
Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Around the trade deadline on Halloween, Berry did attempt to get Brissett back and offered the Washington Commanders a sixth-round pick to which they said thanks but no thanks on the lowball proposal. As the trade deadline came and went, the Browns remained in stationary mode with the players already on their roster. Besides, Watson was due back any game now, and what could go wrong with Cleveland’s $230 million signalcaller under center?

And the plan now? A fifth-round rookie and a journeyman quarterback. There isn’t even an emergency quarterback on the practice squad.

GM Berry stated on the current state of the quarterback room:

“(We) will add a quarterback at some point in the near future. We feel good about the room. It’s football. Guys do get hurt playing it. We’re going to move forward with the room and continue to win games.”

So currently, the franchise is going to focus on the two players who are already on the roster. Apparently, Berry will consider all opportunities when it comes to who that third QB will be,

Immediate help sought?

Right away, fans and the media began a campaign of what to do next.

The Browns are 6-3-0 and just two games out of first place in the division behind the 8-3-0 Ravens after they defeated the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday Night Football. Cleveland currently has an 81% chance of making the playoffs. If the schedule ended today, Cleveland would be the Number 6 seed.

The franchise apparently is going with who they have on the roster. The media and fans have other ideas.

New York Jets v Miami Dolphins
Joe Flacco
Photo by Perry Knotts/Getty Images

Already names have been spewed such as available veteran free agents Matt Ryan, Nick Foles, and Joe Flacco. Other free agents include C.J. Beathard, Chase Daniel, and former Brown Colt McCoy. There are others, but none worth mentioning.

Ryan’s arm is shot while Foles and Flacco might be a decent decision. If the Browns do bring in a veteran like Flacco who is working out on Friday, the team doesn’t need a hero but the greater need is a game manager who can throw short to intermediate passes and won’t turn the ball over. All three of these choices would provide exactly that. Each guy played in 2022. Flacco has made it known he is not retired from the game.

Another name thrown out there is the retired Tom Brady. Why would he come out of retirement to play again? He has all the money he needs and has nothing left to prove.

There is one angle: total championships. There are three quarterbacks in pro football history who have won seven titles: Brady, Otto Graham, and Bart Starr. Graham won all seven with the Browns in the AAFC and NFL, Starr won five NFL championships plus the first two Super Bowls, and Brady captured six Super Bowls with the New England Patriots, and then one with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

If he came to Cleveland, the franchise could offer him the opportunity to capture his eighth ring and thus become the only quarterback to ever achieve this.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Cleveland Browns Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

The Browns have a good roster, the middle of the offensive line is premier, a good running game, TE David Njoku who is underused and could become Brady’s new Rob Gronkowski, an excellent kicker, plus an elite defense. All of these things could very well persuade Brady to give it a shot.

But while that would become a dream come true for fans of the Browns, Brady is on the cusp of becoming a minority owner of the Las Vegas Raiders. This was supposed to be finalized before the beginning of this year, but the NFL owners have some issues with the Raiders’ proposal of adding him into the fold. The problem is that Raiders’ owner Mark Davis has offered to sell Brady 5-10% ownership and at a big discount. The other owners don’t wish to devalue their product and prefer not to sell someone a percentage that would take millions off the price.

Brady’s deal was scheduled to ratify October 17-18 in New York, but that changed. Davis and Brady’s next chance to ratify the deal would be at the owners meeting scheduled for December 12-13 in Texas. The two men are already part owners of the Las Vegas Aces of the WNBA.

What this means is that come December Brady would become a minority owner of an NFL team. This is a conflict of interest and against the league bylaws. The only way Brady could sign with Cleveland is to put off his ownership process until after the 2023 season has concluded.

Indianapolis Colts v Cleveland Browns Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Here’s another name to throw their hat into the ring: Phillip Rivers. Yes, he last played for the Colts in 2020. But he has eight Pro Bowls and was the 2013 Comeback Player of the Year so he is used to being scrutinized and doing the impossible. Rivers has Brady numbers with age being 41 and his children now are in double-digits so he is quite busy. Plus, he is a high school football coach smack towards the end of their season. But his final year in the NFL he threw for 4,169 yards with 16 starts, 24 touchdowns, and 11 picks.

Another name that is being thrown out there is Josh Rosen. He was on the Browns practice squad last year before the Minnesota Vikings claimed him, so he is familiar with the coaching staff, playbook, and schemes. Rosen did not have any snaps with either team in 2022.

And even though he has officially retired, what kind of shape is Ryan Fitzpatrick in?

Yet another name mentioned is Carson Wentz. He was available all season but signed with the Los Angeles Rams as the team’s backup QB on November 8 so this is a dead end.

There is no excuse for Berry to not have landed a dependable backup at the trade deadline. Considering the play of both Walker and DTR, it will be a failure of leadership if the Browns don’t sign a veteran free-agent quarterback to come in and be a game manager. In essence, the season depends on it.

The solution

Perhaps the Browns need to think more out of the box.

Even though the trade deadline has ended, there is another possibility. Is this idea against the NFL rules? Realistically no, but then again, maybe.

The Tennessee Titans have a quarterback problem of their own, albeit different than Cleveland’s.

They are now starting rookie Will Levis. That means their former starter, Ryan Tannehill, is on the bench under his $27 million contract. Also in the quarterback room is Malik Willis who has some starts.

Tennessee Titans v Cleveland Browns
Ryan Tannehill
Photo by Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images

What if the Browns persuaded the Titans to release Tannehill? (Something Mike Florio from Pro Football Talk mentioned)He started six games this season with 1,128 passing yards, two touchdowns, and six interceptions. Yes, he has struggled this year, but just two seasons ago he had 3,819 yards with 33 TDs against just seven picks so he has it in him to play well.

How could this be accomplished with Tennessee?

For starters, this conversation never happened and is between you, me, and the fence post.

The Titans would have to release Tannehill. Then he would go through waivers. This is tricky, but the thought process is that since he is struggling this year coupled with his age of 35 and his hefty salary, no other team would claim him through waivers.

Cleveland would put in a claim for Tannehill who has $12 million remaining for this year and a contract that expires after this season so there is no long-term situation as Watson would return for 2024.

The benefit to the Titans is substantial savings on their salary cap on a player that would probably be cut anyway during the off-season. Cleveland would agree to take on the balance of his contract because he is a vested veteran. $12 million is a lot of room added to Tennessee’s salary cap situation.

Let’s take a look at the other NFL clubs who have issues at quarterback that precede the Browns’ waiver wire claim slot. The New York Jets are certainly a possibility. Maybe the Chicago Bears. The New Orleans Saints may or may not have problems. The Raiders just lost Jimmy Garoppolo for the season. Are the Patriots satisfied with Mac Jones going forward?

Tennessee Titans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

So, there are other suitors ahead of Cleveland’s waiver slot that could make a claim on Tannehill before the Browns. But realistically, would they?

It would benefit Tannehill because he would be able to continue being a starter and show the other clubs what his skills are going into next year. He would also become a member of an offense that is primed for a game manager who isn’t going to screw up the remainder of the season.

Would the Browns be interested in Tannehill as their starter to finish out the year over DTR and Walker? Could this happen?

To get this thing rolling, all it takes is two burner phones.