The Cleveland Browns have had a quarterback situation the entire 2023 season.
First, Deshaun Watson played poorly, then got hurt, then had a few really good games, and then went for an MRI on his shoulder before finding out he had a shoulder injury. That placed him on injured reserve.
When Watson was injured the first time, rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson (DTR) showed why he was a fifth-round rookie and was taken to the woodshed by the league-leading Baltimore Ravens.
Next man up? Journeyman P.J. Walker. He played well in spurts but mostly turned the ball over. At one time, he was 2-0 in his starts but finally lost a game. And the coaches’ respect.
So, GM Andrew Berry decided a seasoned veteran was in order. Not before the trade deadline mind you, although he did reportedly offer the Washington Commanders a sixth-round pick for former Browns starter/backup Jacoby Brissett. Washington replied with a “no thank you” for the lowball offer.
Berry then offered a tryout to a veteran. A Super Bowl winner. A Super Bowl MVP. A quarterback that has played in 16 playoff games. After all, the Browns were headed in the right direction and became seeded with the post-season format.
Several days after the tryout, Berry inked that quarterback: Joe Flacco.
After beating the Ravens, which would become Watson’s final game this year, the Browns then defeated division foe Pittsburgh Steelers with DTR at the helm. He played well, and things were looking positive for a change.
In the following game against the Denver Broncos, DTR started but did not look good. He then suffered a concussion and left the game. Walker came in to play catchup and was horrid.
After the Broncos defeat, DTR was placed in concussion protocol. Cleveland won’t know about his condition until midweek at the earliest.
Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski stated on a Zoom call:
“I think with all our players that we get during the season — Obviously, you work with them in the meeting room, out on the practice field and see where they are. We’ll see where this week goes based on, obviously, Dorian’s health.”
Since Stefanski did not enlighten who would start this week, onto the next question. If DTR is healthy, will he start this week against the Los Angeles Rams?
As for DTR and being in concussion protocol, it is uncommon for a player to clear protocol in just one week. This is not to say that he won’t by the end of the week, but it would be unusual if he was activated and cleared to play.
Kevin Stefanski: Amari Cooper (ribs) think he'll be OK. Jordan Elliott (ankle), day to day. Myles Garrett (shoulder) feel good about that, day to day. DTR (concussion) will follow through the protocol.— Tony Grossi (@TonyGrossi) November 27, 2023
If DTR is not cleared, then Cleveland will have to start Walker or throw Flacco out there on Sunday whether he is ready or not.
Then again, DTR may not be the coach’s choice even if he is cleared from protocol. Perhaps after seeing him play a good game followed by a mediocre performance, they just may decide that it is time to throw Flacco out there and see if he is indeed the answer and still has some pixie dust left in him.
But for now, Cleveland is in quarterback limbo.
Suitable backup plan
After Watson went on IR, the Browns had just DTR and Walker on the roster. There wasn’t a third guy on the practice squad to go to. It was scary going into games with just two signal-callers.
This week just may become the debut of Flacco for the Browns. And perhaps, it should be his first game.
It is apparent that Walker is not the answer. He won’t be a roster member next season. DTR has potential but needs a lot of mentorship and experience to get ready for the big time and bright lights.
Flacco has seen his share of the limelight and has played in a ton of important games. He was signed as the backup to DTR in case he got hurt. Well, didn’t that just happen? Right out of the gate basically?
Watson made six starts, Walker two, and DTR two as well. If and when Flacco starts, that will make four different starting quarterbacks this year.
Against the Broncos, DTR wasn’t horrible but had a terrible first half as the offense just could not make key third downs and sustain drives. In fact, DTR did appear to get better as the game rolled along before LB Baron Browning leveled him in the third quarter of the 29-12 defeat.
Maybe it is time to see what the 38-year-old Flacco can do.
Answer this: have the other two quarterbacks gained your confidence as a fan that they can take this roster deep into the playoffs?
The Browns have already seen a good sample size of both DTR and Walker. At no time should Walker be inserted. But DTR? He needs the time to be able to read things quickly. He has shown some promise and could become a very good backup or even a starter. Just not now.
Of course, Flacco’s last game was in Week 17 in 2022 as a roster member of the New York Jets. It is very possible he just doesn’t have the skillset any longer. Remember it was just last year in Week 2 that Flacco engineered that comeback against the Browns down by 13 with just 1:55 left in the game.
And besides, the Browns live and die with their running game. Flacco may only be needed as a game manager who will toss 20-something times a game.
Former Browns great Greg Pruitt stated on the FOX 8 “Monday Morning Running Back” show:
“(Flacco) will be in a (uniform) next Sunday. How fast he picks up what you’re trying to do is the key.”
Flacco is predominately a pocket passer, but he can run (albeit very slowly). During his 16-year career, he has 368 attempts for 862 yards with 16 rushing TDs. He has passed for 42,320 yards, so yes, he can chuck the ball. His career average QB rating is 84.0. He has also started 180 of 183 games that he played.
But coming to the Browns so late could be an issue. How can he develop any chemistry with his new receivers?
Only one way to find out.
Start Flacco now, and let’s get this quarterback conundrum over with.