- If the past two decades have taught us anything, it’s that the quarterback the Browns take at the top of the first round is no sure thing. And if there’s anything we’ve learned over the past two seasons, it’s that teams are willing to pay a hefty price for a young, cheap, promising backup. It adds up to an obvious play for the Browns next week
This is not a radical idea. In truth, the Cleveland Browns taking two quarterbacks within the first 64 picks of this month’s draft makes too much sense.
We all know the Browns’ history at the most important position in sports, but for the sake of building this case—and for the sake of this narrative—let’s revisit it briefly. Twenty-eight starting quarterbacks since the franchise returned in 1999—and that’s guaranteed to be 29 in September, when they begin the 20th season of the return. Ten quarterbacks drafted since 1999, including five in the first two rounds. Zero Pro Bowl appearances among them. A blind squirrel will eventually find a nut, but the Browns can’t find a quarterback in two decades.
With one win in 32 games, the Browns have Processed their way to an amazing amount of draft capital. They own the first and fourth picks in this draft along with 33, 35 and 64 in the second round. No, they are not a quarterback away from threatening to make the playoffs. Yes, they still have holes, especially at left tackle and in the secondary.
Cleveland absolutely should spend the first overall pick on a quarterback. This is non-negotiable, no matter how much you love Saquon Barkley. But after Cleveland has identified its signal-caller (and as many have pointed out, by this point in the pre-draft season we usually know), there will be plenty of chances to get a second quarterback on Day 2 because, (1) It’s too important to not give yourself enough options to finally get this right, and (2) It has a chance to pay off not only in the short term, but in the long term too.
I have no problem with the Browns spending the fourth overall pick on Barkley or Bradley Chubb. Once you take your best shot at securing your franchise quarterback, go after a talent that you expect to wear a gold jacket five years after his career is over. You’ll get your second quarterback with one of your three second-round picks.
There’s the option to trade the fourth pick to a quarterback-needy team and amass more picks in first two days of the draft. Let’s say the Bills want the fourth. The Browns could demand the Bills’ 12th, 56th and 65th picks—an equal swap according to the trade value chart—or possibly more if only one of the “big four” quarterbacks remains on the board. That gives Cleveland four picks in the second round (an eighth of the round!) and the pick at the top of the third round pick that they originally gave to Buffalo for Tyrod Taylor, the obvious bridge quarterback in Cleveland.
Whether you trade the pick or stand pat with three second-rounders, that is where you strike for your second quarterback of the draft, who will enter training camp as the third quarterback on the depth chart who could wind up being your franchise quarterback or a valuable trade asset within two years.
Some will call this the Kirk Cousins Plan, when Washington took Robert Griffin III No. 2 overall and then used its fourth-round selection on Cousins as a sort of insurance in case RG3 didn’t pan out. I’m not necessarily saying that Mason Rudolph or Luke Falk will overtake No. 1 pick Sam Darnold/Josh Allen/Baker Mayfield/Josh Rosen, but of course it’s possible. The more likely scenario is the second-round pick will not win the starting job in 2018 or 2019, and here’s why that’s O.K.:
• You used your other two or three second-round picks on players who will contribute and come on cheap deals.
• You have a cheap backup quarterback option.
• You have an amazing trade asset that could very well increase in value just by sitting on the bench.
The Patriots traded former 62nd overall pick Jimmy Garoppolo—he of 63 completions in three years—for this year’s 43rd pick and very likely would (and should) have gotten more had the New England triumvirate of Kraft-Belichick-Brady been more functional near the trade deadline.
And last fall, AJ McCarron, the 164th pick in the 2014 draft, very nearly went to Cleveland in exchange for second- and third-round picks. (The Browns, infamously, never finalized that deal for the guy who lost the free-agent-quarterback game of musical chairs this spring.)
So there’s strong, recent evidence that suggests selecting a backup quarterback in the draft and parking him on the bench could increase his value to your team. (Play him too much, though, and he could depreciate like Cody Kessler, a former third-round pick who went 0-8 as a starter and was traded for a conditional seventh-round pick.)
And consider one more thing that will inflate a second QB’s value: This year’s class of quarterbacks might be generational, which means prospects from the second tier might have some of that mysticism rub off on them. Over the next few years, evaluators will continue to bemoan how quarterbacks are coming out of college unpolished, that fewer teams are running pro-style offenses and that it will take longer to develop a young quarterback. We’re moving out of the Millennial generation and into Generation Z. If NFL personnel people don’t know what to make of millennials by now, good luck with these new guys who don’t know a pre-Facebook world.
So in two or so years, you, Cleveland Browns, might have the luxury of shopping a quarterback who’s part of a mythical draft class, who has learned the NFL ropes, who’s cheap for another couple of seasons, and who offers a fantastic alternative to a future 21-year-old prospect an NFL team has trouble understanding and adapting to.
With this draft, after all those years of futility, the Browns should finally find their quarterback of the future. They should find another Pro Bowl talent with another first-round pick. And then they can ensure that, with one of their several second-round selections, the fruit borne in the Factory of Sadness will give them an even higher draft pick in the coming years when, hopefully, their cup runneth over.
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