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How Deshaun Watson’s Suspension Appeal Could Affect the Browns’ QB Room

Jacoby Brissett is set to take over for Watson while he’s suspended for six games. But Jimmy Garoppolo could make sense for a full season.

DENVER — I just got to my 10th training camp city and, sure, I’m starting to forget where I am. But I didn’t forget to get to your questions (even if this is coming a day later than usual) …

From bryg20 (@gnieskib): Do the Browns stay with Brissett for the six games or make a run at Garoppolo? Does the potential for an appeal by the league alter that thought process?

Bryg—I’ll start by saying I think, and I think the Browns think, that Jacoby Brissett’s a better player than he gets credit for. But he was brought in for a very specific reason, and that was to hold down the fort whenever Deshaun Watson would have to serve his suspension. So I think the Browns signed him thinking he could be the guy for a six-, eight- or 10-game stretch, and maybe the team would even benefit from that (with more players having to take on more prominent roles in the interim), with the idea Watson would be back.

I think if we’re talking about a scenario where Watson isn’t back this year, then we’re talking about something else entirely. I’d say it’s unlikely that happens because this thing will wind up in court first. But if it does, then my feeling (and this is just my feeling) is the Browns would reevaluate the position and consider getting another guy in the mix.

Cleveland Browns quarterback Deshaun Watson (left) throws with Jacoby Brissett during the team’s training camp.

That guy could well be Jimmy Garoppolo. Remember, coach Kevin Stefanski learned the offense he’s running in Cleveland from Gary Kubiak, who also happened to be a mentor of Kyle Shanahan’s. So, presumably, the transition for Garoppolo coming to Cleveland would be pretty easy, and it’d allow the Browns to compete with a roster the Cleveland brass feels is more than ready to truly contend. Garoppolo, as part of that, would get a great chance to prove who he can be as a quarterback, ahead of looking for a new home in 2023.

And again, I don’t think all that will happen. But it’s not out of the question.

From Justin Mason (@Masonjt24): Matt Rhule out as Panthers head coach if the Panthers don’t make playoffs? #KeepPounding

Justin, obviously, Matt Rhule would have a hard time, like any NFL coach, surviving three straight playoff-less seasons. But there are two reasons to think David Tepper might remain patient. One is what’ll be left on Rhule’s seven-year, $63 million deal at the end of the year. Two is that this was a very big swing for Tepper, and it’s pretty clear he doesn’t like to be wrong.

So yeah, in all likelihood, the playoffs will be the barometer. But if the team’s up and down early and catches fire late but just misses the playoffs, based on how invested the franchise has been in Rhule, I could see there being a path to him surviving it.

From Derek Robbins (@coachdeek10): Pittsburgh wouldn’t actually carry the 3 QBs? So is that stiff Rudolph the odd man out?

First of all, Derek, that’s a very mean-spirited comment to direct at Mason Rudolph. He’s doing his best (and, joking aside, he’s been fine this summer).

With that established, I think Mike Tomlin’s decision on how many quarterbacks to carry out of camp comes down, almost exclusively, to Kenny Pickett. He’s got a ways to go, without question, and that’s been apparent in spots early on—but the fact that he’s already stealing a few second-team reps from Mitch Trubisky is probably indicative of the coaches toying with the idea of going with two quarterbacks. The expanded practice-squad rules also allow for some added flexibility to keep a player like Rudolph.

That said, the Steelers do want to give Rudolph a fair shake and they have sunken four full seasons into his development. So I’d say while Rudolph isn’t a roster lock, the chance to perhaps stash him on the practice squad, and the insurance he’d give the team for bumps in Pickett’s development give him a solid shot to stick around.

From Tom Marshall (@aredzonauk): Were the Cardinals really so naive to think the “homework clause” would not become a hugely controversial mistake?

Honestly, Tom, this shouldn’t have been anywhere nearly this hard—but I do think I have an idea of how this sort of thing happens. It really starts with questions on Kyler Murray’s leadership that have lingered through the first three years of his career. Then, it goes to Murray seeing what his ex-teammate, and friend, Baker Mayfield got for waiting in Cleveland. Then, comes the report from ESPN’s Chris Mortensen on Super Bowl Sunday, and we were off the races.

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From there, understandably, Murray’s camp felt the need to rattle cages, and so as the NFL arrived in Indianapolis for the combine at the end of February, agent Erik Burkhardt hit send on an explosive statement saying the quarterback wanted to be a Cardinal, wanted to bring Arizona a championship and, to chart the path there, wanted an affirmation he was the team’s quarterback for the long haul.

So if you’re the Cardinals, at that point, you might think, O.K., we’ll do it, but we need some assurances first. Those assurances get put in writing. And before you even notice how useless such a clause would be—there’s so much downside there for everyone involved, as we’ve seen, and minimal upside—you might almost forget how you got there in the first place.

It was pretty Mickey Mouse, no doubt. And even with the clause now gone, everyone’s still gonna have to wear those ears for a while.

From District Razorback (@DC_Razorback): Best QB in new location (Matt Ryan, Wentz, Baker) excluding Wilson

District, I think it’s probably Watson, from a pure football standpoint. He was really good his first four years in Houston, and showed something that few quarterbacks his age are able to—the ability to lift a depleted team almost single-handedly. It’s hard to separate the on-field from the off-field, obviously. But if the off-field part of it wasn’t there, I think it’d be Watson.

Then, there’s Russell Wilson and, as I see it, Matt Ryan. And after that Carson Wentz and Baker Mayfield as reclamation projects, and I’d go so far as to say I’m not sure it’s fair to put Wilson far in front of Ryan. Ryan’s older, but at their respective peaks, I think they’re comparable, and that’s why I think people aren’t taking the Colts seriously enough.

By Gambling Avenger (@GamblingAvenge1): At what point will you change your “pinned tweet” to something that’s not about your podcast and the 2021 mid season MVP?

Avenger, you’re right. I gotta take care of that.

From Shaun (@GreatWhite85): Why is Ohio awful?

For you? Probably because Michigan hasn’t won there in 22 years.

From Matt Davis (@MrMattD2): How are you?

Good.

From Brian King (@KingBGK): Is the $350 Duxbury beach drive-on sticker the biggest racket going?

No question. Stupid plovers.

From Kenny Toce (@Toceleonard5): Do you separate whites when you do laundry on the road?

I try to find a wash-and-fold, so usually that’s not up to me.

From Moose Block (@moose_block): Does Brian Flores have any recourse at this point?

Well, as to the league disciplining Dolphins owner Stephen Ross for tanking, the answer is no—the NFL’s investigation into that is closed. But Flores’s class-action lawsuit, filed in conjunction with Steve Wilks and Ray Horton, is still very much in play. So his recourse, I guess, would be to win the lawsuit that’s still in court.

From BigMikeC68 (@BigMikeC68): Does Kraft regret choosing Bill over Brady? He has to. Letting the greatest walk because you wouldn't pay him is unforgivable. Bill thought he was done. Not even close.

Mike, I think time will tell, and let me say that, if you were forced to pick between the two in early 2020, I don’t think it’s an easy call. In fact, just because of where that roster was at that point, and because of the lack of history with quarterbacks his age continuing to play at the level he has, I don’t think at the time going with Bill Belichick over Tom Brady was that wild a decision for Robert Kraft to make.

Now, obviously, the call looks a lot different than it did then. And I will admit that it’s caused me to look at the quarterback/coach dynamic a little bit differently. I still think the two are the most important positions for any team in the sport to get right—and maybe that’s an obvious take. But I think what Brady showed the last two years is the power a great quarterback holds, and the sort of influence he can cast on a team.

Everyone points at the weapons around Brady, and the defense he had with that Bucs team, and that’s all great. But exactly what had that group done without him? Tampa Bay hadn’t made the playoffs in 13 years—that was the NFC’s longest drought—and the franchise had cycled through Raheem Morris, Greg Schiano, Lovie Smith and then Bruce Arians in the years since firing Jon Gruden. It was kind of a clown show there and Brady shows up and in Year 1 … they win the whole friggin’ thing.

So if Belichick goes down there and coaches the same team with, say, Philip Rivers signed to play quarterback that offseason do they win the whole thing? And wouldn’t the Patriots have, in all likelihood, won a playoff game or two over the last couple of years with Brady at quarterback?

All this doesn’t mean I don’t think Belichick is the greatest coach of all time (I believe that he is). It just means I add up the quarterback/coach equation differently than I used to.

From MarkY (@mayurachek): As a Washington fan, I'm going to be a little self-centered: does the severity of Ross’s punishment bear any relation to what Daniel Snyder may face when Mary Jo White is done, or will it be considered apples and oranges? (I know what the answer is legally, I'm wondering re: NFL.

Mark, if anything, I think it only illuminates how easy the league took it on Snyder. He was removed from day-to-day operations of the team, yet on game day, when the NFL takes center stage and there are cameras everywhere, there Snyder was, week after week, in his suite at FedEx Stadium. And if anyone suggested that it was actually a suspension that Snyder was serving, well, then they’d probably be getting a call from one of his henchmen to correct the record on that.

To me, the handling of the Snyder situation only further proves a hard-to-deny truth of the NFL, and that’s that the guys who have the gold make the rules. Remember, Jerry Richardson wasn’t removed from the Panthers, he stepped away. Ross, it seems, took his medicine, too, knowing he messed up and made the league look bad.

For Snyder to get to the point where he’d do something like that would require self-reflection and humility, and I’m not sure he’s capable of either.

From Matt Ramas (@matt_ramas): I remember the league digging in pretty hard against Brady during the deflategate suspension ... do you expect them to push for a longer suspension for Deshaun Watson?

We’ll finish here, because we know the answer to this (Matt sent the question in before the league wound up appealing), because I figured this would be a good place to explain the step the league took Wednesday by going through with the appeal.

I actually think there’s something you can credit them for—the opportunity to step away from this was there for them. It would have been very easy for the people on Park Avenue to take Sue L. Robinson’s decision and say, “We don’t like it, but we negotiated this process, and while the facts are the facts here, we really didn’t have an issue with how she ran it.” Then, they could’ve reiterated that they wanted an indefinite suspension of at least a year, pinned that they didn’t get it on Robinson, and then called it a day.

Instead, one way or the other, the NFL is probably going to have to wear the outcome of this one. If Roger Goodell decides to hear the case himself, whatever the decision is (and whether it leads the league back into court or not) it’ll be his. If he passes it to a designee, his fingerprints will be on the decision-maker. Either way, the owners who wanted the league to get out of the business of being its own branch of the FBI aren’t getting what they wanted with the idea to outsource some of the disciplinary process.

Goodell, instead, has chosen to own this one. Whether he gets it right or wrong, I can respect that.

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