Skip to main content

NFL Quarterback Competitions are a Self Imposed Disadvantage

In the wake of a disappointing season for the Cleveland Browns, one idea that has gained some popularity is the idea of a quarterback competition to push Baker Mayfield. It doesn't work in the modern NFL, actually does more harm than good.

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow isn't taking fewer reps to help get Brandon Allen ready, yet the best way for the Cleveland Browns to close the gap and compete for the division next season is to split their reps between Baker Mayfield and another veteran competing with him for the starting job?

As skeptical fans and media come to grips with the ever increasing likelihood Baker Mayfield will be the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns for 2022, this idea of bringing in a veteran to 'push' the incumbent has gained popularity. It sounds like a good idea for the Browns to hedge their bets against injury or failure, but any team that has to find the reps to validate two quarterbacks are voluntarily putting themselves behind the rest of the league.

The way the collective bargaining agreement is structured has limited the amount of practices teams can have and the position that has suffered the most is quarterback. Plenty of the other positions, there's a conversation about diminishing returns with added risk for wear and tear. Quarterbacks can never have enough opportunities in 7 on 7 and team settings and it's a reason why the position is trending in a worse direction overall. 

It's the same reason casually drafting a developmental quarterback in the middle of the draft no longer makes sense the way it did when Ron Wolf was running the show with the Green Bay Packers during the 1990s.

Look at what has happened every time a developmental league has gotten off the ground. Quarterbacks who get reps they otherwise wouldn't manage to find their way into getting opportunities in the NFL. It's a reason to hope this latest iteration of the XFL can find its footing.

When the pandemic was just getting started, teams couldn't practice. Five-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady, after signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. took his new teammates to a high school field to get in work. Reps are everything and Brady viewed it as a way to get a competitive advantage. Whether or not it was a direct result of it, Brady got his sixth ring.

Scroll to Continue

Read More

This idea that having another quarterback taking reps will somehow push Mayfield completely ignores what happened this past season. Did Mayfield struggle in training camp? No. He was sharp, coming off a year where he was a top 10 quarterback and for the second half of the season including the playoffs. That was one of the reasons expectations were so high for the year. The injuries are what derailed the season.

Part of the reason the Browns liked Case Keenum was that he knew the offense. Reps for him were more about timing than trying to digest the offense. Nick Mullens, the third string quarterback had come from a similar system, having played with the San Francisco 49ers, but he was largely left to learn the differences and terminology on his own until they needed him. 

Whether it's Mitchell Trubisky, Marcus Mariota, or Gardner Minshew (still under contract for 2022), they would want, would require reps to compete before they'd come here. 

Every rep they take is one Mayfield can't. For a team set to overhaul the wide receiver looking to contend, that's a bad idea. They need to learn one quarterback, the nuances and rhythm of that player in order to maximize their opportunity to succeed early.

The other issue here is the fact that Mayfield wasn't the one who decided he was playing when he was injured no matter how much people want to believe he did. Stefanski made that call and he did it with the support of the rest of the organization.

Thy made the decision that an injured Mayfield was a better option than a healthy Keenum or Mullens, week after week. With every excuse, every reason to shut Mayfield down the first game against the Pittsburgh Steelers or the game against the Detroit Lions, they chose Mayfield. Right or wrong, that's the path they chose.

The Browns appear poised to move on from Keenum this offseason to save money. They will then sign Mullens to the backup job at a lower salary. It wasn't an accident they brought him in as the third string option over Kyle Lauletta and when he played against the Las Vegas Raiders with virtually no preparation beforehand, he managed to find his footing and play reasonably well in the second half.

Mayfield is going to sink or swim in 2022. Another veteran quarterback, one that wasn't starting for a team last year, isn't going to change that fundamental truth. If Mayfield succeeds, the Browns are in great shape. Fail and they will go in a different direction for 2023. An ill conceived quarterback competition shouldn't be a factor.