They say they definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over again, expecting different results. For the Cleveland Browns and their fan base, one could say the true definition of insanity is watching what has unfolded at the quarterback position since the team returned to the NFL in 1999.
As many are constantly reminded thanks to a store-front jersey in Cleveland, the Browns have searched high and low (with an emphasis on the “low” part) to find an answer to their QB woes. It all started with the No. 1 overall pick, Tim Couch, in the 1999 NFL Draft—and as of now, it appears the team will head into the 2015 season with a repeat last name from that jersey starting for their team.
The Cleveland Browns inked Josh McCown to a three-year deal this offseason to come in and “compete” for the starting job. However, one could argue that his “competition” is a little lacking, as 2014 first-round draft pick Johnny Manziel is in rehab. The only other threats between McCown and the Browns starting QB gig this season are Connor Shaw and recently signed Thad Lewis.
I guess the positive in this scenario of four quarterbacks is that the store owner wouldn’t have to add a new last name to the list, right? Manziel and Shaw started games last season, Lewis started in 2012 and McCown’s brother, Luke, started for the team back in 2004—though the store owner could get tricky and add “L” in front of the first McCown and then make a new entry at the bottom for Josh. In fact, since the jersey has gained national notoriety, this is exactly what will likely happen.
So, barring a miraculous turnaround of epic proportions for Manziel between leaving rehab and the beginning of the 2015 NFL season—we can go ahead and pencil in McCown as starter No. 23 for the organization since 1999. Forgive the fans for feeling nauseous right about now, because they have witnessed this move play out time and time again.
Despite the fact that the organization has been through regime after regime since returning to the league, they all are apparently utilizing the same leather-bound book found in the general manager’s office. That book reads “sign a veteran free agent, forget about developing a young QB.”
Ty Detmer, Doug Pederson, Jeff Garcia, Trent Dilfer, Jake Delhomme and Brian Hoyer were all brought in as a “veteran presence” to help compete—and only Detmer started fewer than four games for the franchise. Now, this is not knocking having a veteran voice in the QB room—but at some point this organization needs to put their faith and support behind a young prospect, giving this player the proper time to grow—even if he struggles at first.
Though admittedly against the selection of Manziel, this process is seemingly being repeated already by this regime. Following the season, owner Jimmy Haslam stated, “Clearly quarterback’s an important position in the NFL and we’ve got to figure it out. If you look at the Browns and where they’ve struggled, they’ve struggled with the quarterback, so we know that’s a position like others that we’ll have to address. (GM) Ray (Farmer) and his team will go to work on that tonight and tomorrow.”
Haslam was also asked if Manziel was his QB of the future, to which he replied, “That’s a comment for another day, and it’s certainly not a comment I’m going to make. That’s a comment for Ray and Mike to make. But I think they’ve done a good job this year. I think we’re a better team. But we understand. Listen, this is a tough division. Think who’s in the division — the Steelers who have won two Super Bowls in the last eight years.”
Reading between the lines, Haslam points directly to the Steelers—who have had one of the toughest, most effective QBs in the league at the helm since 2004. Whether you hate Ben Roethlisberger or not (which I’m assuming most of you do), you cannot deny he has been one of the best in the league since being drafted out of Miami of Ohio. Furthermore, he has been an iron-man of sorts—starting 158-of-159 games in that time span—missing just 14 games overall (not counting the two he did not play in as a rookie).
So this brings us to the title of this piece, as the Cleveland Browns are yet again facing a QB conundrum heading into the 2015 NFL Draft.
There is—at least in the eyes of this writer—no possible way the Browns go into the 2015 season with McCown, Manziel, Lewis and Shaw as the only QBs on the roster. Not with 10 picks in the draft, and six in the first four rounds.
Is the QB crop widely viewed as weak this year? Absolutely, but that should not stop Ray Farmer and company from drafting someone they believe in. For a team that continues to build with a “win-now” mentality after improving to a 7-9 record last season, failing to add a talented, young arm to an extremely underwhelming crop of players would not only be an injustice—it would likely immediately place Farmer and his front office on the hot seat.
Okay, maybe that is a bit of an exaggeration in regard to the hot seat. But you absolutely cannot expect a 36-year old coming off a 1-10 season as a starter to lead you to the playoffs, no matter how much you want to point to his statistics just two years ago in Chicago. On top of that, you simply cannot depend on Manziel—not because of his utterly atrocious six quarters of football last year, but because he is an unreliable option off the field.
Now that we have established the Browns need to draft a QB at some point to add to the mix, who should it be and when should they do it? At this point, I implore you to go back to the beginning and re-read the definition of insanity before you answer.
Why did I re-direct you to the beginning of the article? Because time and time again the same statement is uttered in regard to QBs in the NFL Draft for the Browns. That statement is, “The Top QB isn’t Peyton Manning or Andrew Luck. Let’s just get a guy later and develop him.”
With all due respect, getting a QB not in the top tier of the class is exactly what the Browns have done year in and year out with the exception of Couch. Though many fans feel like the Browns have swung and missed on top tier QBs every single season since the return, the team has taken just one QB in the Top 20 of the NFL Draft. Instead of identifying a QB they can build around and going and getting said QB, the organization has “let the draft come to them,” and failed miserably in the process. The breakdown says all you need to know—one QB in the Top 20, four QBs between picks 21 and 80 and three QBs between 81 and the end of the draft.
For those who do not feel like doing the math, that adds up to just eight draft selections at the most important position on the football field—despite not sniffing consistency at the position since 1999. Though half of those selections were in fact first-round QBs, only one of them was widely regarded as a top prospect in his class. The other three, Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Manziel, were in a lower tier.
Applying all of this to the 2015 NFL Draft, the two QBs considered “Top Tier” are Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota. Though both have their “faults,” they are widely considered well ahead of the rest of the prospects in this draft class. So this brings up the question, would you mortgage multiple draft picks to go get one of these players?
Before you answer with “no, we should just wait til next year’s class” allow me to provide a bit of information.
It will potentially take just as much, if not more for the Browns to go up and get one of the top tier QBs in next year’s class if the team can win 6-8 games this coming season. Currently, the Browns do not have extra picks in the 2016 NFL Draft—which means that if they are attempting to go up in the Top 10 and get one of the QBs in that class (assuming they are not picking Top 10), they would likely have to mortgage “future” picks to do so. This means we could be talking about no first-round and second-round picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, with the possibility of not owning a first in the 2018 NFL Draft as well if the price is similar to that of Robert Griffin III in 2012.
Is this a lot of “future” to talk about right now? Absolutely, but this is what Farmer and the front office are currently doing—so fans who want to talk about QBs of the future should be doing the same. If the 2015 cost to go and get a guy like Mariota is both firsts and a mid-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, that is significantly cheaper than the future cost which not only includes two years’ worth of early-round selections, but a wasted year of young QB development in 2015.
Now, that likely brings us to the objection of “Mariota is a system QB and will not succeed in the NFL.” With all due respect, every QB prospect is a product of a system. Very few collegiate systems implement all aspects and responsibilities of a pro-style offense, and none of them face the level of defense the QB will be asked to face in the NFL. For example, Winston is considered a pro-style QB, yet he struggled at doing various pro-style aspects when asked to do them, yet people are rating him ahead of Mariota because he was a pro-style QB.
So what is the moral of the story?
Time and time again the Browns organization has failed to put the time and effort into developing the most important position on the field. This has continued to turn out below average to poor play season in and season out. But for some reason, we continue to gravitate toward the same answer to the QB problem because it is the same one we have grown accustom to since 1999.
For the sake of all of our sanity—and in honor of Albert Einstein—let’s stop repeating the same behavior over and over again, expecting a different result. Find a QB you believe in, and do whatever you have to do to go and get him. And for the love of all that is good, give that QB more than one or two seasons to develop into an NFL starter—or else we will be having this conversation again two years from now, and honestly I’d much rather talk about something else.