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Quarterback or No Quarterback? That’s the Cleveland Browns Draft Question

Quarterback or not? That's the Cleveland Browns draft question as they continue to process player after player who attempt to fulfill the quarterback role.

There are a few absolutes in the NFL.

A debate on what constitutes a catch or not; Tom Brady laughing in the face of father time; and the sporting mediocrity that emanates from Ohio in the form of the Cleveland Browns. Now don’t get me wrong, even as a relatively new Browns fan, I am more than aware of Cleveland’s checkered history since they reemerged in the late 90’s. The Browns record of missed draft opportunities are part of this much maligned franchise’s history. Names like Julio Jones & Ben Roethlisberger can send any Browns fan into an uncontrollable weeping fit.

Quarterback or No Quarterback? That’s the Cleveland Browns Draft Question

The conveyor belt in Cleveland continues to process player after player who attempt to fulfill the quarterback role. Ultimately they fail, and are consumed and spat back out to curbside, leaving the Browns no closer to finding a franchise centerpiece. It gets more difficult with every failure, for the Browns to shake the nickname: ‘The Factory of Sadness.’

However, optimism is growing in Cleveland. Head coach Hue Jackson, appointed in January 2016, has a clear vision for the Browns and a plan the franchise must follow out of obscurity. He is supported by a front office consisting of Sashi Brown (executive vice president of football operations) and long-time baseball executive Paul DePodesta (hired as chief strategy officer). There were ‘Moneyball’ references aplenty and debates over the use of analytics in the NFL; discussing what sort of franchise the Browns would become. What is clear is that Cleveland is in a full-scale rebuild and there will be no stone left unturned on route to success.

Building Through Free Agency

2016 was a tough season, where the Browns narrowly avoided the infamy of 0-16 record. The team had to make some important decisions to add to and develop their largely rookie squad. It was always going to be important to recruit the right talent that not only filled one of the many needs on the roster, but also find players that buy into the re-build. One area that was crying out for much needed attention was the offensive line. After the departure of some key players last year and the expectations of the 2017 offensive line draft class set so low; the Browns had to venture into this off-season’s free agent market.

Cincinnati Bengals guard Kevin Zeitler joined Cleveland on a contract worth $60 million over five years with $31.5 million in guarantees. Joining Zeitler was Green Bay Packer centre J.C. Tretter. He signed a three-year $16.75 million contract, with $6.5 million coming in the first year. The Browns also resigned their 2014 second-round pick, Joel Bitonio with his progress over the last few seasons, rewarded with a bumper $51 million contract extension over six years. Putting the money to one side, and the playing potential of these three players alongside team stalwart and Pro Bowler, Joe Thomas, it was key to gauge their reasons for signing with the Browns.

In Hue We Trust

It was no surprise that Zeitler was keen to reunite with his former offensive coordinator and now head coach Hue Jackson.

“No convincing was needed,” Zeitler said in conference call interview with reporters, a day after signing with Cleveland. “Sorry (to not beat) around the bush, but Hue (Jackson) is here. It might sound ridiculous, but because Hue is here, I believe.”


Tretter also iterated a similar sentiment when interviewed on signing, and was keen to point out that the opportunity of joining the mix of established and potential talent in Cleveland, was not something he could turn down.

“It will be great,” Tretter said. “Obviously, when I was in Green Bay, we had (former Packers and Bears guard) Josh Sitton and (Packers guard) T.J. Lang, so it is great surrounding yourself with players at the top of their position. That is what you have here now. Whenever you have guys who are as good as it gets in the league right now, you have the opportunity to really go out there and succeed, and I think everybody really raises their level of play as you increase the talent in the room.”


Extra credit though goes to Joel Bitonio, who on the day he signed his huge contract extension, spent the morning visiting students of ‘William Bryant School’ in Cleveland.

All the above are examples of what is expected of a player as part of the Cleveland Browns. The days of ‘Johnny Football’ and the endless list of mercenaries that have used the Browns to earn a few more dollars before they are found out, are behind this team. Each player on the Brown’s roster has a 100 percent commitment to the team and to the fans, and are fully on board with what Hue Jackson and the front office are trying to achieve in Cleveland.

Onto the NFL Draft

Moving forward, the Cleveland Browns draft armory is fully stocked with 11 picks (five within the top 100). As ever, the number one question posed concerns the issue of a quarterback and when, how and where it will be addressed. Opinion is that Cleveland should invest high capital in filling this need. Whether that be using a first round pick on a prospective rookie, or trading a good chunk of their draft picks on a current NFL quarterback, such as New England’s Jimmy Garoppolo.

I have been personally banging the drum for the Browns to pick the best available player, to fill the other holes on the roster before investing in a quarterback. With an offensive line strengthened in free agency, the three key areas to be improved in the draft would be the pass-rush, the secondary, and then of course quarterback.

Defensive game changer.

The defense is screaming out for a game changer and it would be criminal for the Browns to pass on Myles Garrett with the first overall pick. Almost every scout and draft analyst has Garrett at the top of their boards, who under his draft profile is described as having:

“…pass-rush production and athletic traits that point toward an all-pro career.”


The Browns have shown intent on moving the focus of the rebuild to the defensive side of the ball, with the appointment of Gregg Williams from the Los Angeles Rams as their new defensive coordinator. Williams is a coach whose defenses have the reputation of playing ‘nasty.’ Therefore, picking Myles Garrett at the top of the draft gives the Browns a physical cornerstone to their new look defense.

With the secondary, Cleveland can feel less pressured to use their higher picks to address this area, as the upcoming draft is loaded with high quality defensive backs. Current premium corner-back Joe Haden has played most of the last few seasons through injury. So the Browns could venture into the second or even as low as the third round of the draft to give him the support he needs.

Addressing the Quarterback

Addressing this position, I think Cleveland should put trust in the improved offensive line and allow last year’s draft choice, Cody Kessler, to take the reins. He would be able to build on a solid debut season, and keep the Browns offense moving without the added pressure of trying to fulfill the role as franchise quarterback. Kessler can lean on a potentially stronger running game, and let Hue Jackson run his style of offense. This could factor into where they decided to pull the trigger on drafting a quarterback. The 12th pick is as early as Cleveland should make a move for a quarterback, but if they are not 100 percent sold on anyone available at that point, they have comfort in drafting a more developmental player and working with them behind Kessler on the depth chart.

Many scouts and reports suggest that in the 2018 draft, the quarterbacks available will be surefire first round picks. Players such as USC’s Sam Darnold, UCLA’s Josh Rosen and Wyoming’s Josh Allen are just three collegiate signal-callers that are high on many 2018 draft boards. Starting the season with Cody Kessler, a 2017 draftee and possibly even their ‘Moneyball’ acquisition Brock Osweiler on the depth chart, will help establish an offensive blueprint and make dropping a premium 2018 talent into the quarterback role a lot more effective. Look at the Oakland Raiders and the pain they endured in building up their team’s core elements, before making Derek Carr the franchise quarterback.

Moving Forward

The Browns cannot continue to live in fear of repeating past mistakes by passing over quarterbacks in the draft to focus on other areas of need. There will always be a Ben Roethlisberger in the draft that will be overlooked, where in hindsight every team, not just Cleveland, would reconsider their choices knowing what type of player they would become. Expectations are high in Cleveland for an answer to the franchise quarterback conundrum. Every head coach and front office past and present has been, and will be judged on how the try to solve it. However, the key to this current rebuild is the development of the team and the use of draft capital in ensuring that all weaknesses in the roster are dealt with.

The quarterback will always be the key piece of the puzzle. In Cleveland’s, it needs be the final one.


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