Before the draft process even started, the first thing that the Cleveland Browns has to resolve was to find a new head coach. Having done so with the hiring of Hue Jackson, the second task at hand was to address the quarterback situation. They ultimately did so by releasing Johnny Manziel and signing Robert Griffin III to a two-year, $15 million contract.
But to hear executive vice president of football operations Sashi Brown tell it, the Browns are not looking at Griffin as the sure thing starter, and the new regime is embracing competition at the quarterback spot, at which Cleveland has no shortage of players.
Notably, the Browns did draft a quarterback in the third round of the 2016 NFL Draft in Cody Kessler, whom Brown described as “a guy that I would not want to sleep on at all if I wanted to be the starting quarterback of the Browns”, referring to the situation that Griffin finds himself in.
One should not forget that Cleveland does still have Josh McCown on the roster, who was the team’s primary starting quarterback last season, and they also have Connor Shaw and Austin Davis, although, barring a release or trade of McCown, neither of them figure to stand a great chance of ending up on the 53-man roster this time around.
Griffin may have been the second-overall pick in the draft once upon a time, but he lost his starting job to a former fourth-round draft pick last season. Why, then, should it be inconceivable that he might lose out to a third-round draft pick?
The new Browns regime is one that puts a greater emphasis on analytic data than in the past, and Kessler is a quarterback that they targeted with this in mind. One advantage that he does bring with him from the collegiate ranks is the fact that he was a very accurate quarterback in college, which is one of the most difficult aspects for a player to improve upon at the next level.
Kessler does not have the strongest arm in the draft, to be sure, and he is short for the quarterback position, but he is an intelligent player who excelled at USC on short and intermediate passes. If that is the sort of offense that this Browns regime intends to run, then it might not be so outlandish to believe that he could start—at least at some point.
“We truly believe in competition here”, Brown said, while emphasizing how critical it was to everything else that the Browns hope to do as an organization that they find the solution at the quarterback position, which is the greatest catalyst of success elsewhere.
It will be interesting to see just how ‘open’ this quarterback competition becomes by August, however, between Griffin, McCown, and Kessler. The smart money is obviously on Griffin. After all, Cleveland did trade out of the second spot in the draft after signing him, passing up on drafting Carson Wentz.
They also could have traded up to draft Jared Goff, as the Rams did, at less cost, since they only had to move up one spot rather than 14. If there wasn’t some level of confidence and aspiration for Griffin, then chances are they would have at least ended up with Paxton Lynch in this draft.