CLEVELAND’S QUARTERBACKING CONUNDRUM

Following another season’s end, NFL teams are currently negotiating their way through an exciting free agency period that has included plenty of interesting and surprising headlines.

One team in particular that has attracted more than its fair share of media attention during this time are the Cleveland Browns.  They have seen players come and go and have signed Hue Jackson as their new head coach, but the majority of focus is centred on one topic – the quarterback situation.

This is the first time that I have written an entry for this blog concentrating entirely on one franchise and it happens to be the Cleveland Browns because their predicament at the quarterback position is nothing new for them. Since 1999 Cleveland has started 24 different names under centre without much success and you will need to trace all the way back through the team’s historical timeline to 1954 to find their last Championship victory.  That’s nothing throughout the Super Bowl era.

A quick look at the decades since that Championship win reveals that, like all offenses, when there is an obvious starter in place it leads to relative success, however, keeping stability at quarterback has become an unfortunate traditional problem for the Browns.  By no means are they the only team to have inconsistencies in a certain area of the field, but the quarterback is the most important position in Football and after another tough season in 2015, this off-season has seen the QB trouble in Cleveland once again magnified.

Recently they were close to turning a positive corner.

After losing the first two games in 2013, injury forced the Browns coaches to give the starting opportunity to Brian Hoyer and he played brilliantly whilst guiding the team to three wins in a row.  I remember thinking “FINALLY!”  It looked like this might be the guy to lead the offense, then the bad luck of the Browns kicked in as it was announced Hoyer had suffered a season-ending injury.  The year ended poorly with just one more win, at least next year the Browns could focus all their attention on working with Hoyer at quarterback…I should have known better.

At the 2014 NFL draft, Cleveland selected Johnny Manziel in the first round. ‘Johnny Football’ was a star quarterback in college and brought a lot of fanfare and distractions with him.  At the time I thought drafting Manziel was a bad move by the Browns and by the end of the season when I wrote a Season Review (which you can find on the right side of this page!) I was even more convinced.  Manziel was often the story despite him not playing and the team, especially Hoyer, did not need that.  Hoyer did start the season and started it playing well, then he began struggling and by the end of the season was cut altogether as the team crumbled.  I’ve always thought Hoyer would not only still be with the Browns but would have continued improving if he did not have to compete with Manziel.

Johnny Manziel’s career has taken a downward spiral over the last year, with reports of his private issues becoming more and more alarming.  Since coach Hue Jackson arrived Manziel has been released too, leaving the Cleveland Browns once again looking at starting afresh at quarterback.

There are options for them out there and just as I began to write this piece Cleveland announced they had signed Robert Griffin III.  RGIII was awesome in his rookie year in 2012 as quarterback for the Washington Redskins, but problems with various injuries lead to the Redskins releasing him this month and the Browns have now picked him up hoping that coach Jackson – as an ex-offensive coach – can find a way to get RGIII back to his best.

Other options that were available to the Browns in free agency included Ryan Fitzpatrick and Colin Kaepernick.  Although I was thinking Fitzpatrick would be the best option as he has played the most recently and won games, RGIII could prove a good signing for Cleveland.  He has experience playing in a very competitive division, which he will need playing for the Browns in a tough AFC North.  The move could also work geographically as in this division RGIII will be up against some strong defenses in cold weather, something else he has already done in his career.

There is also this year’s NFL draft. Due to the gap at the position it seemed inevitable that the Browns would use their 2nd overall pick on a quarterback.  The arrival of Robert Griffin III makes that less certain, although there is a strong argument for the Browns still selecting a quarterback to compete with RGIII.  I think it might be better for Cleveland to stick with RGIII and use the number 2 pick to strengthen the offense in another area to help him; picking another quarterback may not be beneficial.  The strategy of bringing in a young quarterback to ‘sit and learn’ behind one with more experience is a popular one that actually does not always work out.

Further reason to be cautious about the draft is that I don’t believe the 2016 quarterback class is as strong as others in recent years.  The general consensus is that Jared Goff and Carson Wentz are the top two talents, though my favourite entering the draft is Paxton Lynch – knowing the Browns, they will probably be going against the majority and favouring him too (Don’t do it Paxton!)

I will be writing an entry previewing this year’s draft in more detail very soon.

Whoever the Cleveland Browns have at quarterback come the beginning of next season I hope it goes well.  It would really shake up the AFC North and if Robert Griffin III becomes a successful acquisition, that will be fun for all as he was an exciting player to watch when he was on form.  Browns fans must wait and see if this is the year the quarterback puzzle is solved.

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