That was fun while it lasted.
According to most reports, the Browns fell short in what proved to be an extraordinary trade to secure the services of Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. Essentially giving away parts of three drafts, the Redskins proved to be more brazen than the Browns in their attempt to grab a franchise player. The ultimate price – a first round swap this year, two more future first round picks and a future second round pick – proved too costly to the Browns, who have committed to rebuilding through the draft.
In the end, reality intervened – or perhaps was trumped by the delusional behavior of Daniel Snyder – as it's worth remembering that Griffin is still an untested college spread quarterback who will need significant time to develop at the NFL level.
Still, just the mere idea of the normally staid Browns being involved in such a high stakes chase offered some genuine offseason excitement. Now, as free agency is set to begin, such a feeling will likely wane. However, the entire Griffin escapade has also revealed much about the Browns' future plans.
The Colt McCoy Love Affair is Over
Tom Heckert offered some GM-speak last week in defending the Browns' embattled 2011 quarterback.
"We're not down on Colt McCoy, I want to make that clear."
However, the hidden meaning behind Heckert's statement is that the Browns are not exactly "up" on the Texas QB either. The Browns' participation in the Griffin sweepstakes was more than just exploratory, as reports have suggested Heckert balked at the inclusion of the second round pick. Regardless of the deal specifics, the Griffin chase signals that the Browns are in the market for a new quarterback.
While clearly McCoy was not given the most ideal of circumstances in 2011 – considering countless dropped passes, injuries and a poor right side of the offensive line – he also showed a tendency to struggle with accuracy and often panicked into counterproductive check down throws. Additionally, McCoy has not shown the type of durability required of quality NFL quarterbacks. In each of his two NFL seasons, McCoy has missed three games.
But then again, what else can Heckert say at this point? At the moment, McCoy is the Browns' starting quarterback and could again assume similar duties to begin 2012. Intangible wise, McCoy is tough and has shown glimpses of being a quality leader. However, the Griffin chase could be construed as an attempt to either grab a top flight athlete or simply replace an inferior starter.
The Browns Will Trade Up
If not RG3, then who?
The likeliest of college QB candidates are Texas A&M's Ryan Tannenhill and Oklahoma State's Brandon Weeden. Both players seem to be better fits for Pat Shurmur's more traditional version of the West Coast Offense (i.e., neither quarterback will upset Shurmur's delicate WCO balance in a manner similar to RG3's unharnessed athletic ability.)
Each quarterback does possess quality traits, though. Weeden has more experience than Tannenhill, but Tannenhill is a quality athlete who is still developing as a quarterback. Each displayed accuracy in college while operating in pass happy attacks. Of course, the key with drafting any quarterback is the transition the player makes from throwing to wide open receivers in college to finding the end spots of designated routes in the pros.
Such a transition is extremely difficult for young NFL quarterbacks. Griffin will face a huge challenge is adapting to a professional offense – regardless of his transcendent athletic skills. Andrew Luck's main selling point is that he already possesses these skills. McCoy's Texas offense featured wide open looks, while Shurmur's offense – like any other – is predicated on finding a spot on the field. As to how either Tannenhill or Weeden will adjust to this NFL reality is unknown. Such a skill is seemingly innate, yet enhanced by coaching.
However, the reality is that each quarterback is viewed as a consolation prize to teams unable to draft either Griffin or Andrew Luck. Both Tannenhill and Weeden are clearly unfinished products, yet each will still cost the Browns. Knowing the value annually placed on quarterbacks and remembering 2011's exceptional first round QB run, both Tannenhill and Weeden's value will be inflated next month, meaning both players will be off the board by the 11th pick. Unless one player is selected with the fourth overall pick, a trade up from the 22nd pick could be in the works.
Citing Heckert's two-year history in Cleveland, the Browns' GM has shown a pattern of doing such a thing. In 2010, Heckert moved up to grab running back Montario Hardesty and gave away a third round pick last year to select defensive tackle Phil Taylor. In the case of either quarterback – assuming that the fourth overall pick is used on another player – a similar move could be made.
The Browns Could Trade Down
Or, Heckert could pull off a second consecutive trade down.
"We feel very comfortable being at four," Heckert said. "We feel very comfortable moving back and getting more picks."
In 2011, Heckert's trade down was among the more dramatic moves in recent Browns' history. Atlanta's desire to grab wide receiver Julio Jones netted the Browns five total picks, but also dropped Heckert to the 27th overall pick. This year, a potential trade down will likely not be as severe. Assuming that Tannenhill is indeed a top ten prospect – or if another team calls on Heckert for another player, the Browns could move down anywhere from the 8th to 11th overall pick.
Surrounding the Browns this year are quarterback-needy teams in Miami (8th pick), Kansas City (11th pick) and Seattle (12th pick). Also intriguing are the prospects the Rams – newly flushed with picks – could provide. Trading out of the first four picks places the Rams away from prime prospects in Matt Kalil and Justin Blackmon.
What's Old is New Again
According to Heckert, "you don't win football games by signing a bunch of free agents."
Admittedly, everything in Heckert's Cleveland past suggests that a new quarterback will arrive via the draft. However, the prospect of the Browns landing a free agent quarterback is at least a distant possibility. Matt Flynn is the prize of free agency, at least based on his two starts in four seasons in Green Bay. Of course, Flynn is an incredibly risky gamble – considering that he could be the epitome of a system quarterback.
Yet a Flynn signing would dramatically change the Browns' early draft plans. Instead of another Heckert trade, the Browns could stay put at each of their first round spots. In this scenario, help could be added to a number of problem spots, including wide receiver, right tackle, defensive end, outside linebacker, cornerback and free safety.
Or, Flynn could be swapped with Arizona's Kevin Kolb – a former Eagle with Heckert ties. Kolb, whose name has been tossed around Cleveland for two years, will likely be dealt by the Cardinals in the event of a Peyton Manning signing. Or, it's possible that the Cardinals go with John Skelton and try to rid themselves of Kolb's hefty free agent contract.
Either way, Kolb to Cleveland is not the most exhilarating of possibilities. Kolb benefitted from excellent offensive talent in Philadelphia, but has struggled in Arizona. Kolb's signing would represent a worst case scenario – one that would clear up the Browns' draft plans, but not offer much in the way of genuine excitement.