With the Cleveland Browns on the hunt for a new head coach and general manager and in possession of the second-overall pick of the 2016 NFL draft, it’s not surprising that the focus on the future of the team’s quarterback position will yet again dominate offseason discussion. The latest Johnny Manziel controversy—concussed or drunk? In Las Vegas in disguise?—doesn’t help matters, with reports circulating that the team is “so done” with the oft-troublesome and troubled quarterback, about whom the organization has said exactly nothing publicly since Week 17.
But moving on from Manziel, whether by cutting him outright (at a salary cap cost of over $4.6 million) or trading him, does not necessarily mean the new Browns’ regime should be looking to draft a new passer this year. The quarterback class is weak—too weak to justify the Browns taking one at No. 2 and perhaps even too weak to justify trading down and taking one later in Round 1—and the Browns’ other needs are too glaring to dictate quarterback is the pick, is the position to prioritize. And if needs aren’t the way they go in early rounds—as is typically not the case—no quarterback seems to be Best Player Available just yet.
But Manziel or no Manziel, the eventual GM who joins the front-office team and the coach who eventually is hired will have options at quarterback. Three others aside from Johnny Trouble are on the roster at present—Josh McCown , Connor Shaw and Austin Davis. McCown’s and Davis’ contracts run through 2018, when they are both unrestricted free agents, while Shaw will be a restricted free agent in 2017. And given both the Browns’ large amount of cap space and the three quarterbacks’ relative inexpensive contracts, there won’t be a salary cap-driven reason to be rid of any or all of them in the 2016 offseason. It all comes down to what the coaches’ preferences are and the state of the position, not only in the draft but also in free agency, during the coming months.
McCown turns 37 years old in July and is coming off of a broken collarbone, an injury that can recur (just look at the issues Dallas Cowboys’ quarterback Tony Romo has had with his over the years). He was brought aboard last year by the Browns’ previous regime to serve as a mentor for Manziel and stop-gap starter. He performed well, though he played in just eight games in 2015, completing 63.7 percent of his passes, for 2,109 yards, 12 touchdowns thrown to four interceptions, taking 23 sacks and ending his year with a quarterback rating of 93.3. He costs $5,041,466 against the salary cap in 2016, though just over $2.3 million to cut. McCown’s fate will come down to two things: Whether the Browns are planning to search for the long-term quarterback of the future and to put him on the field immediately and whether the Browns would value McCown’s experience in a backup capacity if they don’t want to spend another year with him as starter.
Davis, meanwhile, had two starts for the Browns in 2015, in Weeks 13 and 17, and made appearances in three games. He completed 56 of his 94 passes, for 547 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions, while being sacked 11 times. Davis came to the organization amidst high praise from former head coach Mike Pettine; what that means, though, for his standing with whoever his new coach may be is as yet unknown. It’s quite common for new coaches and general managers to replace signings from the former staff, especially at quarterback. And though Davis has a meager $1,766,666 total cap hit for 2016, the cost to cut him is just $433,334. He’ll have to be viewed as promising enough, whether as a starting candidate or at least a backup, to warrant keeping, because the price of moving on won’t much negatively impact the Browns’ financial bottom line.
Shaw is a wild card in this situation, simply because his entire 2015 season was spent on injured reserve with a right thumb injury which required surgical repair. He started just one game as a rookie in 2014, completing 14 of his 28 pass attempts for 177 yards, zero touchdowns, one interception and four sacks in a 20-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The undrafted free agent from South Carolina has a total cap hit of just $450,000 in 2016. That’s a figure low enough to warrant keeping him around to see where he is in his development, but also low enough to cut him with little negative repercussions, much like with Davis.
It’s possible, come the start of April’s draft, that the Browns still have four quarterbacks on their roster; it’s also possible they have none. Though the pressure to make a final decision about Manziel’s fate in Cleveland is and will be high, there is also pressure to determine the fates of the other three quarterbacks currently under contract with the Browns. Manziel is the highest-profile of the four, to be sure, but the position as a whole could be yet again in flux. Who stays and who goes will provide important insight for how the Browns approach the quarterback position, not just for the 2016 season but also for those to follow.
All contract and salary cap information via Spotrac.com unless otherwise noted.