BEREA—Since the Browns signed Robert Griffin III, the team has gone out of their way to make sure that he wasn’t anointed as the Browns starting quarterback.
From the team’s standpoint, that’s a smart move because they want Griffin III to work hard and earn the job, especially with incumbent Josh McCown still on the roster.
But let’s cut through the smoke.
Does anyone really believe that the Browns quarterback job is not Griffin III's to lose?
Before and even after Griffin III was signed, the prevailing thought was the Browns would draft a quarterback with the second overall pick in the draft and Griffin would be the bridge quarterback until the rookie was ready to take over or Griffin was injured.
The foregone conclusion was McCown would be gone by now, either by being released or traded. Obviously, that still could happen, but McCown might be winning over the coaching staff to provide some stability and insurance at the position, especially with Griffin III’s injury history.
There have been a lot of changes in the quarterback scenario since Griffin was signed to a two-year, $15 million contract on March 24.
The Browns traded away the second overall pick and took themselves out of the running for one of the top two quarterbacks in the draft. They did draft Cody Kessler from USC near the end of the third-round, but if they expected him to step right in and play I expect they would’ve drafted him in the first round or at the top of the second.
At the conclusion of the draft, Executive Vice President of Football Operations Sashi Brown tried to paint the picture that Griffin III is not the presumptive starter when it was suggested that there is little competition for Griffin III to be the starting quarterback.
“I beg to differ with that,” Brown said. “He’s got a challenge here. Robert understands. We had extensive conversations with him throughout the process when we had him in for a visit and prior to signing him about where he is in his career. I think he’s very realistic about that. He’s very serious about competing.
“We look forward to giving him an opportunity to do that here,” Brown said. “There’s no reason he can’t, but this is going to be a competition. We would not have made the investment we made in him if we didn’t feel like he was capable of being our starter. I hope all our quarterbacks the best. I do think Cody (Kessler) is a guy that I would not want to sleep on at all if I were a quarterback wanting to be the starting quarterback of the Browns. He is going to come in serious and ready to work. Robert is a guy that adds to our room four years of NFL experience, he is tremendously athletic and serious about being a starting quarterback in this league.”
Earlier this week, on Pro Football Talk Live! Brown admitted that the money they paid Griffin III would indicate they see him as the starting quarterback.
“There’s no question with the investment in Robert, we absolutely feel like he has the opportunity to become the starting quarterback,” Brown said. “There’s still a competition there, and we haven’t named a starter yet, and Cody will get into that mix.”
Without drafting a quarterback at the top of the first round or even at the end of the first round, there is not the inherent pressure to start Kessler or even play him this year.
This is where McCown comes in.
After being here for the OTA’s and minicamps there is a belief now that McCown might be the only serious challenge to Griffin III to start the season. If McCown is not released or traded, he would likely be the insurance policy if Griffin III is injured and Kessler is not ready. McCown had a quarterback rating of over 93 last year for the Browns and set a franchise-record over a three game span. His problem, similar to Griffin III, is staying healthy and on the field—not to mention his age at 37.
As it stands now, it would seem that Griffin III, McCown and Kessler would be the quarterbacks on the roster in September, with Austin Davis and Connor Shaw being the odd men out.
Browns fans know all too well the problems of having an open quarterback competition, but Brown insisted that the best quarterback will play this season.
“I wouldn’t want to start a narrative of a quarterback competition or anything like that, although I’ve said it is a competition,” Brown said. “I’ll leave it at that because we haven’t named a starter yet. Coming out of last year, Josh was our starter. As we look ahead, we’ve added a couple of guys here and have a couple of guys that have been here. We’ll let it play out.”
When pressed about an open competition, Brown re-iterated.
“We are realistic about where our roster is at that slot,” he said. “We want to find a long-term answer. It’s critical for everything we are going to do here. Hue (Jackson) has talked about it extensively about trying to support the quarterback. Our task is to develop the gentlemen that are here, give them the opportunity to compete to start, and the best quarterback for us is going to start, period. I don’t think there is a real need to compare contracts, longevity in the league or anything like that. We’ll roll the ball out and see who is the best at throwing it.”
Whether the Browns want to admit it or not, when they signed Robert Griffin III they planned on him being the starting quarterback for at least this year. If Griffin III bounces back like Hue Jackson envisions he will, he could be the answer at quarterback as he is only 26.
In retrospect, it is fairly obvious now the Browns weren’t planning on taking a quarterback with the second overall pick and Griffin III was viewed as the answer—at least in the short term. If they were planning on drafting either Jared Goff or Carson Wentz, it would’ve made the most sense to just start McCown as the bridge quarterback until the rookie was deemed ready to play and not bring Griffin III in.
In the big picture, it is unclear if using a third-round pick on Kessler is viewed as the long-term answer at quarterback or if the same discussions will be in the forefront leading up to the 2017 NFL Draft when the Browns have two first-round picks.
However, the play of Griffin III or Kessler in 2016 will likely be the determining factor in that decision.
Obviously, there will be a lot of talk between now and next year about the Browns quarterback situation, as always.
Because in Cleveland, it’s always about the quarterback.