What should the Browns do?
This is what Browns fans have been waiting for and talking about. Sashi Brown and the front office have positioned the Browns to turn the franchise around in a big way with the moves they made in the past year and by also putting Browns fans through a franchise-worst 1-15 season. Brown said the worst is over for the Browns.
Now, can they get it right?
Unless you have been living under a rock, you know by now the Browns have the first pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. They also have the 12th pick in the first round and four of the top 52 picks. With the first pick, that means no team can jump ahead of them or stop them from taking the player they think is the best in the country and will make the most impact on the team for years to come.
That is, only the Browns can determine the path they take in the coming months.
Obvious, from a one win season, the Browns have many needs and many holes to fill.
Where do they start?
The decision makers are deciding in the very near future which direction they will go. The whole process starts with what do they do at quarterback?
They have several options going forward as they decide what to do. After the option, I'll give you my take.
Do they decide for the status quo and bring the quarterbacks from this year back in Robert Griffin III, Cody Kessler, Josh McCown and Kevin Hogan?
My take: The adage if you have more than one quarterback, you really don't have a quarterback seems to apply here. I see Kessler as a solid backup going forward, but don't see the value of bringing Griffin back again with his performance and durability issues. I would rather them bring back McCown as a mentor and third quarterback rather than Griffin.
Or do they add one via trade like New England's Jimmy Garappolo or Chicago's Jay Cutler?
My take: Common sense tells me, if one is available on the trade market, I would be a little leery going that route, especially if Bill Belichick is making a quarterback available. I'm not against the Garappolo option if it doesn't cost them too much.
What about free agency with the likes of Kirk Cousins or Mike Glennon?
My take: Cousins will likely get franchised if he doesn't get signed long-term by the Redskins and I'm not on the Glennon bandwagon.
Do the Browns use one of their non-first round picks like they did last year to bring in a quarterback like Texas Tech's Patrick Mahomes or Miami's Brad Kaaya?
My take: Sure, you can hit on a player down in the draft, but most of the star quarterbacks in the NFL were taken at the top of the draft. I would rather take the quarterback you think is the answer then settle for one you hope to get down the line.
Or do they use one of their first round picks to draft a quarterback such as Clemson's DeShaun Watson, North Carolina and Mentor high school's Mitch Trubisky or Notre Dame's DeShone Kizer?
My take: The Browns are hoping to never draft at the top of the draft again and will not have the opportunity to take the quarterback that they think is the best in the draft. I favor using one of their top picks, if not the first to get their guy.
The Browns could build the offensive line up like the Cowboys did before adding Dak Prescott with an offensive tackle like Alabama's Cam Robinson?
My take: With the players returning from injury, free agency and the draft, I think they can fortify the line this off-season and still go find their quarterback. Kind of like having their cake and eating it too.
They also could go another route and try and build a dominant defense. Use the top picks and bring in the pass rusher/run stopper like Texas A & M's Myles Garrett or Alabama's Jonathan Allen and bring in a top tier safety like Ohio State's Malik Hooker or LSU's Jamal Adams to anchor the secondary.
My take: I think Gregg Williams can put together a strong defense and it can be expedited with some blue-chip players brought in on defense. Obviously, if they use their top picks on the defensive side of the ball, they can get stronger quickly. Also, the Browns have the assets to get a player or two in free agency.
As you can see there are many different directions the Browns can go? They could take the highest rated players when they draft, regardless of position and not go wrong.
However, they still need a player at the game's most important position.
If it were up to me--and I'm glad it's not--I am torn on what direction the Browns should go, but lean towards using one of their first two picks on a quarterback. In 2014, I would've been happy with Khalil Mack and Derek Carr and besides the obvious the Browns passed on both, the silver lining is the Browns have a chance in this draft to begin to turn their franchise around with just a couple of great picks in the first round.
I still think it all starts at quarterback in the NFL. I do not pretend to be an expert on quarterbacks--did I say I favored Carr or Teddy Bridgewater in 2014--but I thought Watson looked pretty good in the win over the Buckeyes and the national championship win over Alabama throwing for over 400 yards with no interceptions. He also led his team on two big-time drives, including the winning championship drive.
There used to be a coach here with the Browns who is doing quite well in New England, that always said, "I can only go by what I see." That applies to me as I can only go by what I see in my limited watching of the 'tape' so far.
But, I've seen quarterbacks get downgraded year after year for all their flaws between the end of the football season and the draft, only to continue to play great at the NFL level. Even though it's early in the draft season, Watson is reminding me of what happened with Bridgewater a couple years ago in the way his stock value appears to have dropped.
Bridgewater was projected by draft experts to be the No. 1 overall draft pick a year in advance of his last season at Louisville. By the time his final season at Louisville was over and through the NFL Combine and pre-draft, Bridgewater's stock continued to drop and he ended up getting drafted 32nd overall by the Vikings. Before getting injured last season, his trajectory was heading upward in similar fashion to Carr's.
It seems as though Watson is taking a similar path. After the Browns gutted their roster a year ago, and started to be projected to be headed for the No. 1 pick, Watson seemed to be the odds-on-favorite to be most draft expert's No. 1 pick in 2017. As the season progressed, Watson's stock has seemed to plummet where by many draft pundits he's not even listed as the top quarterback in this year's draft.
I asked Hue Jackson what he was looking for in a quarterback the day after the season ended and this is what he said.
“We have characteristics that we look for, but obviously, the guy has to be able to win and win consistently and elevate the play of their team," Jackson said. "That is what the real good ones across the league have done for years. We will be no different here as we move forward and continue to build our team.
"We will build it with a guy that has that kind of mindset," he said. "We are still not sure that he is not on our team right now. We have to continue to evaluate and go through it, but I know that position, that is what it has to have in order for us to be successful here.”
I don't know if Watson's the best player in the draft or even the best quarterback in the draft, but from what Watson displayed in recent weeks is that he can win and has proven his case on the football field.
I don't know enough about Trubisky or Kizer to make an informed opinion in mid-January. I don't want the Browns to force the issue at quarterback. I watched Trubisky in the Sun Bowl and this is no knock on Trubisky, but if he were from Walla Walla, Washington, would fans in northeast Ohio be all in for him with his limited experience at the college level. Most Browns fans are hoping for the another hometown hero like Bernie Kosar, but not another Brady Quinn or Charlie Frye.
In watching Jackson for the past year, I think he is looking more for a quarterback with a skill-set like Griffin that can use his legs. Remember, he drafted Terrelle Pryor as a quarterback when he was at Oakland and he chose Griffin last year. I don't know where Kessler fits into the scheme of Jackson's thinking, but he passed on Carson Wentz, who's a more prototypical NFL quarterback last year when the Browns had the No. 2 pick after he brought in Griffin. I would say Trubisky is closer to resembling Wentz in style.
Most think taking one of the top three quarterbacks is too high at No. 1, but many mock drafts don't have the trio lasting to 12 with so many quarterback needy teams drafting in the top 10. One of the mock drafts has the Browns selecting Watson with the first pick in the second round (33rd).
That would be a best case scenario, in my opinion, but with his recent performance, I can't see that happening.
There is a chance that Watson will go to the Senior Bowl and be coached and interviewed by Jackson and the Browns staff.
Former Browns GM and Senior Bowl executive director Phil Savage thinks pairing Watson with Jackson will be invaluable.
“It would be big because they get a chance to work with him up close and personal,” Savage told the Akron Beacon-Journal. “They get a chance to really see if they believe that he can adapt to what they want him to do, and, of course, it gives them a chance to really be able to make a comparison between he and some of the other quarterbacks that are out there that they’re going to be trying to evaluate.”
This is where the decision makers have to earn their money. Comparing this year to the 2014 draft when the Texans decided to pick Jadeveon Clowney with the first pick, rather than take Carr, Bridgewater or even Johnny Manziel because they weren't viewed as worth the No. 1 pick overall.
What would they do if they were able to have a do over?
The Texans have to be happy with Clowney now as he looks like a perennial Pro Bowler with double-digit sacks a year. However would they rather have him or a quarterback like Carr or Bridgewater, rather than Brock Osweiller or Tom Savage?
The Browns appear to have a similar decision as they have to determine whether it's more important to take Garrett or Allen or take the quarterback they want and get him at one or hope he's still there at No. 12. If not, they could be aggressive and use their fire power to trade back up from 12 and make sure they get him, but there's a risk in doing that.
Jackson and the decision makers have to decide if one of the quarterbacks in the draft is the answer and make sure they don't miss out on bringing him to the Browns because the rebuilding process really doesn't begin until you have the quarterback in place, in my opinion, because you have to play that guy and go through the growing pains of a rookie quarterback at some time.
The Browns have to decide if one of the three quarterbacks are the answer among DeSahaun Watson, Mitch Trubisky, DeShone Kizer or whoever else and don't let them get away.
If you were making the decisions for the Browns, what would you do?