You never really know what an NFL offseason day will bring, and Friday brought a torrent of Browns-related fun. DeShone Kizer is out after one unfortunate year as the starter. Tyrod Taylor is in as the “bridge” to whichever quarterback they draft in the first round. Jarvis Landry and his 100 catches a year are on the way to help out whoever’s slinging it for the Browns in 2018 and (likely) beyond.
Cleveland rocked the latter part of the NFL week, shuffling the deck at several key positions a couple of days ahead of free agency. And while we don’t want to overlook Landry or new Browns cornerback Damarious Randall and defensive tackle Danny Shelton (in a trade made Saturday), today’s piece intends to take a look at the way in which Friday’s moves affected the offseason quarterback landscape.
For a while now, we’ve expected this to be the most interesting quarterback offseason in a long time. That expectation hasn’t changed, but the trades might have altered the futures of a few people and teams involved in it. So here’s a look at the way the latest developments have affected certain of this QB offseason’s key participants:
There’s been a widespread expectation that the Bengals' free-agent backup would join up with former Bengals coaches Hue Jackson and Ken Zampese in Cleveland. Jackson and Zampese had lobbied for McCarron, according to sources familiar with the Browns’ plans, but the front office obviously wasn’t sold and instead acquired Taylor. This doesn’t kill McCarron’s chances of signing somewhere with a chance to be a starter; it just means that place probably won’t be Cleveland. Only one team’s going to sign Kirk Cousins, and those that don’t will be left to choose from a group that includes McCarron, Case Keenum, Sam Bradford, Teddy Bridgewater, Josh McCown and the like for their veteran options. It’s not crazy to imagine McCarron as the starter next year in Buffalo following Fridays’ developments.
Taylor's unique talents have helped him overcome his flaws and become a legitimate NFL starter at the position. He doesn’t turn the ball over, will help in the run game and has shown an ability to be productive with a strong group around him. The Browns like their offensive line, and with Landry and Duke Johnson as short-range receiving targets, Taylor can probably have some degree of success there. The problem for Taylor, whose contract only binds him to Cleveland for one more year unless the front office changes it, is that he’s joining an 0-16 team who is likely taking a quarterback with the top pick in the draft. That means, by the time the Browns build themselves into a contender, he’s likely to have found himself replaced and on the move again. If Taylor plays well and the Browns jump up into the five-win, six-win range, he’ll have a chance to market himself as an appealing option for quarterback-needy teams this time next year.
Don’t expect Buffalo to be in the Cousins hunt, but it’s easy to imagine Buffalo signing McCarron or Bradford or even giving Nathan Peterman a shot at the job. But regardless of what happens in free agency, the Bills are a team to watch on the first night of the draft. They hold five of the draft’s first 65 picks, including two first-rounders, two second-rounders and the first pick of the third round. That kind of draft capital positions the Bills, should they so choose, to make a big move up into the top five and draft their quarterback of the future.
Cleveland’s quarterback plan this offseason was to add a veteran “bridge” guy and also draft a quarterback in the first round, where they have the No. 1 and 4 picks. That was their plan at this time last year, too, but they failed to execute it, which is a big reason why they have a new general manager and front office in place. With Taylor on board, the first part of the plan has been executed. Now we'll see how they handle the second.
I still believe they will take a quarterback with the first pick (my money’s on USC's Sam Darnold), but the draft is almost seven weeks away and nothing is certain. There’s been a lot of recent speculation that the Browns might draft Penn State running back Saquon Barkley with the first pick, knowing they’ll still be able to get one of the draft’s top quarterbacks at No. 4. This plan seems to be a hit with a chunk of the Cleveland fan base and with the draft cognoscenti who consider Barkley the draft’s best player. But that plan only makes sense if the Browns like three of the draft quarterbacks equally, since they have to allow for the very real possibility that quarterbacks get taken with the No. 2 and 3 picks and they'll have to settle for their third choice. (Even if the Giants and Colts don’t want quarterbacks, other teams will surely try to trade into those picks to take them.)
If the Browns are sold on one guy -- say, for the sake of this argument, Darnold -- as their franchise quarterback of the future, they have to take him at No. 1. Getting too cute in the first round is part of what got the last group fired, and new GM John Dorsey and his crew surely recognize the need to fix the Browns’ biggest problem at the top of this draft.
I don’t this affects Cousins’ market very much. Cleveland certainly could have thrown a ton of money at him, but that never sounded like a likely destination for him. And while Buffalo likely held some appeal as a playoff team with a great running back and some nice defensive pieces, the Bills didn’t have the cap room to make a real Cousins run. I still expect Cousins’ decision to come down to the Vikings or the Jets, and I predict he’ll land in Minnesota.
They still don’t have a single quarterback on their roster, and Taylor is off the table as an option. If the musical chairs game ends and they don’t have Cousins, Keenum or McCarron, they’ll have to patch something together. Bradford would be a possibility here, but teams need a strong backup plan for him due to his health concerns. The compensatory draft pick formula awarded the Cardinals an extra third-rounder this year, so maybe they’re another team poised to move up in the first round and draft a guy they like.
Not a quarterback, of course, but he’s the kind of receiver who can be a quarterback’s best friend. The news of Landry’s trade to Cleveland didn’t come with instant news of a contract extension, but it’d be a big surprise if that news weren’t right around the corner. Remember, Landry didn’t have to sign his franchise tender with Miami, but he did, and a franchise player can’t be traded until he signs the tender. It’s hard to believe Landry did that to help the Dolphins trade him without knowing where he was going and that his new team was going to give him the contract he wants.