The NFL may not even be a week into the offseason, but plenty of rumors have already began swirling as people around the NFL try and determine who the Cleveland Browns starting quarterback will be in 2017. Will it be Deshaun Watson, DeShone Kizer, Mitch Trubisky, or another quarterback they decide to draft? A player that they could potentially pickup in free agency? Or last but definitely not least, a guy they can acquire in a trade, like New England Patriots Super Bowl winning quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, whom they have been linked to for quite some time?
On Wednesday, the Browns announced that they hired former Buffalo Bills quarterbacks coach David Lee to the same position. Why is that significant, you ask? While spending his last two years in Buffalo, Lee has been Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s position coach, a quarterback in whom the Browns have been interested throughout the season. With Lee coming to Cleveland, the dots have already begun connecting if Buffalo decides to cut Taylor loose. The coach was an advocate to keep Taylor starting behind center, but that quickly fell through when the Bills decided to fire head coach Rex Ryan, who also wanted Taylor to be the team’s starting quarterback. Buffalo general manager Doug Whaley and owner Terrence Pegula were on the other side of the fence. They wanted either E.J. Manuel or rookie Cardale Jones to start behind center. This became apparent after Ryan’s firing prior to the final game of the season, when Jones got the start in the season finale, much to the approval of the owner and GM.
For what it’s worth, Taylor is due for quite a payday in the next month. If the Bills pick up his option by March 11, he’d be guaranteed $30.75 million through 2021. If they don’t pick up the option and Taylor remains on the roster following March 11, he’d be guaranteed $27.5 million for 2017. If the Bills cut him, they’d be on the hook for $3 million, but would save a bunch under the cap.
With that, all signs seem to point to Taylor being out in Buffalo. Whether he’s traded or cut loose and becoming a free agent, the Browns front office could decide that Taylor could be the future at quarterback in Cleveland. Now that they also hired Lee, the quarterbacks coach could quite possibly play a key role on if the Browns do in fact decide to acquire (or sign) Taylor at some point this offseason.
If he is released, the Browns, who have virtually more cap space than they can handle, could sign the quarterback without having to trade away one of their top draft picks in the upcoming draft, unlike what they would have to do in order to acquire Garoppolo. Is that enticing enough to take Taylor over Jimmy G?
In 2016, Taylor threw for 3,023 yards in 15 games and 17 touchdowns compared to only six interceptions and two lost just fumbles. He also rushed for team record 580 yards and six touchdowns, while averaging 6.1 yards per carry. Lee also helped Taylor have an interception percentage of just 1.5, which was fifth-best in the league. In 2015, he ran for 5.5 yards per carry, so that is an added weapon that head coach Hue Jackson and the offensive coaching staff can use. He had the second-highest passer rating in Billy history (99.4) in 2015 as well.
While the relationship between Lee and Taylor is unknown, with how well the gunslinger did with Lee as his position coach, you could assume that the two like one another. He helped Taylor become a Pro Bowler in 2015, the first Bills quarterback to earn that honor since 2002. You can say that the two years the two spent together in Buffalo weren’t bad, to say the least.
Jackson and Lee could become quite the tandem for whoever the next quarterback is behind center for the Browns. While the head coach is known for being able to develop quarterbacks, Lee has helped eight different quarterbacks surpass the 3,000 passing yards mark nine times.
Lee and Taylor are obviously familiar with one another, having worked the last two seasons together. Now, will the Browns pull the trigger on the dual-threat quarterback and former Virginia Tech Hokie if he becomes available?