As they should be, all eyes are on the quarterback whenever you discuss an NFL team. The eyes that have been on the Cleveland Browns quarterback situation over the last few years have been burned out, replaced with glass ones, and had those melted as well. As such, the conversation on #BrownsTwitter quickly became about which QB would be drafted with the first overall pick.
While the fights over Baker Manziel1 and Josh “I Can’t *Not* Overthrow This Simple Out Route” Allen escalate, let’s not forget that new general manager John Dorsey has stated he prefers having a veteran quarterback to shepherd the young signal caller. The names bandied about have ranged from head coach Hue Jackson darling and almost-Brown AJ McCarron to now former Kansas City Chief-current Washington Redskin2 Alex Smith.
With Smith now being dealt for a third round pick and cornerback Kendall Fuller AND signed to an extension, one name sticks out as the prize jewel of free agency: Kirk Cousins. A three year starter who has never thrown for *less* than 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns as a starter was just tossed aside by the only organization he has played for. Cousins will enter free agency as the best quarterback on the open market since Peyton Manning in 2012. But why would he choose Cleveland? What other teams are out there vying for his services? If Cleveland signs Cousins, what does that mean for the draft board? That’s what WFNY’s film guru Jake Burns and myself are going to discuss. So let’s get started.
Gerbs: Jake, let’s start here: why would Cousins sign in Cleveland? Besides the great food and tons of cap space, what would attract Cousins to come to be the newest savior of the Browns?
Jake: On the surface. Kirk Cousins coming to Cleveland doesn’t seem like an ideal fit, especially when you consider his comments earlier this week about valuing a team “setup to win now”. Cousin’s public statement valuing winning over money makes the Browns a less likely suitor, but that just focuses on the past. The thing about Cleveland’s situation is all about the future. They have a nice receiving duo as is with Josh Gordon and Corey Coleman, a potentially great young tight end in David Njoku, and a stellar offensive line with Joe Thomas back in the fold. Mix that in with the $60 million + remaining in cap space, and 13 picks and you have the potential to build something really valuable and sustainable here in Cleveland. I am sure the focus will be on the future when the Browns pitch Cousins, because when you look at it, the plan can unfold nicely.
Gerbs: Unlike in other sports, a team in today’s NFL can turn it around quickly and Cleveland has the potential to be that type of team, which is what has made the past few years incredibly difficult to watch as a fan. There are good bones underneath what has been a load of crap for the last almost 10 years. With the draft picks this year and an arguably top 10 quarterback falling into their laps, Cleveland could be the next Cinderella storyline.
However, we root for Cleveland and things rarely ever break our way, so who else is in the running for Cousins? Is there another team that we need to look out for? Who’s gonna come and swoop in and pull the football from us, Charlie Brown style? My money is on Jacksonville. While they have said they still plan on having Blake Bortles as their quarterback in 2018, even after wrist surgery, I don’t buy it. Bortles is due $19 million in 2018, with none of it coming as cap penalties or dead salary if he gets cut. They should, and more than likely will, take a meeting with Cousins and show him their wares, a young team that just made the AFC Championship game. Even though they only have a projected $10 million in cap space, cutting loose Bortles frees up $19 million. Give Cousins that money, which was already earmarked for a quarterback, and add $5 million to it and boom, you just upgraded the most important position on a team with Super Bowl capabilities.
Who is your guess, Jake? Who do we have to worry about?
Jake: There are plenty of suitors for Cousins who can make their cap situation work. Denver, Arizona, Buffalo, Jacksonville, and Minnesota all come to mind. I expect all of those teams to be in serious consideration as all of them either made the playoffs this year, or are coming off playoff trips in recent seasons. There is a strong Cousins to Denver sentiment out there as a fit, but it also makes plenty of sense for Arizona as well with Carson Palmer’s retirement. It is always tough for teams to move past their quarterback who took them to their deep playoff run, so I can see Jacksonville and Minnesota keeping their status quo as is. Buffalo is the sleeper here in my opinion and they are clearly past Tyrod Taylor and Cousins could slide into that cap hold and Buffalo wouldn’t see much difference in their situation financially. Cousins certainly has options, and those options can sell Kirk on what they have done in recent years, which is win.
Gerbs: Buffalo does present itself with a team ready to contend, and Denver has had success in free agent quarterbacks.3 But enough bad juju,4 let’s go into 2018 being positive. Let’s say Cousins *does* sign with Cleveland, and for argument’s sake, we will give him a $30 million cap hit for this year, since the franchise tag is $34 million, you can argue he would take a bit off this year for a long-term deal. What do you do in the draft? Do they try to sign other players with the projected $70 plus million in cap space this year? Obviously, you have no need for one of the quarterbacks at the top, so what does your big board look like?
I would lean for a Saquon Barkley/Minkah Fitzpatrick combo at the top of the draft. Adding a player like Barkley to an offense with Duke Johnson, Josh Gordon, Corey Coleman, David Njoku and freshly minted QB Cousins playing behind still one of the best offensive line units is almost what dreams are made of, if you’re into that kind of thing. Minkah takes over the “angel” role in defensive coordinator Gregg Williams defense and allows for 2017’s first-round pick Jabrill Peppers to return to havoc-wreaking strong safety. Combine that with a healthy Emmanuel Ogbah and Myles Garrett and you’ll have a defense that makes opposing QBs panic.
What do you do in the draft, Jake? Do you trade back? Who do you sign in addition to Cousins, if we are so lucky as to get him?
Jake: I will echo you here. If you sign Cousins, you open yourself up to plenty of flexibility at the top of the draft. Many will make a case for trading out of the first pick and moving back six or seven picks to gain even more draft capital. The beautiful part here with a Cousins signing is that it gives the Browns so many options. I much prefer they stay put at one and four to take the best players available and make a case to bolster the roster that way. In free agency, you then become a little bit tighter. They may pursue a wide receiver (Jarvis Landry or Allen Robinson) but I would think they would be most inclined to work on the defensive side of the ball there. The role-over cap makes the future budget tighter than we think, so a Cousins singing with an added wide receiver, and a heavy draft focus makes the most sense for the Browns.
Gerbs: I would love to see another wide receiver being brought in to complement the existing core, especially because Josh Gordon is gone after 2018 unless an extension can be worked out. The plan is all coming together, but it remains to be seen if Cousins will sign up to be part of the Dawg Pound. If Cousins is not signed, who would you expect Dorsey and Jackson to target as the veteran quarterback to be the stopgap for Mayfield/Allen/Darnold/Rosen? Many expect a return to the McCarron trade, but there are better options out there, in my opinion. One such target would be one of the Minnesota triumphant of Sam Bradford, Case Keenum or Teddy Bridgewater, with my guess that Bradford is the odd man out. An experienced quarterback, Bradford had a great 2016 and a decent 2017 campaign until injuries cut his season short. I actually have been a big Bradford fan since he came into the league,5 but he would only have to be the starter for a year, maybe two while the rookie sapped up some knowledge.
Out of the possibilities, who would be your favorite for Cleveland to go after if Cousins does, in fact, sign elsewhere?
Jake: If they can’t get Cousins, which I don’t expect them to, I think they will more than likely end up with one of Chase Daniel or AJ McCarron. I think there are certainly better choices, such as Bradford or Tyrod Taylor, but the pair listed earlier make the most logical sense. We have already seen the Browns miss on multiple available quarterbacks in Alex Smith and Jimmy Garoppolo due to their desire to play elsewhere. The Browns will have to find a veteran quarterback whose team doesn’t mind letting them go to Cleveland, or a veteran who is willing to come in and be the likely bridge between the start of 2018 and the playing arrival of the number one pick they likely take. It will be a tall task to get a veteran to sign on for a perceived ‘lame duck coach’ and the opportunity to only start until the rookie is ready. It is not an ideal scenario when chasing a veteran quarterback.
Gerbs: Cousins is the prize we all want and Cleveland will not be alone in trying to get the quarterback. They have the second most cap space of any team in the league,6 and can throw tons of cash at him. Cousins’ comments about wanting to be with a team for more than money is possibly a ploy to get teams like Cleveland and the New York Jets to pony up. It remains to be seen whether or not Cleveland will actually go after Cousins, but they absolutely should. They have the resources and the opportunity to acquire a franchise quarterback who is actually in his prime. Let’s hope they don’t screw this one up too.
- Mayfield if you didn’t get the joke [↩]
- has anyone ever played for two Native American named teams? [↩]
- Looking at you, Peyton Manning [↩]
- not Smith Schuster, he’s the good JuJu [↩]
- I lived in Oklahoma while he was at college and fell in love with his game then [↩]
- San Francisco has the most, but they have the aforementioned Garoppolo so shouldn’t be in on Cousins [↩]