Since returning to the league in 1999, the Cleveland Browns have been a case study on how not to handle the quarterback position. They’ve tried veterans. They’ve tried reclamation projects. They’ve tried late-first rounders, second rounders, and even a third rounder. They’ve tried Charlie Whitehurst. Thanks to a winless 2017 season, the Cleveland Browns own the No. 1 pick in the NFL Draft, and yet here we are debating a subject that needs no debate.
The Browns must—must—take their top-rated quarterback with the first pick in the draft. No trading down and getting someone. No hoping your guys is there at No. 4, only to be leap-frogged by three other quarterback-needy teams. Get. The. Quarterback.
Not helping matters: The rhetoric surrounding the playoffs where a sixth rounder, a third rounder, and an undrafted quarterback are the three best quarterbacks of the bunch—the fourth being a guy taken third overall who his own team benched in the preseason for being wildly inconsistent. You don’t need to use an early-round pick on a quarterback, the story would go. Suddenly, the Jaguars have morphed into the San Antonio Spurs of models to copy, where using early picks and free agency moves to build a defense is enough to cloak the fact that your quarterback is garbage.
Bullshit. Get the quarterback.
While I’ll always advocate spending wisely in free agency (the Jaguars used a rising salary cap to spend $20 million more than anyone this offseason), believing that story would mean ignoring countless other variables, including quarterback injuries (Andrew Luck, Aaron Rodgers, and Carson Wentz among them) and the fact that the Vikings were one blown coverage away from watching Drew Brees this weekend.
Through the previous five seasons, never has their been more than one anomaly quarterback to make the NFL’s Final Four. There have been a handful of QBs who were not No. 1 picks or Hall of Fame-bound passers to get into the playoffs (Brock Osweiler last season, for example), but they’re few and far between—and even further and fewer between when you extrapolate things to the conference championship weekend. T.J. Yates getting snaps for the Houston Texans in 2011 wasn’t a model worth recreating, it was a sign that that team needed to get a sure-fire quarterback to help put them over the top.
Here’s Peter King earlier this week:
Don’t overrate this and think it means the decline in importance of the Franchise Quarterback. It doesn’t. Just think of championship weekend as an outlier.
And here’s The Ringer’s Kevin Clark:
On Monday, ESPN’s Rich Cimini wrote that the Jets could use the Jaguars as a model, essentially saying that you can win in the NFL without a good quarterback. This is true in the same way that it’s true that you can walk from Los Angeles to New York: yes, it’s possible, but there are easier ways.
The Cleveland Browns need to spend. They need to spend in free agency—it’s not an accident that the Patriots, Titans, Rams, Vikings, Panthers, and Jaguars were among the biggest free agent spenders in 2017—and they need to spend their draft capital, those precious picks that were amassed during these last two seasons of absolutely pathetic on-field production. This includes the No. 1 pick.
Building a dominant defense, at this stage, would be a luxury. Fans who want to laud the Browns’ average yards per run stats as a sign of things to come should take a look at the units that are in the Final Four. Units littered with exceptional secondaries and top-end pass rushing. The Browns, in 2017, were among the teams most likely to blitz, but among the worst in actually turning said blitz into quarterback pressures. That fourth-ranked run defense was strong enough to put the Browns at No. 16 in overall DVOA, but of the top five teams in pass defense (Jacksonville, Baltimore, LA Rams, New Orleans, and Minnesota) four made the postseason while the fifth was a Week 17 collapse away from being in as well. The Browns, meanwhile, were 27th in pass defense, signaling that the road to replicate any of these quarterback agnostic situations is much longer than it would appear.
The 2017 season may prove to some that there are other ways to win in the NFL. A great defense helps, but the quarterback will continue being the most important position of them all. Sure, you can climb the mountain with nothing but your bare hands, but why not make it a bit easier on yourself?
Get the quarterback.
This Week in #ActualSportswriting:
- “I Scouted the Patriots Using Steve Belichick’s Scouting Manual. Here’s What I Learned” by Connor Orr (Sports Illustrated)1
- “Tonya Harding Would Like Her Apology Now” by Taffy Brodesser-Akner (NY Times)2
- “The Five Pillars of Popovich” by Ira Boudway (Bloomberg Buisnessweek)
- “The Gordon Hayward Experiment” by Tom Haberstroh (B/R Mag)
This Week in #ActualNonsportswriting:
- “How it Became Normal to Ignore Texts and Emails” by Julie Beck (The Atlantic)3
- “Camila Cabello and the End (?) of Girl Groups” by Lindsay Zoladz (The Ringer)
- “Why Jordan Brand Should Stop Making Signature Shoes” by Russ Bengtson (Complex)4
- “The Ferocious, Sublime Dolores O’Riordan, of the Cranberries” by Amanda Petrusich (New Yorker)
This Week in Bleacher Reporting:
After LeBron James spent more than half of his Monday morning shootaround discussing Martin Luther King Jr.—and not that night’s opponent in the Golden State Warriors, the direction of my postgame story became clear. Debating the merits of ephemeral trade rumors or attempting to analyze a rehabilitating Isaiah Thomas is of little interest to me. Getting multiple eventual Hall of Famers to open up about more bigger picture items? That’s more like it. I hope you feel the same.
- This is great. All too often, sportswriting is reactive—”Hey, here’s what happened!”—as opposed to being the product of a series of concepts or ideas seen to fruition. This is undoubtedly the latter. [↩]
- Taffy’s first-person profiles are must-read. [↩]
- And Slack discussions. [↩]
- “Instagram is the new SLAM magazine, off-court is the new on-court.” [↩]