Let’s start out by getting one thing straight: The Browns are not starting rookie Baker Mayfield at quarterback unless Tyrod Taylor’s arm is detached from his body. Yes, hyperbole but with the way the offensive line played on Sunday against the Steelers, that would not be the biggest of surprises. Alright, in all seriousness, the Browns have made it absolutely clear they will stay with Tyrod Taylor through the course of the 2018 season.
Hue Jackson and the Browns brass have failed to present a credible explanation as to exactly why they will not start Mayfield, even if he is the better quarterback. In fairness to the team, they have essentially circled back to one idea as to why they will not start the promising first overall pick.
Cody Kessler and Deshone Kizer. Two quarterbacks that were drafted within the first three rounds of the draft under Jackson’s first two tenured years as head coach. “You’ve got to trust me on this one,” Jackson said of Kessler. As for Kizer, “If I am worth my salt as a head coach, I am going to get the best out of Deshone.”
Compared to the storied Cleveland Browns history of quarterbacks, these two passers were not the worst. Kessler started eight games in 2016 and even worked himself into the team’s proposed starter at the position for the 2017 season. Obviously, Kessler did not quite work out because Kizer started the majority of 2017, which led to a 0-16 season and a devastating start to the young quarterback’s career.
Kessler and Kizer are gone. And the Browns have a third rookie quarterback for the third season under Jackson. Although the two throwers started a combined 23 out of 31 games their rookie seasons, the Browns will not allow Mayfield to do the same.
It doesn’t matter if the Browns found a legitimate franchise quarterback in Mayfield. It does not matter if Mayfield is the best of the three quarterbacks on the team. It does not matter if Mayfield has proven he is ready to start. What matters to the Browns is Mayfield is a rookie quarterback and the Browns have historically failed with the development of their rookie quarterbacks, so they will not play him his rookie season.
From a media perspective, the Browns plan that they have in place makes sense on the surface. Mayfield is a rookie quarterback and when the Browns play rookie quarterbacks early on in their careers, they do not succeed in Cleveland. What makes sense from the outside looking in, does not always have to make sense from the inside looking out. This is a professional football team and should be treated as such.
The Seattle Seahawks brought in a veteran quarterback in Matt Flynn and drafted Russell Wilson. Flynn was paid $8.67 million to start but Wilson was the better quarterback, so he started. The Philadelphia Eagles had Sam Bradford who threw for 3,725 yards and 19 touchdowns on 65% passing the year before. Bradford was traded and Wentz was the better quarterback, so he started too.
Want to know a fun fact about both Wilson and Wentz? After both winning the starting quarterback jobs in year one, in their second season in the NFL, they both won a Super Bowl. Yes, both Seattle and Philadelphia had an outstanding defense the year they won the trophy, but both quarterbacks had MVP caliber seasons. And yes, Wentz was hurt for the playoffs but the point still serves.
The Browns have a pretty good defense. Cleveland forced five turnovers in a 21-21 tie against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2018 season opener. Taylor, the starting quarterback for the Browns in that tie, threw for 37.5% on 197 yards passing with a touchdown and an interception. In overtime, Taylor led the Browns offense to three-and-outs on every drive during the overtime quarter.
Another telling statistic from this weekend that may turn some heads: According to Next Gen Stats on NFL.com, Taylor had 3.00 seconds on average to throw in Sunday’s game. At first glance it appeared that Taylor had a short amount of time to throw on most passes due to poor offensive line play, but the stats tell a different story. 3.00 seconds was the 9th best time to throw a pass in the NFL last week, yet Taylor still finished with a sub-40% completion percentage.
When Mayfield will exactly make his way to the field will also remain unknown, until something drastic changes. There are two young quarterbacks that had an impressive week one performance that could cause the Browns to re-think their young quarterback strategy. Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the gunslinger John Dorsey traded up for in the 2017 Draft, threw four touchdowns on 256 yards passing. Jets quarterback Sam Darnold, the guy Dorsey passed on for Mayfield, threw for 198 yards. 2 touchdowns, and had only four additional incomplete passes after throwing a pick-six on his first NFL pass attempt.
Mahomes replaced Alex Smith and Darnold replaced Josh McCown as starters for the 2018 season. Taylor is somewhere between the two in players in terms of NFL skill. Mayfield being somewhere between Mahomes and Darnold would be excellent, considering both players look flashed top-five quarterback potential.
The longer Mayfield waits and the worse Taylor plays, the more times stories like this will be written advocating for Mayfield to take over the reigns as the team’s starting quarterback. This is not meant to advocate for the former Heisman Trophy winner to start today, however, it is meant to question the Browns decision-making if they truly are letting the best quarterback on the roster sit just because of a past of failed passers.
Basing one’s opinions off pre-season football is not the best way to provide proof, however, it is the only way to provide proof right now. Taylor is what he is. He is not going to lose you games, but he is not going to win you games either. Mayfield showed in the pre-season that he can elevate the talent around him and take the team to a whole nother level. The way he processes the field and throws into tight windows is nostalgic. His release is crisp, that it very well could be one of the NFL’s best.
There is an agreement in one idea that the Browns have. There is no sense in throwing Mayfield out to the wolves as early this week, especially with a glaring question mark at left tackle. It is in the best wishes of Mayfield to keep him on the sideline until there is an offensive line in front of him that can protect him.
It is Taylor’s job for now, but possibly not for long. The Browns can only hold Mayfield back for so long and although they refuse to admit it, they wholeheartedly know the fiercest competitor at quarterback will only sit on the bench for so long before he is sprung into action. It is possible that if the Browns are not getting what they want out of the quarterback position, Mayfield could be trotting out onto the field for his first NFL start sooner rather than later.
Jackson has remained dedicated to Taylor and Dorsey does not feel comfortable with playing Mayfield just yet. The Browns play the Jets in Week Three and depending on what kind of performance Darnold has in front of their very own eyes, they could change their minds and there now could be a chance that change could be coming.