Editor's note: Tony Grossi covers the Cleveland Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR.
All about the quarterbacks …
1. Debt of gratitude: A win against the Houston Texans would mean more than knocking the Browns off their 0-fer season. Keep in mind the Browns own the Texans’ No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2018 draft. Any Houston loss helps improve the Browns’ future picks. The picks were acquired in separate trades in which Browns EVP Sashi Brown personally rebuilt the Texans’ quarterback situation and infused their franchise – not his – with unbridled hope. First, Brown took free agent bust Brock Osweiler off the Houston books essentially for the No. 2 pick. Osweiler is now a backup with the Broncos, his original team, and the Browns are paying $15.225 million of his salary. Then on the first day of the draft in April, Brown hooked up again with good friend Rick Smith, the Houston GM, and agreed to trade him the No. 12 pick in the first round for the Texans’ No. 25 pick in 2017 (used on safety Jabrill Peppers) and No. 1 pick in 2018. Smith took Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.
2. The impact: The Osweiler trade relieved Smith of his albatross. It removed $16 million in guaranteed salary and created $10 million in salary cap space. Brown made it positively clear at the time that the incentive for the trade was Houston’s No. 2 pick, and he received plaudits from analytics mavens for pioneering an NBA-like salary dump trade into the NFL arena. Football people, however, thought otherwise. At NFL owners meetings in March, Texans owner Bob McNair warbled, “It was a shocker for me. I couldn’t believe that Rick was able to pull it off. It’s unbelievable. Everybody around the league, their jaws are still hanging open.” The Watson trade was almost as shocking, proving the Browns didn’t learn their lesson from trading away franchise quarterback Carson Wentz to the Eagles the year before. The impact of Watson has been palpable. Through five games last year with Osweiler at quarterback, the Texans were 31st in scoring (16.4 points per game) and 27th in total offense (310.4 total yards). Through five games with Watson – he took over as starter in Game 2 – the Texans are fourth in scoring (28.8 points) and 12th in total offense (344.6 total yards). They have seven plays of 30 yards or more on offense, compared to three at this time a year ago. The Browns? They are starting preseason No. 4 quarterback Kevin Hogan in Houston after benching second-round pick DeShone Kizer.
3. It’s elementary, Watson: The pivotal event of the pre-draft season may have been Watson electing to skip the Senior Bowl – against the wishes of Browns coach Hue Jackson, who coached the squad Watson was assigned to. In a phone conversation, Jackson couldn’t talk him out of it. Watson needed time off to recover physically from the beating he took in his triumphant national championship conquest of Nick Saban’s Alabama powerhouse. I contend that if Watson had participated in the Senior Bowl, he would have wooed the entire Browns organization to consider him for the No. 1 pick, but most assuredly the No. 12 pick. “I don’t know that,” Jackson said Wednesday. “I can’t speculate on that. He is not here. He is playing for the Houston Texans and is doing a good job for them. We have to go slow him down this weekend.” Jackson grew irritated by follow-up questions about whether he favored taking Watson at No. 12 and was over-ruled by Brown and Paul DePodesta, chief strategy officer. Remember, Jackson and defensive coordinator Gregg Williams effectively had teamed up to win the debate for Myles Garrett over North Carolina quarterback Mitch Trubisky with the No. 1 pick. “We can’t all of a sudden flip them so why are we having this discussion?” Jackson said lamely. “It doesn’t matter. He is in Houston. It doesn’t matter for this reason: whether we did or didn’t, that is not the point. The point is we are getting ready to play the Houston Texans in Houston. Here is our football team. We are 0-5, and we are trying to go get a football victory. It doesn’t matter. He plays quarterback there. Kevin Hogan is playing quarterback for us this week, and DeShone Kizer is backing him up.”
4. Missed again: According to sources, the Browns rated the 2017 quarterback class in this order: 1. Trubisky, 2. Patrick Mahomes, of Texas Tech, 3. Kizer. After DePodesta lost the battle over taking Trubisky at No. 1, the Browns, said a source, were willing to trade up from No. 12 to get him. But the Chicago Bears moved from No. 3 to No. 2 to grab Trubisky. The Browns may have taken Mahomes at No. 12, but their analytics department did not favor moving up to take him. The Chiefs’ football department thought Mahomes was worth trading a first- and third-round pick in 2017 and their first in 2018 to Buffalo to draft Mahomes at No. 10. The Chiefs, of course, are the only undefeated team through five games and have the luxury of keeping Mahomes on ice. The Browns eventually took Kizer at No. 52 in the second round after selecting Garrett, Peppers and tight end David Njoku in the first round.
5. Hue’s follies: It is understandable that Jackson would defer questions about what happened. His reputation as a “quarterback whisperer” is taking a beating. He has burned through Robert Griffin, Josh McCown, Cody Kessler and Kizer as starting quarterbacks through 21 games. These are their won-loss records: Griffin, 1-4; McCown, 0-4; Kessler, 0-8; Kizer, 0-5. Consider that pre-Jackson, Johnny Manziel was 2-6 in his eight games as Browns starter. These are the times that try the souls of Browns fans.