With free agency approaching (March 14), we're analyzing the quarterback position on the Cleveland Browns:
2018 cap hits of top returnees:
DeShone Kizer -- $1.99 million
Cody Kessler -- $332,000
Pending free agents: None
Key stat: This is easy: 28. That’s the number of starting quarterbacks the Browns have used since 1999. More accurately the number should be 28 and counting. To say the Browns have not solved the position is like saying Niagara Falls is a bit watery. In the past five seasons, 11 different quarterbacks have started games. In four of the past five seasons, they’ve used three starters. The team’s struggles -- 1-31 the past two seasons and nine double-digit-loss seasons in the past 10 -- mirror the struggles at the most important position. Finding a long-term solution remains the team’s highest priority.
Money matters: Nothing has been effective when it comes to this team and quarterbacks, in part because the Browns have never committed big money to a player they could rely on for several years. The approach instead since 1999 has been to give veterans a second chance with a new start, with Robert Griffin III the most recent example. Before that the Browns traded for or signed Jake Delhomme, Trent Dilfer and Jeff Garcia. All were closer to the end of their careers than the beginning, and none lasted more than a season. The one player they tried to make something of was Derek Anderson after his strong 2007 season (29 TDs, 3,787 yards, 19 INTs). The Browns signed him to a three-year contract worth $26 million after the season, but that move -- like many others -- didn’t work out and by 2010 Anderson was an ex-Brown. Josh McCown may have played better than any of the veterans signed, but he fought injuries in his time in Cleveland. Brian Hoyer won games, but the team turned away from him because it signed McCown and had Johnny Manziel. It’s not a fun review.
Big picture: Want to watch an NFL quarterback horror show? Go back and look at the Browns' history in the draft with quarterbacks since 1999. They traded out of the spots where Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson were drafted but traded up to draft Johnny Manziel. They drafted Brady Quinn in the first round in 2007, but put him through the Browns quarterback meat grinder and ruined his confidence. Quinn, Brandon Weeden and Manziel were the last three quarterbacks drafted in the first round, all taken 22nd. The last one drafted in the top 10 was 1999, when the Browns took Tim Couch. Since Quinn was drafted in 2007 (the same year Joe Thomas was selected), the Browns have drafted or had picks in the top 10 eight times. They traded down four times, and drafted other positions four times. Not once did the Browns use one of those top-10 picks on a quarterback.
The game plan: All the above factors are a big reason the Browns will attack the position this offseason in the draft and free agency. Although the Browns may not spend the huge money that a quarterback like Kirk Cousins will warrant, they will probably overpay for an young veteran like AJ McCarron. They have to entice him to come to Cleveland. The Browns also figure to take a quarterback at No. 1 overall in the draft, with USC’s Sam Darnold the most likely option. That scenario would give the Browns a young veteran to go with a rookie and Kizer, leaving the quarterback room with real talent and depth. The Browns recognize that it’s long overdue.