Cody Kessler, Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weeden, and Colt McCoy. The list of quarterbacks that failed in Cleveland goes on and on. While the jury is still out on 2017 second round pick Kizer, he didn’t show enough during his rookie year to keep the Browns from taking a quarterback first overall. However, should they do that? More than likely yes, but that shouldn’t be their only major quarterback move this spring.
After years upon years of poor management and development, the Browns are hopeful to improve in both areas. New general manager John Dorsey was in Kansas City last year when they drafted Patrick Mahomes knowing they were going to give him a year to sit and develop. He should proceed similarly for the Browns this year.
There are several different options for the Browns to bring in a veteran quarterback thanks to their $110M projected cap space and 12 total draft picks. Which of those options is the best for the Browns? I’ve ranked them below.
5) Sign Sam Bradford as a free agent
The early belief is the Vikings will try to bring back Case Keenum and Teddy Bridgewater while letting Sam Bradford walk as a free agent. Despite a long history of knee injuries, Bradford is still a starting-caliber quarterback. However, no team will give Bradford a long-term deal because of his injury history.
Bradford would be the cheapest option for the Browns. He wouldn’t cost them any draft picks to acquire and would provide leadership in the quarterback room. The Browns would be Bradford’s fourth team in five years and there has never been a report of him causing trouble in a new locker room. Bradford has completed 69% of his passes over the last three seasons, while the Browns’ quarterbacks over that same time span completed just 58% of theirs. The Browns have young, talented receivers in Corey Coleman, David Njoku, and even Josh Gordon; they need a quarterback who can get them the ball on target.
Proposed deal: two years, $36 million.
Unless the Vikings can manage to re-sign Keenum and Bridgewater before free agency starts and then decide to place the franchise or transition tag on Bradford in hopes of trying to trade him, Bradford will be a free agent come March. With all their cap space, the Browns can easily outbid everyone else for Bradford. However, I expect the market to not be very hot for Bradford. The Browns should be able to sign him easily.
This deal would give Bradford low-end starting-caliber quarterback money while the Browns aren’t committed to him long-term. Bradford would be in a very similar situation as he was in Philadelphia a few years ago.
4) Trade for Ryan Tannehill
Reports are out there that the Dolphins have grown tired of, and concerned with, Ryan Tannehill’s long-term health issues and are interested in drafting his replacement this year. Tannehill never missed a game in his first four seasons but then missed the final three games in 2016 before sitting out the 2017 season after having surgery to fully repair the torn ACL from 2016. The Dolphins could be under pressure to move Tannehill, as they are currently projected to have just $8.7 million dollars in cap space and could open up another $15.2 million dollars by trading him.
Right after the Browns hired Dorsey, there was a report that he had interest in acquiring Tannehill. Prior to getting hurt in 2016, Tannehill was having his best season as a pro, completing 67% of his passes, a 4.9% touchdown rate, and a 93.5 quarterback rating. Acquiring Tannehill wouldn’t harm the team’s long-term cap either as the Browns would owe him just $15.2 million dollars this season and $18.75 million in 2019.
Proposed deal: Tannehill for a second round pick (#35 via Texans), and swapping of picks #4 and #11.
If the Dolphins are serious about moving on from Tannehill, there will be a market. Teams like the Broncos, Bills, Jaguars and the Redskins (assuming Kirk Cousins leaves) will all be bidding for Tannehill’s services. However, none of those teams will give up their first round pick for Tannehill and can’t offer up a package like the Browns can.
The Browns can afford to give up their second round pick for Tannehill, while swapping picks #4 and #11 allows the Dolphins to get into the top five for a better shot at landing the quarterback of their liking. Browns will still get a day one starter at pick #11.
3) Sign or trade for Tyrod Taylor
The Bills will once again have to figure out what to do with Tyrod Taylor. Recently head coach Sean McDermott was non-committal on Taylor during an interview at the Senior Bowl. McDermott’s repeated lack of public support for Taylor combined with the one-game benching this season, it’s more than likely Taylor will be playing elsewhere in 2018. The Bills have until March 16th to figure out what they want to do about him. On March 16th Taylor’s $6 million roster bonus is due, so if the team wants to move on, they will do so by then. The Bills are likely to try to trade Taylor before then but if they can’t find a deal they liked, he will be released instead.
In three seasons in Buffalo, Taylor has been solid. He completed 63% of his passes with 65 total touchdowns and just 16 interceptions. Taylor also finished with at least seven wins in each season as the starter. While he isn’t a typical drop-back passer, he has only one year left on his contract if traded for, giving the Browns a proven starter as their bridge gap quarterback. If the Browns really want Taylor they would be better off trading for him verses trying to sign him off the open market where other teams might offer him a three or four year deal.
Proposed deal: Taylor for a fourth round pick (#97) and a conditional 2019 third or fourth round pick based on the number of games Taylor wins as the starter.
More than likely the Bills will move on from Taylor this spring for either Nathan Peterson or a rookie quarterback. The Browns would much rather sign him as a free agent and keep their draft picks. However, if Taylor hits the open market he is likely to get a long-term deal from another team. The Browns would be better off using some of their draft capital to ensure they get Taylor.
The Bills are not likely to get a big offer for Taylor, as the whole league knows he will be released before March 16th. Therefore, if the Browns offer a fourth-round pick plus a win-based conditional pick next year, it should be the best offer the Bills receive.
2) Trade for Andy Dalton
Now this might be the biggest long-shot, but it’s possible. The Bengals have regressed as a team the past few years and might be temped to rebuild with a rookie quarterback. There was also a report during the season that Andy Dalton was almost benched for A.J. McCarron. Dalton has three years and $50.2 million left on his contract, but if the Bengals trade him they would only take on $2.4 million dollars in dead money. The Bengals could re-sign McCarron, who is a restricted free agent, then draft a rookie at some point in the draft.
Dalton had his best season with Hue Jackson as the offensive coordinator in 2015; posting a career high 66% completion rate, 106.2 rating, 75.3 QBR, and just seven interceptions. Since then, Dalton has completed just 62% of his passes with a 89.2 rating, 50.2 QBR, and 20 interceptions. While Jackson almost traded for McCarron back in October, he might now have a chance to grab Dalton instead. Dalton has no guaranteed money in the last two years of his contract and the Browns can potentially trade him again in a year or two if either Kizer or a rookie pans out before then.
Proposed deal: Dalton for a second round pick (#33), fourth round pick (#97) and swapping of picks #4 and #12.
If the Bengals are serious about drafting a rookie quarterback early in the draft this would be the way to do it. McCarron would provide them a needed bridge-gap quarterback, and moving up to pick four would allow them a shot at one of the top quarterbacks. Also the number 33 pick would put them in prime trading position entering day two of the draft.
With Dalton under center for next season, the Browns could potentially look to draft a quarterback on day two instead. If they do, they can then take a key player for their young defense first overall. Even at pick 12 they can add a day one starter. While losing picks #33 and #97 hurt, the Browns have 12 picks right now and can’t add 12 rookies to this roster next season.
1) Trade for Alex Smith
The writing has been on the wall for Alex Smith since the Chiefs traded up to draft Patrick Mahomes last April. Smith is in the last year of his contract, worth $20.6 million dollars. However, only $3.6 million is guaranteed. The Chiefs are currently projected to be $8.5 million dollars over the cap and can open up $17 million dollars by trading Smith.
Dorsey was the general manager in Kansas City when the Chiefs traded for Smith from the 49ers back in 2013. Acquiring Smith would give the Browns exactly what they need; a veteran quarterback on an one year deal that will provide leadership in the locker room. Smith had no issue with helping Mahomes in Kansas City and should be able to do the same in Cleveland with Kizer and a rookie.
Proposed deal: Smith for a second round pick (#35 via Texans), fourth round pick (#97) and a conditional 2019 third or fourth round pick based on the number of games Smith wins as the starter.
Before the Chiefs can even consider doing anything in free agency they have to trade Smith, meaning they won’t want to get in a drawn out negotiation with other teams. However, other teams won’t offer up much until the free agent quarterbacks, like Cousins, are signed. With no first round pick, the extra second and fourth round picks will help the Chiefs.
Unless the Browns can somehow acquire Cousins, Smith should be their top choice to add. Adding Smith would give them a starting-caliber quarterback while still keeping both of their top five picks. Just like last season, Smith can be the veteran leader a young rookie quarterback would love to learn from.
None of these potential options should deter the Browns from drafting a quarterback with the first overall pick if they like a certain prospect. But, all of these quarterbacks now give the Browns the option to do something else with the pick while still having a starting-caliber quarterback under center next year. However, there is one player they could acquire that would end the possibility of the Browns taking a quarterback in the first round.
Sign or trade for Kirk Cousins
The Redskins front office have really botched the Kirk Cousins contract negotiations and he is likely leaving if he hits the open market. Reportedly Cousins is intrigued with the idea of joining the Browns after Dorsey was hired as the general manager; he feels between all their cap space and draft picks, the Browns can provide him with a good supporting cast. If the Redskins are forced to franchise tag Cousins for a third straight year, they should look to trade him.
While the Browns have failed to draft a franchise quarterback, the ones they signed as free agents were never expected to be the franchise guy. However; with the most projected cap space this spring, the Browns can pay Cousins whatever it takes to bring him to Cleveland. Spotrac.com projects Cousins’ market value at five years, $128.2 million. However, I expect Cousins to sign something closer to five years for $145 million if he hits the open market. Even if the Browns need to trade for Cousins, they should seriously consider it.
Proposed deal: Cousins for a second round pick (#33), third round pick (#65) and swapping of picks #4 and #13 or five year, $145 million dollars.
The Redskins will have to figure out what to do with Cousins when the franchise tag window closes on March 6th. If Cousins is tagged, the Browns should be on the phone with the Redskins immediately. The Redskins will have to figure out what to do at quarterback if they lose Cousins. However, moving up from pick 13 to fourth overall puts them in position for one of the top rookie quarterbacks without having to make another Robert Griffin III-like trade. Adding picks 33 and 65 will allow the Redskins to do a better job plugging the holes on defense and at wide receiver.
Meanwhile, the Browns should have only one concern with this trade; getting Cousins. If moving down to pick 13, where they can still get a day one starter, and giving up one of their three second round picks with their third round pick means they can finally end this nightmare at quarterback, it is well worth it.
Kirk Cousins has shown enough as a franchise quarterback that the Browns should feel good with him as their starter for the next seven plus years. If the Browns are able to sign or trade for Cousins, the possibilities for that first overall pick are endless, including getting a king’s ransom for the pick with numerous teams wanting to get ahead of the Giants to get the quarterback of their choice.