Now that the flurry of the first days of free agency are behind us it’s time to stop and evaluate where teams stand at this point in the process. So far, the savviest move(s) of the off-season have to go to the Cleveland Browns. In separate deals, they have acquired QB- Tyrod Taylor from the Buffalo Bills and WR- Jarvis Landry from the Miami Dolphins. To acquire both players, the Browns only gave up 3 draft picks 65th, 123rd, and a 7th round selection in 2019. A low price to pay for a bonafide starting QB and the best slot receiver in the game.
Considering the amount of media attention around Jarvis Landry, let’s explore Tyrod Taylor’s potential impact on the Browns and why it may not require them to take a QB with the top pick in the draft.
While Tyrod Taylor may not be considered an “Elite QB” he is a very solid starter that protects the football. This skill (not turning the ball over) should not be under-rated, especially to a franchise that leads the NFL in turnovers and interceptions thrown in 2017. Despite the way Buffalo has been trying to shuffle Taylor out of town, his play with an arguably sub-par cast has been shockingly good (maybe even better than a standard “bridge” QB). Don’t believe me? Consider the following:
Tyrod Taylor is-
- One of two (2) QB’s to have more than 50 passing TD’s & less than 20 INT’s over the last three seasons. (Tom Brady is the other) *Stat courtesy of Pro Football Reference*
- One of two (2) QB’s to have at least 1000 pass attempts and an INT% of less than 1.3% over the last three seasons. (Tom Brady is the other) *Stat courtesy of Pro Football* Reference*
- He was Pro Football Focus’ #11 QB in 2017, trailing only Case Keenum in this year’s crop of available Quarterbacks. (Yes, higher than Kirk Cousins who came in at 19)
- Has been a Pro Football Focus top 11 QB each of the last three seasons.
Not bad, for a 228-year-oldguy that NFL pundits have already decided is “not the future of the franchise”. Obviously, he’s played well enough to be a starter in the NFL. To make it even better he’ll be playing for the bargain basement price of $16M about $3.4M under his Spotrac.com market value. His play and price tag make this acquisition a major win for the Browns whether they take a QB at #1, #4, or some other point in April’s draft. The Browns may draft their eventual franchise guy this April but I have a sneaking suspicion that if/when the Browns draft that ever elusive franchise QB but it may not be who most people think it is. Let’s look at the situation a bit more closely. After adding Taylor and Landry, the Browns have two very glaring needs: a Left Tackle and a Running Back; not a Quarterback.
Hear me out-
Left Tackle (LT)
Joe Thomas decided to retire leaving the Browns with a gaping hole at one of the premium positions in the game. It’s a bad start for Taylor and/or their new rookie QB; not to mention new play caller, Todd Haley. The Browns are well invested in their interior linemen with Joel Bitonio, JC Tretter and Kevin Zeitler. The Browns did add two tackles in Chris Hubbard and Donald Stephenson but they both graded Below Average to Poor in Pro Football Focus’ OT rankings and should not be viewed as long term solutions at either tackle spot. The Thomas retirement could create a major shift at the top of the draft. It’s a prime opportunity to see the first surprise selection of the 2018 NFL Draft with Notre Dame’s, Tackle Mike McGlinchey coming off the board with the 4th pick. He can and has played the left and the right sides in a pro style scheme; which is a lot more than we can say for most of the tackle prospects we’ve seen in the last 5 years. He’s also received NFL level coaching while at Notre Dame from now Chicago Bears OL Coach Harry Hiestand. This pick will create an semi-smooth transition on the left side of the line.
Running Back (RB)
Isaiah Crowell will not be back in 2018 and Duke Johnson, though versatile, is not an “every down” back. Adding Carlos Hyde helps, in 2017 he showed good hands and has always demonstrated his ability to pick up yards after contact. However, Hyde’s 3 year deal hardly guarantees that he will be on their roster let alone starting for them after 2018. The deal is built more like an insurance policy for 2018.
Base Salary Cap Hit Dead Money
2018 – $1.5M $3.17M $5.0M
2019- $3.25M $5.91M $2.33M
2020- $4.50M $6.17M $1.16M
Looking at the above chart it’s hard to miss how this deal makes Hyde basically expendable by 2020 and IF the Browns draft a RB high he can even be cut in 2019 as the amount of Dead Money is more than manageable after 2018.
The Running Back position will be vital for the Browns moving forward, as Todd Haley’s offense is predicated on using his backs often especially through the air. Throughout his career, he’s positioned guys like Le’veon Bell, Jamaal Charles, and Edgerrin James to be premium players at their position. In case you’ve forgotten how well they’ve performed, below is a quick refresher:
- Le’veon Bell- Three (3) seasons of at least 1,800 total yards.
- Jamaal Charles- Had his best season 1,900 total yards.
- Edgerrin James- Had a 1,400 total yard season at the end of his career.
It should be assumed that the Browns will take a Running Back early in the draft, none of the guys they have should be considered “difference makers” even with the addition of Hyde they’re still only dedicating 2.64% of their salary cap to the position (That’s 22nd in the NFL). If I’m running the Browns I would need to feel like one of the Quarterbacks projects to being Manning, Brady, or Rodgers to justify passing on a generational RB. At this point, I don’t think anyone can say that, might as well take the generational talent at #1 in Saquon Barkley.
I can hear you saying “but Jeff, how can this team really not draft a QB at 1st or 4th after passing on Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson?”
I’m glad you asked.
Despite numerous shortcomings as an NFL personnel man, Sashi Brown left the Browns well stocked with salary cap room and draft capital. This will allow the Browns to move back into the 1st round to draft none other than Lamar Jackson.
Wait, what? Lamar Jackson?!
Yes, Lamar Jackson. He has had some accuracy issues in college and may not be ready to call NFL plays but that’s why you have Tyrod, right? There is no denying his ability to make plays with his feet and he has enough arm talent to make it in the NFL. Having watched Mike Vick, Cam Newton, Deshaun Watson, and Lamar Jackson it was safe to say they all had some accuracy issues but were/are electric with their feet. If Lamar can keep cleaning up his footwork the way Watson did last year he will be the QB steal of this draft. It’s also impossible to miss how the NFL is incorporating more and more Run/Pass option (RPO) schemes and that plays very favorably into Jackson’s skill set.
The Browns have been pretty vocal about their admiration of Baker Mayfield but it’s not unrealistic to think that Joe Thomas’ retirement could force them to draft a tackle earlier than they originally planned. How ever this off season shakes out, Browns fans should be very excited about the people running their team as they have the best collection of NFL talent evaluators in the business and they’ll put a competitive team on the field in 2018.