In little more than three months, the attitude of the Cleveland Browns regarding quarterback Brock Osweiler has changed dramatically. Unless it hasn’t.
After the Browns traded for Osweiler on March 9, making him a footnote to the press release that focused on the second-round pick they acquired from the Texans, the reports emerged quickly and unanimously: The Browns would try to trade him to another team and, if that failed, they would cut him.
Surprisingly (or not), the Browns found no takers for all or a portion of his $16 million fully-guaranteed salary. But then they didn’t cut him, a prudent move given that someone else could have signed him for the veteran minimum, putting the Browns on the hook for more than $15 million in 2017.
So the Browns apparently decided that, if they’re going to pay him more than $15 million, they may as well keep him on the books for $16 million and use him as a camp arm throughout the offseason program. The question now becomes whether they truly and honestly view him as a factor in the supposedly open competition for the starting quarterback job — or whether they’re holding out hope that if they pump him up enough between now and Week One someone will trade for him, especially if one of the other 31 teams endures a Bridgewater-style break-glass emergency.
And so in an industry where prevarication has become standard operating procedure, there are two possible explanations: The Browns decided they were wrong about Osweiler when they traded for him or the Browns are simply setting up a potential eventual trade.
“I will tell you something, and I think coach [Hue] Jackson would back me up on this, Brock has been a pleasant surprise,” quarterbacks coach David Lee told reporters on Thursday. “Say what you want, but the guy in the last two years has taken two different teams to the playoffs and there is no one else in that room that can say that. Plus, he’s got six years of experience, whereas others have no years of experience. [DeShone] Kizer is fresh. He has been here four months, like me, and the other two were rookies last year. He’s the senior citizen, that is for sure. He does a good job with these other guys. DeShone and he have built a good rapport and they communicate a lot.”
But Lee seemed to echo Osweiler’s recent comments about his challenges with quarterbacking fundamentals, lumping the senior citizen in with the rookie by saying that “we have a long way to go with the lower body of Brock and DeShone.”
The praise hasn’t been reserved to Osweiler. Lee threw it around to all four throwers of the football.
“We have got a great room,” Lee said. “All four of those guys are smart, they study, they work and they ask great questions. . . . Cody [Kessler] has really improved here in the end of OTAs just on his distance and his velocity with a few things we have done in the lower body, and Kevin [Hogan] looked good today and went 3-for-3 and a couple touchdowns here in the red zone. They are progressing and getting better.”
That’s fine, but the Browns most likely won’t be keeping four quarterbacks on the 53-man roster. So at some point they’ll have to decide whether to keep Osweiler on the final roster or dump Kessler or Hogan instead. If, along the way, someone offers a 2018 draft pick for Osweiler (and is likewise willing to eat all or most of his salary), they never have to make that decision.
The overriding point is this. If the Browns are smart (and they currently seem to be), they’d be praising Osweiler regardless of whether they truly deem him worthy of praise. With Tony Romo and Jay Cutler retired and Colin Kaepernick de facto blackballed, the guy who was benched for Peyton Manning one year and Tom Savage the next could still have value if/when another team suddenly becomes sufficiently desperate at some point between now and September.