Because the Cleveland Browns have had so many starting quarterbacks since returning to the NFL in 1999, the franchise has experienced just about every way possible to blow their chance at developing a franchise quarterback. That 19-year history invites significant angst as the Browns now try to balance relying on a veteran for whom they gave up a third-round draft pick against the rookie in whom they entrusted the first overall selection in the draft.
Coach Hue Jackson recently reiterated that Tyrod Taylor is the starter, period.
“That is why we traded for him,” Jackson told reporters. “That is what he is here for. He is here to lead this organization to winning. I think Tyrod Taylor will do that.”
OK, so what if Jackson is right? What if Taylor does indeed lead the organization to winning? It’s a question posed Saturday on Twitter by former NFL receiver Andrew Hawkins, who spent three years with the Browns and now has a budding media career: What happens if Tyrod Taylor takes a team that has won one game in two years to the playoffs?
Taylor becomes a free agent in 2019. Can the Browns afford to let him walk away if he ends a 16-year postseason drought? Would they sign him to a long-term deal, paying him starter money? Or would they apply the franchise tag, paying him roughly as much for one year as rookie Baker Mayfield will make in four and kicking the can for a year?
It’s a delicate balance — arguably minefield — for the Browns. Wait too long to flip to Mayfield, and Taylor could win the hearts and minds of Browns fans. Go with Mayfield too early, and perhaps he ends up having his confidence shattered, in the same way last year’s rookie starter DeShone Kizer‘s was, especially after Jackson repeatedly benched and unbenched Kizer as he struggled without the benefit of a high level of talent around him or a high level of coaching acumen.
Remember what all-time draft bust Ryan Leaf said about Mayfield before the draft?
“The biggest thing for me will be how he deals with failure,” said Leaf, who said that when he listened to Mayfield speak, Leaf heard himself. “That’s where my downfall was, when things began to fall apart, how I was able to deal with that. When the media is on you, you play a bad game, your whole city is on you, that’s where we’ll see where Baker Mayfield is at. . . . Right now there’s no evidence to back up that when things get tough, he won’t break.”
So the Browns don’t plan to throw Mayfield into the fire right away. Just like they didn’t throw Brady Quinn into the fire right away in 2007, and Derek Anderson won 10 games and nearly took the Browns to the postseason. Which forced the Browns to keep Anderson for 2008, setting up an Anderson-or-Quinn controversy that ended with both guys failing.
Maybe the Browns know that the playoffs are a virtual impossibility, and that “winning” under Taylor is a relative term. If they get to 5-11 after winning four games in three seasons, that’s winning. If they get to 6-10 or 7-9, that’s cause for a parade (the good kind).
And if they someone crack .500 and land in the playoff chase, the Browns will consider that a good problem to have, until they have to solve it. And solving it could mean testing Mayfield’s ability to handle failure arising not from what happens on the field, but from his inability to even get there.