A Look Ahead: The 2014 Cleveland Browns Quarterback Search

Change is coming. That message was sent loud and clear all the way back in the summer of 2012 when Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam III purchased the team from Randy Lerner. So far, Haslam has been true to his word as significant changes throughout every level of the Cleveland Browns organization have occurred. It started at the top, with the additions of CEO Joe banner and general manager Mike Lombardi. Once the front office was constructed they went to work on the coaching staff, hiring head coach Rob Chudzinski, offensive coordinator Norv Turner, and defensive coordinator Ray Horton. With the front office and coaching staff now in place, the Cleveland Browns focus has shifted to finding the “franchise quarterback” that has eluded this team since the days of Bernie Kosar.

 

Here is a look at some of the quarterbacks that will be available to the Browns in the upcoming off-season and how they could wind up starting on opening day 2014…..

 

Group 1: Established NFL veterans who may hit the market

Jay Cutler – Chicago Bears

How will he become available? 

Jay Cutler is a free agent at the end of this year. In August, Chicago Bears general manager Phil Emery said that he will not be extending any player contracts during the season, those moves will be made in 2014 off-season. The Baltimore Ravens were in an identical situation a year ago with quarterback Joe Flacco, who went on to a near perfect finish to the season and enabled himself to strong arm the Ravens into over paying in order to keep him. Jay Cutler could find himself in a similar position and look to cash in. The Bears will most likely franchise tag him as a last ditch effort, but that might not be enough to keep teams from trying to sign him.

How this works for Cleveland

Cutler is a ready made franchise quarterback. A player that Browns general manager Mike Lombardi once called a top 10 NFL quarterback. Cutler and his skillset fit perfectly into what Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner want to do. Cutler has some of the most impressive “arm talent” in the NFL, which is a necessity if you expect to play a post-season home game. He is also very under rated as an athlete, capable of using his feet to hurt a defense. Jay Cutler is also only 6 months older than Browns 2012 first round pick Brandon Weeden. Though, one slight concern is his durability as Cutler has struggled to stay healthy his whole career. In short, Jay Cutler would be the quickest but most costly road for the Cleveland Browns to truly contend for a division title.

Why this will not happen

The Bears are off to a 3-0 start and Jay Cutler has been fantastic. Cutler has dug right in to new head coach Marc Trestman’s offense and the results have been more than encouraging in the early going. With Cutler, Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, and Martellus Bennett the Bears have constructed an elite NFL passing attack and Trestman knows how to exploit their talents. The Bears have fortified their offensive line and are finally clicking on all cylinders. As long as Chicago can stay healthy at key positions and not wear down as the year goes on, they should be serious Super Bowl contenders and in the running for home field advantage.

 

Philip Rivers - San Diego Chargers

How will he become available?

While Philip Rivers is under contract through the 2015 season, his on field play has not matched his salary in recent seasons and the Chargers may look to go with a youth movement and start over under general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy. If Rivers struggles and the Chargers finish with a top 10 pick the new regime could target a new franchise quarterback and in this day of the NFL, Rivers would likely be jettisoned in favor of the rookie.

How this works for Cleveland

Rivers has already played under head coach Rob Chudzinski and offensive coordinator Norv Turner during his time in San Diego. He would instantly upgrade the offense and allow the Browns to use their 5 picks in the first 3 rounds on solidifying the rest of the team. Familiarity with Turner’s system would allow Rivers to transition seamlessly into the offense which has emerging pro bowl receiving talent in Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron along with arguably the league’s best left tackle, Joe Thomas. Rivers has the arm strength necessary to win late season bad weather games in Cleveland, something that is easily over looked but vital for a team in this division. There is some concern about declining skill and his body breaking down on him, but Philip Rivers is still a very good NFL quarterback.

Why this will not happen

The Chargers passing game has played well early this season, despite not having much help on the offensive line. Rivers has done well in Mike McCoy’s short controlled passing game and he has cleaned up on some of his turnovers as well. While Rivers does make over $13 million a season for the next two years, sometimes it’s worth it to overpay a franchise quarterback rather than trying to find one.

Group 2: Emerging young veterans via free agency/trade

Ryan Mallett – New England Patriots

How will he become available?

Mallett will be entering the final year of his rookie contract and he has shown well in pre-season and spot duty when given the opportunity to play. The former 3rd round pick from Arkansas was always an intriguing talent and has been the subject of trade rumors for 2 years now. The Patriots will most likely opt towards moving Mallett and adding more talent to support Tom Brady rather than rush Brady out the door in order for Mallett to replace him.

How this works for Cleveland

Browns general manager Mike Lombardi has always held Ryan Mallett in high regard as an analyst for the NFL Network. Mallett does not offer much in terms of mobility, but his arm strength and downfield aggression in the passing game makes for a good scheme fit in Cleveland under Chudzinski and Turner. Mallett is a far more talented version of the Derek Anderson that Chudzinski took to a 10 win pro bowl season. His ability to stretch the field with Josh Gordon and Jordan Cameron could open up new dimensions of the offense that we simply can not see right now. There are minor off the field concerns with Mallett as well as some rough patches of decision making and accuracy, but the upside is there for Mallett to get to run an offense of his own.

Why this will not happen

Mallett is an unknown commodity, but the Browns will be asked to pay the price of an established star. He carries a significant amount of questions, and the amount of emphasis the front office and coaching staff place on mobility will be key. But Mallett certainly fits the mold of an emerging young player ready to take over an offense, but the Browns will look for “safer” alternatives before focusing on Mallett.

 

Kirk Cousins – Wasington Redskins

How will he become available?

The Redskins have Robert Griffin III and Rex Grossman already on the roster and had a hard time letting go of Pat White after he had a strong showing in pre-season opportunities. The Redskins may look to capitalize on the hype surrounding Cousins after his early success in spot duty and try to recoup some of the draft picks given up in the RG3 deal of 2012.

How this works for Cleveland

Kirk Cousins is going to be an interesting story to follow this off-season. Cousins does not necessarily possess “elite” physical ability or arm strength, but there are not many weaknesses either. A smart and heady player, Cousins runs a very clean offense, makes quick decisions, and accurate throws. Jimmy Haslam and Joe Banner saw up close and personal how capable Cousins is last December in Cleveland, when the former Michigan State Spartan carved up the Browns defense to the tune of 26-37, 329 yards, and 2 Td’s in the Redskins win to keep their playoff hopes alive. Cousins might not have as high a ceiling as Ryan mallet, but he may be the “safer” choice and ultimately has the higher floor. The problem with Cousins is how much do you pay to get him and what are your expectations for when you do acquire him? It would be surprising to see the Browns place such a public emphasis on finding a quarterback but then settling on a player short on experience and elite ability.

Why this will not happen

The Redskins will most likely only deal Cousins if someone blows them away with an offer, which realistically should not happen. As long as RG3 continues to look “different” this season and lack that explosive burst that he showcased pre-injury, Cousins will remain of greater value to the Skins as an insurance policy. Cousins is also not a perfect fit in a downfield vertical passing game, nor does he have the ability to hurt defenses with his feet and factor in as a read option threat. Not to mention the Browns might not be willing to make that type of investment in a player of Cousins physical limitations.

 

Nick Foles – Philadelphia Eagles

How will he become available?

When Nick Foles lost out to Michael Vick in the Eagles starting quarterback competition, it became clear that Foles does not offer the mobility that Chip Kelly desires. It is not all about running for Kelly, but Vick simply adds new dimensions to the Eagles offense that Nick Foles can not. With Matt barkley behind him the Eagles will likely move Nick Foles to the highest bidder in 2014.

How this works for Cleveland

Nick Foles is still considered a promising young quarterback in some league circles. At 6’5 and 240 lbs, he has the prototype size with NFL arm strength, and has shown the ability to move an NFL offense and make plays in crunch time. He fits in the same mold as Derek Anderson and Ryan Mallett, in terms of his size and ability as a pocket passer. A nice fit for the vertical passing attack the coaching staff desires. Foles played well against the Browns in a 2012 pre-season contest which Foles wound up starting. The 2nd year quarterback is only 24 years old and has his best football ahead of him.

Why this will not happen

Foles is almost assured to be out of Philly, but the question is where to? The Browns seem poised to make a splash at the quarterback position and Nick Foles just is not a talent or name that you commit your offense to. It should not take more than a 4th or 5th round pick to get Nick Foles from Philadelphia.

 

 Josh Freeman – Tampa Bay Buccaneers

How will he become available?

The relationship between Freeman and Bucs head coach Greg Schiano has grown worse and worse with each passing week. After the Buccaneers started the season 0-3, Schiano has made his move by benching Freeman in favor of the 3rd round pick out of North Carolina State, Mike Glennon. Freeman is likely already on the trade block and will likely be moved before the season is over.

How this works for Cleveland

Freeman could be a high upside reclamation project for Chudzinski and Turner. He has excelled on the NFL level before and he ahs the skillset to do it again. A huge frame at 6’6 250 lbs, he has terrific athleticism and brilliant arm strength. He struggles with his accuracy and has been prone to turnovers the last couple of seasons, but Freeman is tough and talented and still has a bright future at only 25 years old.

Why this will not happen

Freeman would be a sizeable risk for any team looking to stabilize their quarterback situation. Freemans issues in Tampa Bay may all stem from a disconnect with the current coaching staff or there may be some maturity and attitude problems that have kept the coaching staff from going all in on with the 5th year quarterback. It would be surprising if Banner and Lombardi felt Freeman was worth gambling on as franchise material.

 

Group 3: First Round NFL Draft Prospects

Teddy Bridgewater – Louisville

How this works for Cleveland

Teddy Bridgewater is an elite quarterback prospect. There are some analysts who think he is approaching the elite level of quarterback prospects such as Andrew Luck, RG3, and Peyton Manning. He is a very clean player, sneaky athleticism but prefers to stay within the pocket to make plays. Fantastic accuracy with an advanced understanding of ball placement. Excellent arm strength and every intangible you could ask for. His toughness and poise in the pocket was on display last January against the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl when Bridgewater gashed the 5th best defense in the country and led Louisville to a 33-23 victory.

Why this will not happen

The Jacksonville Jaguars have already turned their draft card in to the commissioner and Bridgewater’s name is on it. I am not sure I can recall a more clean cut player to team draft selection this early in the process, but the Jaguars are clearly the most talent deficient team in the NFL and have the number 1 pick squarely in their sights. The Browns would love to have Bridgewater and would likely try their best to trade up and acquire the selection, but the Jaguars would be crazy to let a quarterback like Bridgewater slip through their grasp.

 

Brett Hundley – UCLA

How this works for Cleveland

While Hundley is not quite as big, he has a body type and playing style of Cam Newton. One thing that Hundley has on Newton, is that at this stage in their development, Hundley is the better passer. Hundley has fantastic arm strength and the leap he’s made from his freshman year to this season has been very encouraging, not just in his physical development but in his understanding of the offense and the game in general. Hundley has begun making anticipation throws, going through his progressions, and allowing for plays to develop rather than tucking and running when his first read is covered. The dual threat from UCLA has fantastic upside and will challenge defenses with his athleticism and versatility. Rob Chudzinski has already proven capable of maximizing that skill set on the NFL level.

Why this will not happen

While talented, Hundley is a red shirt sophomore and has a long ways to go in terms of being “pro ready”. With two years of eligibility remaining, he is far from a sure thing to even enter the draft, but his rapid development at UCLA could pay big dividends and get him drafted within the top 10 picks next May. While he has made considerable mechanical leaps from his first season as a starter, Hundley would certainly take time to develop and with the Browns defense already playing at a playoff level the Browns front office may not want to wait as long as a prospect like Hundley could take to develop.

 

Marcus Mariotta – Oregon

How this works for Cleveland

Marcus Mariotta is a slightly different version of dual threat quarterback than Brett Hundley. Mariotta reminds some analysts of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick with his ridiculous physical tools and up tempo style of play. The 6’4 215 lb. quarterback has off the charts physical potential and he also fits the type of dual threat player that the Browns may ultimately be looking for as the NFL evolves towards the wide open spread passing attack. Physically, Marcus Mariotta is in an elite category, but the question becomes how quickly can he translate that talent to an NFL field. Rob Chudzinski and Norv Turner could play a huge role in that development, but would certainly have to alter the offense to suit the strengths of Mariotta as well as his short comings.

Why this will not happen

Mariotta is a work in progress. He has played brilliantly as a red shirt sophomore for Oregon, but he will have plenty of questions heading into the NFL if he opts to leave two years early. Mariotta’s offense at Oregon is a shot gun based spread offense which emphasizes quick reads simple concepts. He is going to have to make a major adjustment once he gets into the NFL and really begin to develop his game as a passer. His throwing mechanics and footwork both need considerable work for the next level and the fear is that Mariotta will be over drafted for what he may become, but not the player he is right now.

 

Johnny Manziel – Texas A&M

How this works for Cleveland

One of the most enigmatic prospects in the history of the NFL draft. With so much on the field brilliance that is surrounded by off the field questions, NFL teams will have their work cut out for them when trying to figure out who the real Johnny Manziel is. For the Browns, Manziel may be just what the doctor ordered. He is a super star, seemingly playing at a different speed than the defense, no matter who that defense is. He has a knack for making things happen, he is lucky, the ball bounces his way, he is a playmaker, etc, etc. Whatever the excuse or reason given, Johnny Manziel is a winner and a playmaker. Manziel has been called a far more talented version of Jeff Garcia with a considerable NFL skillset. Should the Browns draft him, they would have to cater their offense to his skill set. Heavy use of the shotgun formations, the pistol, roll outs, read options, bubble screens, etc. Manziel is not a versatile prospect, he is not a guy you force your system on. You have to spread the field for him and allow him the freedom to do what he does best, Improvise and make plays.

Why this will not happen

Easily the riskiest move the Browns could make at the quarterback position. Manziel has had a very hard time handling himself off the field and this problem may only be magnified once on the NFL stage. On the field, his style of play rarely translates to the NFL level, especially for a player his size. After watching what has happened in a short period of time to last years #2 overall pick Robert Griffin III physically, teams are going to be concerned about Manziel’s long term ability to stay healthy and contribute. Off the field issues and potential durability concerns aside, there are enough questions about Manziels level of talent and ability to produce on the NFL level to keep the Browns from committing to the former Heisman winner.

 

Tajh Boyd – Clemson

How this works for Cleveland

Tajh Boyd is one of the most productive and exciting quarterbacks in the country. The Clemson Tigers senior is a 4 year starter and dual threat weapon capable of taking over football games. Boyd has drawn comparisons to Donovan McNabb, Troy Smith, and even Russell Wilson due to similar size, skillset, and playing style. Boyd will have a chance to come in and compete immediately for the starting job while giving the Browns a dynamic weapon at the quarterback spot. There are concerns about his height and his ability to operate within an NFL pocket, but the arm strength and playmaking ability are NFL caliber. Mechanically, Boyd could use a little work and while his decision making has steadily improved throughout his college career he still makes the occasional bad read and inaccurate throw.

Why this will not happen

Tajh Boyd is one of the hottest names in college football right now but is being over rated by the majority of draft analysts on the internet. Boyd is much closer to Troy Smith than McNabb or Wilson and will struggle early to throw the ball consistently at the NFL level. Senior Bowl weekend will be huge for Boyd, but the Clemson quarterback could go much lower than many expect come May.

 

Derek Carr – Fresno State

How this works for Cleveland

Derek Carr is one of the most under the radar quarterback prospects for the 2014 NFL draft. A fantastic combination of physical ability, toughness, intangibles, and production. Carr threw for 4,100 yards, 37 touchdowns, and only 7 interceptions as a junior at Fresno State, and he did it while playing through a sports hernia injury suffered early in the season. Carr makes quick and decisive reads and runs the explosive Fresno State offense as efficiently as any quarterback in the country. Carr is such an intriguing player because his physical make up is very similar to Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers, strong armed pocket passers who can carve a defense up through the air, but if pressured are mobile enough to extend plays and scramble for first downs. He is not a perfect prospect by any means, he plays in a simplified quick read offense which inflates his stats, his footwork is in need of serious attention, and his accuracy takes a dip when his mechanics get sloppy. He also has the stigma of his last name working against him, but Derek Carr could end up a better prospect than his brother David who wound up going #1 overall in the 2002 NFL Draft.

Why this will not happen

Derek Carr put up great numbers in 2012 and kept that momentum going now into 2013, but with such a weak schedule Carr likely won’t elevate much in the draft rankings until the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine. If Carr can display leadership qualities while showing well on the field he could be in line for a late charge up the draft boards like Christian Ponder in 2011 or E.J. Manuel in 2013. As it stands right now, Carr is not a realistic candidate to start as a rookie, but this is a situation worth keeping tabs on.

 

Stephen Morris – QB, Miami

How this works for Cleveland

Morris is a talented dual threat quarterback from the University of Miami. He has led the Hurricanes to a 3-0 start and after a rocky start to his career as the starter, the game began to slow down for Morris late last season. Morris struggles with his accuracy, especially when going downfield, but he does have the arm strength to put the ball anywhere on the field. Rob Chudzinski is not afraid to work through a players accuracy issues, like Derek Anderson in 2007 or Cam Newton as a rookie. Morris is a little on the shorter side but has the potential and upside to develop into an NFL caliber starter in time.

Why this will not happen

While the Browns could look to develop Stephen Morris over a season or two, they are likely looking for an instant contributor at quarterback. Stephen Morris will likely be drafted somewhere on the drafts second day and if the Browns are still looking for a quarterback at that time then something went wrong. Morris is too raw and undisciplined to be a legitimate threat to start in 2014.

 

Group 4: Things Went Wrong

Brian Hoyer – QB, Cleveland Browns

How this works for Cleveland

If Brian Hoyer is the Cleveland Browns opening day starter in 2014 that would mean one of three things. Either the original starter sustained an injury, the Browns drafted a developmental quarterback who was not ready to contribute immediately, or Hoyer was simply the best they could do. Neither one of those options are ideal, but after some ups and downs in his first start against the Vikings, Hoyer at least proved he could compete on the NFL level and can move the offense while producing points. While there is some “feel good” aspects to Hoyer’s hometown kid story, his upside is more likely in the Ryan Fitzpatrick mold. NFL capable, but if he’s your starter then you need a new quarterback. Should develop into a long term answer at back up quarterback.

Why this will not happen

The Browns have invested way too much into the 2014 draft to come away with Hoyer as their starting quarterback. He is a tough kid who knows how to play the quarterback position on the NFL level, but it is beyond rare for an athlete of his abilities to develop into a long term starter. Hoyer has value and the organization seems to consider him a player of importance within the roster. It is hard to imagine any scenario in which he is the choice to start at quarterback in 2014.

Topics: 2014 Starting Quarterback, Cleveland Browns, Quarterback

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  • William Plaster

    The article intimates that none of the listed QB’s will go to Cleveland. I guees they will get the scraps, just like in the past.

  • elee62652

    sorry, but i don’t see a purpose for this article. we already know about the individual prospects, how about talking about who would fit the best? C’mon guys, let’s do better! lol…

  • Longgonelebron

    What about the obvious? None of the top free agents or college players are gonna be willing to come to Cleveland errrrrr Leaveland errrrrr the Armpit of America!

    Thats a fact!