Why didn’t the Cleveland Browns allow quarterback competition this year?

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - AUGUST 17: Garrett Gilbert #3 of the Cleveland Browns looks to pass during the first half against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 17, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - AUGUST 17: Garrett Gilbert #3 of the Cleveland Browns looks to pass during the first half against the Indianapolis Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium on August 17, 2019 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images) /

After a strong preseason, should the Cleveland Browns have considered giving Garrett Gilbert a chance at being the No. 2 quarterback in 2019?

Should the Cleveland Browns have permitted Garrett Gilbert to compete for at least the number two quarterback position this summer? Would it not have been more fair to allow Gilbert to become the second string quarterback over elder statesman Drew Stanton?

Gilbert clearly outperformed Stanton this summer, and moreover is riding a hot streak after becoming the best quarterback in the short-lived Alliance of Atrocious Football. For that matter, Gilbert put up much better numbers than Baker Mayfield, though no one would dare suggest that anyone but Mayfield should be the first string quarterback of the Cleveland Browns.

In reality, John Dorsey has returned the quarterback position to sanity, which is now implemented by Freddie Kitchens. “Quarterback competition” sounds like a great idea, but what it really means is that the coach is not sure who the quarterback should be.

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What do they pay the coach for in that case? Given that exhibition stats are completely meaningless, it is absurd to think that important decisions would be made based on the most unreliable of indicators. Moreover, there is no artificial deadline to make changes in the depth chart.

Kitchens was not interested in getting the veteran Stanton additional snaps–and associated risk of injury–just to try to prove himself more deserving than Gilbert for the second spot. He did want to give Gilbert maximum opportunities to develop, based on the expectation that he eventually will evolve into Mayfield’s backup in the long run.

However, the team is not immediately promoting Gilbert despite his strong showing in the preseason. The team is not demoting Stanton, and for sure will not demote Mayfield.

It wasn’t that long ago that the Browns went into summer camp with Cody Kessler, Kevin Hogan, DeShone Kizer and Brock Osweiler. Kessler started at the top of the depth chart, then he was second, then third, and by the end of the year was back to second-string.

Osweiler was humiliated because the Houston Texans gave the Browns a second-round draft pick just to get them to pick up the tab on Osweiler’s salary. He went from fourth string to first string in one week, and then back to fourth the next week and was cut after the fourth preseason game.

Hogan was second, then fourth, then second. Kizer was third string entering camp, then after a nice game against second stringers in the second preseason game, rose to first string. This was complete chaos and should never be repeated.

After all that, Kizer went 0-15, with a cameo appearance by Hogan to round out a perfect 0-16 season. It was totally obvious that Kizer was too inexperienced at 21-year-old after skipping two years of college eligibility. This is not just 20-20 hindsight, but was clearly stated at the time by this observer and many others.

If the coach does not know who the first-string quarterback needs to be, exhibition games are not going to help that much.

The table below shows that, sure enough, Gilbert was the top passer for the Browns in the preseason. Mayfield is fourth in quarterback rating after a poor performance in Game 3 versus Tampa Bay.

Unofficial Pre-Season Cleveland Browns Quarterback Stats.  

The coaching staff would like to stabilize the backup quarterback position. It is not normal to run the second-string quarterback out-of-town year-after-year. Browns fans have been taught to hate the backup quarterback, but the fact of the matter is, sometimes the first-string quarterback goes down and the team needs to win with a dependable game manager, who is usually not a star.

That is Drew Stanton. He is not the greatest quarterback in the world, but he has the advantage of having been with the same team for two preseasons. Although the Browns have a new offensive coordinator, he does not have to learn a totally new offense from scratch. He has also learned a thing or two about professional football in eleven years in the NFL.

Perhaps Stanton can be the Cleveland Browns version of Charlie Batch, the longtime Steeler backup. Batch played 8 years in Pittsburgh, and compiled a 6-3 record, which is not too shabby. Stanton’s lifetime record as a starter is 11-6. Like Batch, he did not put up the greatest stats, but the team won with him. Batch eventually became the third-string quarterback.

Dorsey and Kitchens have the discipline to not overreact to someone having a good performance in a meaningless game, played without the best players and without the benefit of full schemes and game plans. Mayfield was going to be the starting quarterback, and Stanton would be the No. 2.

The coaching staff and the team will know if and when a change needs to be made. Probably if Gilbert continues to develop, they may want to elevate him over Stanton at some point. But that decision does not have to be accomplished this weekend. For now, Gilbert is probably going to be the one to run the scout team in practice and Stanton is going to study the game plan with Mayfield. They are not going to change the depth chart every week as they did in 2017.

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That is not to say that Gilbert has no chance to play, only that there is no plan in place to promote him over Stanton for the regular season opener. The immediate decision is only whether to keep three quarterbacks because the league forces all teams to reduce the roster to 53 players. Thus Stanton would be the next man up in a game situation, but if Mayfield is going to be out for an extended period of time, the coaching staff might well turn to the younger, strong-armed Gilbert.