The Cleveland Browns currently have three quarterbacks on the roster, but should they bring another quarterback to camp?
The Cleveland Browns do not have a roster spot for a developmental quarterback, but do not be surprised if they bring another quarterback to camp. Some teams carry only two quarterbacks on the 53-player roster.
Last year, Browns head coach Kevin Stefanski’s offense in Minnesota had three quarterbacks: an established star in Kirk Cousins, a veteran backup in Sean Mannion, and a developmental quarterback who went undrafted, Jake Browning. Might the Browns seek a similar scenario for their quarterback room this year?
For the first time since the days of Bernie Kosar, Gary Danielson and Mike Pagel, the Browns do not really need to add a quarterback to the roster. In Baker Mayfield, they have a very talented kid who still has every chance to be a star, despite a wasted year in the Air Freddie system. Second-string belongs to Case Keenum, who went 11-3 as a starter working with Stefanski in Minnesota.
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The major obstacle for a developmental quarterback making the roster is third-string Garrett Gilbert. Although his only significant pro game experience came in the defunct Alliance of American Football, where he was the top passer, he is in his seventh year in the NFL.
He has gotten good reviews everywhere he has been, but the first-string quarterback has always stayed healthy wherever he has gone. Hence, he has a grand total of only six passes in six previous seasons.
His work for the Orlando Apollos in the AAF convinced former Browns general manager John Dorsey to sign him as an extra quarterback. Gilbert’s AAF stat line: 60.6 percent completion percentage for 2,152 yards in eight games, and a 13-3 touchdown-interception ratio. Dorsey might not have been a genius at hiring coaches, but he does have a proven track record of finding successful quarterbacks. Hence the Browns brain trust might hesitate before pulling the plug on this experiment.
On the other hand, Gilbert is not an Andrew Berry guy, and Berry may well have some young developmental quarterbacks in mind. This analytics-minded front office will probably continue to acquire and develop quarterback talent behind Mayfield.
In the past, the Browns have operated in intense fear of a “quarterback controversy” and have promptly traded or cut the backup whenever a new quarterback was anointed. That is stupid. Look, if the Packers could survive for three years with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers on the same team, the Browns should have been able to hack it with Brandon Weeden and Colt McCoy.
It is not likely that the Browns will draft a quarterback in an early round, but crazier things have happened. The Browns draft No. 10 this year, which is in the zone to draft a quarterback, based on recent history. In 2017, Pat Mahomes was picked 10th, Josh Rosen was 10th in 2018, and in 2019 Daniel Jones went sixth and Dwayne Haskins 15th. Realistically, the 2020 Browns would rather not invest in a quarterback in an early round or even with a mid-round pick, unless they absolutely believe there is a Hall of Fame talent available and cannot get enough value to trade out of it.
More likely they might follow the example of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who invested $88 million dollars in 2019 to sign Nick Foles, hero of Super Bowl LII, and the same year drafted Gardner Minshew in the sixth round. Minshew turned out to be a brilliant pick. Even so, they will not draft a quarterback for the sake of drafting a quarterback.
The Browns would have to be fairly convinced that a draftee would be good enough to beat out Garrett Gilbert for a roster spot to justify burning a draft pick. Even then, can we be sure that the Browns are willing to continue to carry three quarterbacks on the active roster?
The Browns have acquired at least 10 free agents who will make the team, and we assume that they will have seven draft picks and a few players who are rookie free agents or summer sensations from the bottom of the roster. That is a lot of talent to cram into the 53-player roster. For that reason alone, Gilbert’s roster spot is in jeopardy, despite their high regard for his ability. Only hardcore Browns fans care about the third-string quarterback, but the advice here is to not get too attached to him, because he may not be here come September. He will likely catch on with another NFL team at some point, however. He has earned that opportunity.
The most roster-friendly route would be to sponsor an undrafted rookie free agent or young veteran cut from another team who is eligible for the practice squad (Gilbert is not eligible, by the way). There is a risk that they might lose him because other teams are allowed to claim practice squad players at any time, with the stipulation that the player be kept on the 53-player roster for at least three weeks.
If nothing else, competition brings out the best in players, and so an extra quarterback can be positive even if he does not make the team. If nothing else, he brings another arm to practice drills, and that helps the team also.
This fan’s guess is that the Browns will elect to go with only two quarterbacks on the 53-player roster, and for that reason, Gilbert may be let go. With that in mind, the Browns will audition at least one practice-squad-eligible quarterback, possibly a rookie free agent. However they would not hesitate to switch horses when September cut-downs are made, if another quarterback becomes available that they like better.