Don’t stick a fork in Cleveland Browns Garrett Gilbert, he ain’t done yet

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

Garrett Gilbert of the Cleveland Browns, currently third on the quarterback depth chart behind Baker Mayfield and Case Keenum, represents the ultimate X-factor and longshot. Many sportswriters and fans have their daggers out for him this season, figuring that he should be cut in order to use another roster spot for a position player in what is shaping up to be a deep talent pool this year.

Gilbert was signed as a bottom-dollar free agent after leading the ill-fated Alliance of American Football in most passing categories. Gilbert, who starred at Lake Travis High School, the same high school as Mayfield, has been in the NFL since 2014. He has a Super Bowl Ring, earned from his time with the New England Patriots while being on their practice squad.

He ticks many of the boxes that scouts want to see from a quarterback. He is tall (6-foot-4, 230 pounds), strong, mobile and has a rocket arm. The main knock on him was that he lost the starting job at Texas after throwing 17 interceptions, and then transferred to SMU.

In his first season at SMU, he threw 15 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, which is not very good. However, by his senior year he started to figure things out, throwing 21 touchdowns and only seven interceptions while throwing for 3,500 yards. Thus, he got better in each of three seasons as a starter.

He has usually been a third-string in the NFL behind healthy quarterbacks so he has never gotten the chance to play. What we know is that he has destroyed second-string opponents in exhibition games and went 8-3 for the Orlando Apollos, throwing for 2,152 yards and 13 touchdown passes versus only three interceptions.

For the Browns, his stat line read as follows in the 2019 exhibition season: 40 completions on 65 attempts (61.5 percent) for 403 yards and three touchdowns versus zero interceptions and a passer rating of 94.6. That was good enough to be the third-string quarterback on the Browns. In 2018, he put up similar preseason stats for Carolina, but was cut.

But how confident can anyone be in cutting the last of John Dorsey’s quarterback acquisitions in order to add an extra backup lineman, say? Dorsey’s history is to draft quarterbacks everyone seems to hate, only to find out a year or two later he was right.

Consider his previous gig in Kansas City. His quarterback hires included two Super Bowl winners in Patrick Mahomes and Nick Foles, and a statistically dominant quarterback in Alex Smith. At the time, all three acquisitions were widely criticized. First of all, Smith was supposedly only a “game manager” quarterback. Yet somehow he wound up in the Pro Bowl three times and led the NFL in lowest interception percentage, as well as passer rating.

Even worse, Dorsey signed Nick Foles to back up Smith. Nick Foles was not a pocket passer, and was thus was not a guy who could lead a team to the Super Bowl. Dorsey signed Foles to a one-year deal with a team option for $10 million dollars, which is too much for a backup quarterback. So, he was let go and signed with Philadelphia. That did not sit well with his critics.

However, Dorsey became much less stupid in 2018 when that ineffective quarterback took over for Carson Wentz and led the Philadelphia Eagles to the Super Bowl, where he outdueled Tom Brady. He even caught a touchdown pass in that game, as you will recall. Totally unorthodox, but he and his team will carry their Super Bowl rings the rest of their lives. Not bad for a backup quarterback.

But the most stupid Dorsey decision was to trade up for Patrick Mahomes, a kid who supposedly was not NFL material because he played in the Air Raid offense of Kliff Kingsbury. Much like Foles, he was supposedly limited in a drop-back pocket passer game. Well, that gig has already resulted in a Super Bowl win and Mahomes is outstanding. But his selection contributed strongly to Dorsey getting fired in Kansas City.

Dorsey had some problems. Namely, you only get to hire one Freddie Kitchens per career. Dorsey also did not manage the salary cap very well and invested too much in non-impact backup players. But on quarterback evaluations, he has never missed. Foles, Smith and especially Mahomes all testified to Dorsey’s ability to pick quarterbacks. Going back to his time in Green Bay he was an advocate for Aaron Rodgers. That is not a bad record.

In Cleveland, Dorsey turned down advice from “Quarterback Whisperer” Hue Jackson to sign A.J. McCarron, and instead signed Tyrod Taylor and Drew Stanton, while also drafting Baker Mayfield for the Browns. Taylor was strictly a bridge quarterback to buy time for Mayfield and Stanton was strictly a backup. Taylor left Cleveland with a 1-1-1 record as a starter, and Stanton threw nary a pass in his two-year Browns career, so there is not much to judge either one. That brings us to Mayfield and Gilbert.

The Browns had the opportunity to sign a premier backup in Keenum, who went 11-3 as a starter in Kevin Stefanski’s system in Minnesota. No argument there. It is also agreed that teams hardly ever use the third-string quarterback. It would be so easy to let Garrett Gilbert go. Who needs a third-string quarterback? Washed up! Will never amount to anything!

But wait just a minute. Here is a guy with all the tools and is completely healthy and has been studying and honing his skills for what will be his seventh NFL season. He has never accomplished anything in the NFL but he has not screwed up yet either. Maybe he has really improved over the past six years behind Brady and Cam Newton.

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Are the Browns prepared to risk seeing him in Steelers black and gold if Ben Roethlisberger is not able to go? How badly do they really want that extra roster spot?