Cleveland Browns: What if a quarterback slides to No. 26?

MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - AUGUST 31: Quarterback Trey Lance #5 of the North Dakota State Bison runs against the Butler Bulldogs during their game at Target Field on August 31, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images)
MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA - AUGUST 31: Quarterback Trey Lance #5 of the North Dakota State Bison runs against the Butler Bulldogs during their game at Target Field on August 31, 2019 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Sam Wasson/Getty Images) /

The Cleveland Browns do not need a QB, but would they turn down a franchise signal-caller?

No way do the Cleveland Browns want to draft a quarterback in the upcoming NFL draft, but what if when it is their turn, they believe there is a so-called “franchise quarterback” still on the board? The logical move would be to avoid the problem by trading back, but what if no other team is offering a reasonable haul of draft picks to move up?

Opinions vary of course, but this writer has steadfastly advocated that the Browns are Baker Mayfield’s team, and this article is not about plotting some insurrection to avoid signing him to a long-term deal. Baker Mayfield is the starting quarterback of the Cleveland Browns for 2021 and the foreseeable future.

Fantasies about trading Mayfield for DeShaun Watson or Russell Wilson are just that — fantasies. Mayfield now has years of experience with the team and his psyche has started to merge with Northeast Ohio. Thousands of reps with the same teammates and — finally — the same coaching staff for two years in a row give him an intrinsic advantage that cannot be ignored. This is not fantasy football in which you can blow it up and immediately replace a starting quarterback with some new performer and expect instant results.

For that matter, the Browns now have a second-string quarterback in Case Keenum who piloted the Minnesota Vikings to the playoffs. He’s one of the top backup quarterbacks in the NFL, particularly due to his experience with Kevin Stefanski, who was his quarterback coach in Minnesota. It’s very hard to believe that a second-string quarterback could be found to match the ability, skill, and moxie of Keenum.

The player this fan thinks could most help the 2021 squad who might plausibly be available at No. 26 is Zaven Collins, the sensational linebacker out of Tulsa. Currently, the mocks have him going late first-round or early second-round, though perhaps he might go earlier than most people think.

But what if the Browns could indeed choose an awesome linebacker who can help the team immediately (remembering, of course, that Andrew Berry tends to believe that linebackers have a lower value than defensive ends, cornerbacks, and safeties in today’s NFL), versus a raw quarterback who will be worthless for the near term, but who could develop into a franchise, top-ten quarterback in four years?

So, the essential question is whether an NFL team, and specifically the 2021 Cleveland Browns, should draft a franchise quarterback when it does not need a franchise quarterback. This actually is a no-brainer. The value of the 10th best quarterback in the NFL is $30 million per year, according to

If the Browns were to draft the position of greatest need, it would probably be a linebacker. In that case, assuming they could identify an equally talented candidate also flying under the radar screens of the rest of the NFL the 10th best linebacker is currently valued at $11.8 million, or 39 percent of the quarterback value. The NFL draft is like the stock market. Asking the team to invest in a stock that is worth 39 percent of an alternative stock is foolish. The analytics recommendation is thus clear.  Of course, the prospectus sheet had better be right. If the quarterback is a bust, the value can go to zero.

The mismatch in position should ideally be remedied by trade. However, this is a weird year, with so many teams playing musical chairs with quarterbacks, and six thought to be first-round material ( Zach Wilson, BYU; Trevor Lawrence, Clemson; Mac Jones, Alabama; Kellen Mond, Texas A&M; Justin Fields, Ohio State, and Trey Lance). Under these circumstances, it is very possible that even the voracious quarterback appetites of NFL teams might be temporality satisfied by Round 1 of the NFL draft. Cleveland could be temporarily “stuck” with an extra franchise quarterback until the NFL collectively figures out which ones cannot play, as ridiculous as that sounds.

This analyst’s favorite scenario for a quarterback sliding back would be Trey Lance of the North Dakota Bison. By the way, we’re not allowed to say “Bisons” or the whole state will get mad at us.  They use it as a collective noun so it’s one bison, two bison, three bison, and not one bison, two bisons, and three bisons. Okay?

Anyway, Lance has every attribute you could want in a quarterback except one: Experience. He has only thrown one interception in college, but he does not have all that many completions, either —  only193 out of 288 attempts with 28 touchdowns and a passer rating of 180.7 in 16 games in 2019, including two attempts in 2018. That is great, but that is all there is.

An NFL team would basically have to be insane to expect a 21-year-old quarterback to start and lead the team to a winning record in the NFL, especially with such limited experience as Lance. Lamar Jackson is the only quarterback in NFL history to ever enter a season at age 21 and go more than one game over .500 as a starting quarterback.

Lance is not going to be the second because he does not have the dual-threat capability that Jackson did coming out of college. Jackson also had three enormously successful seasons in college at Louisville, in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Their cases are not remotely similar.

The only team that can draft Lance is a team that is willing to put him in suspended animation for at least one season, because he absolutely will not win in his rookie season. Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, New England, or Washington (now that Ryan Fitzpatrick is the guy there) might be ideal candidates because they have a Quarterback of the Present (QBOTP) and would be interested in a Quarterback of the Future (QBOTF). The Browns have no urgent need for QBOTF but might stash an extra Franchise QB on their roster simply as an investment.

A similar situation came up last season when Jordan Love inexplicably slid, and the Packers decided they had to have him, and actually traded up to nab him — at 26th overall in the 2020 draft. This was a bit tacky since their quarterback position is occupied by one Aaron Rodgers, who happens to be the universe’s best quarterback.

The takeaway is that if there is a franchise quarterback out there, you have to take him. There are going to be major complaints from all sides accusing the team of trying to kill the first-string quarterback, but that is not necessarily so. They have to draft the player that offers the greatest potential return on investment.

An objection may be raised on the basis that the team should be interested only in one all-or-nothing season. This argument was debated in Green Bay last season ad nauseam.

However, there will always be a next year and a team cannot willfully ignore its future completely. Ask the Houston Texans fan base about that. They decided to trade away their first and second-round pick this season, plus overcommit the salary cap to such an extent that they had to release J.J. Watt outright.

All this for their best effort to make a Super Bowl run in 2020 that just did not quite work out, but they did their best, knowing that 2021 would be toast. Does anyone believe that the front office of the Texans made the right decisions? If not, neither should the Dawg Pound be okay with willfully trashing the 2022 and 2023 seasons with the excuse that the team was trying its best to have a good 2021 season. No, no, no, the team can not thumb its nose at a developmental quarterback if it really, truly believes that one is available at 26th overall.

Besides, at some point, even in the same draft, the team can trade that developmental quarterback. It’s entirely possible that a team like Tampa Bay might be counting on the Browns to cooperate by not drafting a quarterback in the first round, because they are interested in a developmental quarterback, figuring that Tom Brady will be rock solid for another year or two, but eventually, they will need another quarterback.

A player who might be available in the late first round, who might fit the Browns’ needs, could be someone like Zaven Collins, the freakishly talented linebacker out of Tulsa. Some analysts think he might survive till 32nd overall. But if Browns scouts truly believe in the potential of Lance, even a stud like Zaven Collins would not be worth Trey Lance even up. That’s why Tesla stock sells for over $600 per share while Chrysler is under $20, even though Chrysler is making more cars right now.

Tell you what, Tampa. If Zaven Collins somehow lasts to 32nd overall, trade him to the Browns plus next year’s second-round pick, and Trey Lance is yours. Then there can be life after Brady. But the Browns cannot value a linebacker over a franchise quarterback outright. It doesn’t make sense.

If a trade partner is not found, Lance is going to have to sit on the Browns’ bench as the third-string quarterback in 2021 because he cannot possibly displace Case Keenum as the backup this season. In 2022 he might have a shot at becoming the backup, but only if he develops as expected.

Hopefully, the Browns never need a backup, but what happens if, God forbid, Baker Mayfield is unavailable for an extended period of time? The Browns may need Trey Lance someday. There will never come a time when the team can be disinterested in future star quarterbacks. Drafting him, though not a priority, would not be a waste even though he is most definitely not The Man in 2021.

If it came down to Trey Lance, the kid with the brightest overall future, and Zaven Collins, the player who can help the Browns the most in 2021, Plan A would be to trade back and let someone else draft Lance, so that the Browns could have their linebacker and a future draft pick. But if fair value is not obtained, Lance would be a Cleveland Brown. He would still be available in a trade for  Zaven Collins or a comparable player and a future draft pick, either during the draft or shortly afterward. That is Plan B.

If a trade could not be reached, Lance would be the third-string quarterback this season (Plan C), with a shot at earning the backup job next year.

There would be no plan to draft a quarterback with the intention of decommissioning Baker Mayfield and simply switching horses. That is Plan F. Baker Mayfield is the starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns.

Lance will have a chance to force his way into a starting position in a few years, whether for the Browns or another NFL team, but that is not the reason for drafting him. The reason for drafting him would be a quirk in the upside-down draft process this season that might allow a true talent to slide to the late first round.

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This analyst believes that if the scouting department truly believes that a real, true-to-life, honest-to-goodness franchise quarterback is available, the team has to draft him, even if the team does not need a new starting quarterback.