The 2018 Cleveland Browns had the chance to corner the market on quarterbacks but didn’t do it.
The Cleveland Browns and 30 other teams let quarterback Josh Rosen clear waivers from the San Francisco 49ers. Nobody wanted to pay his $880,000 salary. But back in 2018, the quarterback with the Herculean arm was thought by many observers to be the most NFL-ready and complete quarterback of the NFL draft.
There were thought to be four truly exceptional NFL prospects. This author had them ranked thusly; Josh Allen of the University of Wyoming Cowboys, Josh Rosen from the UCLA Bruins, Baker Mayfield of the Oklahoma University Sooners, and Sam Darnold of University of Southern California Trojans.
Each of these kids threw the ball with great precision. Allen had set an unofficial all-time record for Combine ball velocity with 62 mph. Baker Mayfield was tied for second all-time at 60 mph (Logan Thomas also did it). Rosen was right behind at 59 mph. The quarterback class of 2018 appeared to be really special.
What if the Browns had hired yours truly as a consultant for the NFL draft in 2018? I’d have told John Dorsey to draft Josh Allen first overall, but he probably would not have listened. “Nah, Baker’s got the moxie we need for the Browns. Allen’s going to be a good one, but he is a few years away. Baker is ready right away.” Okay, Mr. Dorsey. The Browns select Baker Mayfield number one overall. He’s a great choice, no quarrel.
The Giants are up next and choose Saquon Barkley. Of course, it is stupid to take a running back so early, but they did it anyway. Okay, Giants.
Next up are the Jets, who trade up and take the weakest of the Big Four, Sam Darnold. His looping delivery means that the defenses will have a split second to see where the ball is going, but okay he is going to be accurate enough to play in the NFL. Broadcaster Colin Cowherd is ecstatic. “Congratulations to the New York Jets! They got their dude!” he crows.
Now the Browns are up at fourth overall. Gregg Williams wants Denzel Ward for the defense, but the consultant has other ideas.
“Let’s draft Josh Rosen. He is the most complete quarterback, not controversial like Allen, who comes from a small school and had lousy numbers. We can draft him and immediately trade him.”
The draft and trade method is rarely used, but it has worked in the past. In 2004, Eli Manning made it be known that he absolutely would not play for the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers drafted him anyway, and the fan base had an absolute fit for 45 minutes. Stupid Chargers!
But then they traded him to the Giants for their 2004 pick and selected the guy they really wanted all along, Philip Rivers AND they received a 2005 first-round pick from the Giants. They also received a throw-in fifth-round pick. But the big part of the deal was the extra first-round pick of course.
Who knows what would have happened if the Browns would have listened to this analytics-based advice? There is no way to know for certain. But this is how it plays out in this fan’s overactive imagination…
Dorsey turns in the draft card with Josh Rosen’s name on it instead of Ward. Gregg Williams has to be physically restrained from slugging his GM, and the boos from Browns fans at the draft site at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas are deafening. “What are we doing with two quarterbacks?”
The answer is, we’re going to trade the second one. Dorsey lets it be known that he will trade Rosen for Denzel Ward and another first-round draft pick. He might not get that, but that is the asking price.
By drafting Rosen at fourth overall, the Browns screw up the quarterback calculus. Suddenly the supply of super prospect quarterbacks is cut by 75% (Mayfield, Darnold, and Rosen are already selected).
The Buffalo Bills immediately lose their backup option. After passing on Patrick Mahomes the previous year, they are in danger of being shut out completely if they cannot either draft Allen or trade with the Browns for Rosen. Their druthers are to obtain Allen, however, so they trade two first-round draft picks (they had 12th and 22nd overall that season) to Denver to move up for Allen at fifth overall.
Indianapolis is determined to protect Andrew Luck, so they stay with their plan and draft guard Quenten Nelson, who is the best player in the draft.
That gets us to seventh overall owned by Tampa. In the real world, Buffalo traded up for this pick to draft Allen rather than number five. They, however, want the opportunity to draft Bradley Chubb, the consensus best player in the draft.
At eight is the Chicago Bears, totally committed to quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, or so they thought at the time. They are willing to move back for Arizona at 15, or John Elway wants to move up also. Remember, Elway has signed Case Keenum as his quarterback of the present but is very interested in a quarterback of the future at the right price, and he is holding the 12th overall pick.
Arizona and Chicago have to outbid each other for the eighth overall pick, and then pry loose Rosen from John Dorsey and the Browns.
Elway can offer Chicago the 12th overall pick and a number three, and Arizona is offering 15th overall and a second-round pick. Both teams are willing to draft Denzel Ward at eighth overall, and give Cleveland a first-round pick the next year.
Chicago takes Elway’s offer, which is worth a little more. Elway offers Ward and a 2019 first-round pick to Cleveland but asks Dorsey to throw in a third-round pick to replace the one he had to trade to Chicago, and Dorsey finally caves. Done deal.
The papers scream that Elway ripped off the Browns, getting the fourth overall pick by using the 12th overall draft pick. Elway got to keep 22nd overall from the Bills trade, remember, so he got his quarterback and an extra first-round pick in 2018. The Denver Broncos are going to be absolutely stacked at quarterback with Case Keenum and Josh Rosen as the quarterback of the future. The press believes that Rosen was better than Baker Mayfield (first overall pick) and Sam Darnold (second quarterback drafted). The Broncos actually got the best quarterback in a historically great quarterback draft! The press raves and raves about Elway’s genius drafting.
Cleveland is getting a defensive back in Denzel Ward, who the press believes was probably taken just because he was from Ohio State and the Browns wanted to placate the local fan base. They should have taken Bradley Chubb.
Dorsey explains that they really thought that Denzel Ward was worthy of the fourth overall pick, and they got Ward plus a first-round pick for next season. However, no one in the press believes that story. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is happy to have Ward, however, although he vows that he needs to clean up his “stupid tackling technique.”
All in all, the press agrees it appears to be another botched Browns deal. The Browns got stuck with undraftable Baker Mayfield instead of keeping the far superior Josh Rosen, the most complete quarterback in the draft. They did get a very nice cornerback and a future number one draft pick, but they blew it considering they started out with the first and fourth overall picks.
The press rips the Browns to shreds until Mayfield takes over and leads the team to 7-8-1 and Ward goes to the Pro Bowl.
As for the Broncos, Case Keenum has a terrible year, so Rosen comes in for him and is far worse. The Broncos go 4-12 and the Browns have the fourth overall pick in the 2019 draft from Denver.