Enigmatic Josh Rosen seeking Browns backup QB job

Aug 29, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Josh Rosen (16) passes against the Cleveland Browns during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports
Aug 29, 2021; Atlanta, Georgia, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Josh Rosen (16) passes against the Cleveland Browns during the second half at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports /

Talented but underachieving Josh Rosen, thus far a total bust from the heralded 2018 quarterback draft class, is bidding to become a backup quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. 

Josh Rosen, having arguably been once considered the safest bet for stardom among the 2018 quarterback class, has been the most conspicuous underachiever, having failed to impress at Arizona, Miami, Tampa Bay, San Francisco, and Atlanta — but now gets a shot with the Cleveland Browns.

If you were to list 20 of the strongest arms in NFL history up to that point, four of them might have been from the QB class of 2018: Josh Allen, Baker Mayfield, Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold.

In 2018, the national media labeled Allen as inaccurate based on his stats, though truthfully nobody watches Wyoming Cowboys football, and if they had they would have realized that the Cowboys had atrocious receivers that year.

But they were correct that Darnold had a big looping delivery that made ball security an issue. They were also right that Mayfield’s over-aggressiveness might cause problems down the line. Lamar Jackson was a unique talent, but whoever drafted him would have to structure their offense around him, rather than force-fit him into a conventional drop-back passing offense, and not every team would be willing to do that.

However, Rosen seemed to have at all. He had starred for three years in a Power Five Conference (sort of) at UCLA, unlike Allen, who was a Wyoming Cowboy. At 6-foot-4, he didn’t have the height issue that scared some evaluators about Mayfield. Nor did he have the hitch in his delivery like Darnold.

We even have video of Rosen chucking a football 65 yards on the fly and hitting his receiver in the hands. He threw the same insane bombs that Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Favre had on their resume, and matched by Allen and Mayfield in the Class of 2018. What’s there not to like?

So off he went 10th overall to the Arizona Cardinals, where he proceeded to have a disastrous season, with only 11 TDs versus 14 INTs, a 55.2 completion percentage, only 5.8 yards per attempt, a passer rating of 66.7 and a QBR of only 24.1.

He was 29th overall in the NFL in terms of yardage with 2,278. Directly behind him was a guy named Nick Mullens, the Browns practice squad quarterback last season with one fewer yard, 2,277 to 2,278.

However, Mullens started eight games and Rosen started 13. In other words it took Rosen five games to gain one more yard than Nick Mullens. Come to think of it, if Mullens could average 285 passing yards per game, it’s not clear why he wouldn’t be allowed to compete for a third-string job for the Browns, having gained a year of experience with the team. Let’s come back to that issue a little later.

In any case, Rosen was so terrible that Arizona decided to cash in their chips. Off he went to the Miami Dolphins and the Cards drafted little Kyler Murray. Despite his lack of height (and supposedly that means he cannot see over the big defensive linemen to find the wide receivers downfield, as you will recall from the incessant complaining about Baker Mayfield), Murray turned out to be a star for Arizona, while Rosen stunk up the joint in Miami.

He then spent some time on the practice squad for Tampa Bay watching Tom Brady do things the right way, and then was brought up to the active roster for San Francisco, but didn’t play. The next season he had some disastrous snaps with the Atlanta Falcons, putting up 11 balls and completing two to his teammates and two to players wearing the wrong-colored jerseys.

Last week, he found himself trying out for Cleveland, who suddenly seemed to have become aware that first string quarterback Deshaun Watson might miss some time this season (Really?). The Browns chose Rosen over veteran knockabout A.J. McCarron McCarron. Though on IR last year, the consensus view on McCarron seems to be that he is a competent NFL quarterback.

Perhaps you shouldn’t expect him to win league MVP, but you could probably suit him up and have him hand the ball off to Nick Chubb and run play action for a game or two.

But Rosen has been the greatest bust this side of Johnny Manziel. Admittedly, this fan had him second overall on his draft list, right behind Josh Allen.

What did we miss? Well, we went back and looked at some of his off the field stuff. There was nothing major to report, like Mayfield’s shameful arrest. However, Rosen did come across as a cocky, rich kid. He installed a hot tub in his dorm room at UCLA and bragged about it on social media. The counter-argument is that Joe Namath did flamboyant things also when he had the chance.

In 2016, after his school signed a massive deal with Nike, he used the occasion to rip the NCAA and amateurism system. Frankly, he raised some great points. Probably had ample time to philosophize about such things sitting in his hot tub with beautiful young women to help him reflect.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to rip the NCAA on a continuing basis. That’s my job. But Rosen was hoping to make millions of dollars from the system and should have been a little more circumspect in his observations. Kid, do you want to be a controversial sportswriter or a sports star? Those two professions don’t always mix.

More concerning is that he exhibited very poor judgment by wearing a ballcap with an inscription that read F*** Trump, then a candidate for the Presidency, during the 2016 election. The problem is that the quarterback of a football team has to find a way to throw passes to both Democrats and Republicans, and it’s probably a good idea to be well liked enough so that both liberal and conservative offensive linemen want to block for the guy also.

This is basically the same problem that Colin Kaepernick had. It’s great that he wants to be a political activist. But quarterbacks need to find ways to support causes without causing half their teammates to be angry with them.

He was also a specialist in saying stupid, arrogant things to the press. The worst was in stating his goals. Every quarterback can probably say that the goal is always to win as many games as possible for the team, but the worst possible way to say it goes something like this:

"“I want to be great — in everything I do. So I want to be the winningest QB in NFL history. I want to win the most games and most championships. I’d say six titles, but if Tom Brady gets six, I’ll say seven.” — Rosen, quoted by Sam Alipour in ESPN, The Magazine"

This fan has never met Rosen, so who knows? Maybe the image is all wrong, a concoction of the evil sports media. But he’s the guy who bought the hot tub and wore the ball cap and said the stupid things and posted it all on social media.

But so what if he says and does stupid things? Why can’t he have an unusual personality and still be a star on the field? That very question was asked by the Manziel brothers, Johnny and Billy. Somehow it just doesn’t seem to work out that way. It may not be logical or fair, but it does seem to be true. Personality matters, and it matters a lot.

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But let’s ask whether Rosen was really as horrible for Arizona as legend has it. On that issue, the record is more ambiguous. Rosen didn’t begin the season as the starter. Instead, Sam Bradford was the starter for the first three games.

That made sense. Let the veteran act as the bridge and maybe even keep the team in contention a little bit and let the rookie learn from the old pro, right? Bradford was an established professional, whose main problem was staying healthy.

However, Bradford didn’t stay on script. He went 0-3 as a starter and threw for only 400 yards in three games, an average of 133 yards per game, with two TDs versus 4 INTs. His passer rating was 62.5, a career low.

Rosen started the next 13 games and went 3-10, averaging only 175 yards per game. He had 11 TDs (0.85 TDs/game) and 14 INTs (1.08 INTs/game). His passer rating was 66.7, which was terrible, but higher than Bradford’s. So Rosen was terrible, but so was Bradford. So if we were looking to make excuses for Rosen, there might be other reasons for Arizona’s terrible offense that season besides the quarterback.

However, the following season, when Murray and the Air Raid offense came along there was a marked improvement. Murray tossed 20 TDs versus 12 INTs and 232 yards/game. His passer rating was 87.4 as a rookie and QBR was 57.7. Meanwhile, Rosen had three starts for Miami, but was even worse, with one TD and five INTs.

One mitigating factor, however, is that in 16 starts, Rosen has been sacked 61 times, an average of 3.8 sacks per game. As a rule of thumb, a quarterback’s evaluation shouldn’t be considered reliable if it is made while he is getting sacked three times a game.

Most quarterbacks perform poorly under a blistering pass rush, particularly young quarterbacks. It’s possible he might be a better quarterback throwing from a vertical stance rather than a horizontal one. He should get a chance in Cleveland, which has a much stronger offensive line than he has ever worked from in his pro career before.

Rosen isn’t a threat to displace Watson for first string or Jacoby Brisset for second string. He’s competing with Joshua Dobbs for the third-string job. Dobbs has spent his career behind Roethlisberger and Mason Rudolph in Pittsburgh. The only reason Dobbs was cut was that Pittsburgh had a chance to acquire the late Dwayne Haskins, not because they were dissatisfied with Dobbs.

Dobbs lacks game live game experience but is very highly regarded around the NFL for his football IQ and quarterbacking skills. Dobbs was a stud for the University of Tennessee Volunteers which happens to be the Alma Mater of the Haslam family, which probably doesn’t hurt him.

The reason why the Browns picked up a guy like Rosen is simply because of the upside. They usually go into camp with four or five arms, so no great significance should be read into the fact that they signed Rosen. They obviously like Watson and Brissett, and there is increased urgency at third string because of the likely Watson suspension.

Dobbs is the guy they want for the job. They will cut Rosen unless he absolutely blows them away with his football IQ and maturity.

An interesting question is whether they try to stash a third-string quarterback on the practice squad (where he would be susceptible to being signed away by any of the other 31 other teams), or actually protect him on the 53-player active roster. Last season, they were able to keep Mullens all the way into the last game of the season.

He had a few temporary call-ups under a special rule that allows practice squad players to be added to the game-day roster without actually being included on the regular roster but was not on the 53-player roster till the end of the season when Mayfield went on IR to have his left shoulder surgically repaired.

The Browns were lucky Mullens wasn’t taken by another team at some point in the season.

This season, if Watson starts the season on suspension, the Browns will have Brissett plus the third-string quarterback on the active roster, and will probably have a fourth-string quarterback on the practice squad.

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