A few weeks ago, when the hype for quarterback Sam Darnold started heating up, I explained why the possibility of the Cleveland Browns taking him first overall worried me. In the days since, I can happily say the team has unexpectedly made great strides towards alleviating this anxiety.
Some of my concerns remain. I still think Darnold could’ve used another year at USC, especially considering the slight drop-off he experienced last season.
Additionally, Hue Jackson remains a factor. He’s now officially laid waste to the first two rookie quarterbacks he was handed in Cleveland, as both Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer were dealt this offseason. Neither likely has much confidence to speak of after their experience with the supposed “quarterback whisperer.”
Still, my main worry was Darnold being too raw for the situation he’d be entering with the Browns. He’s clearly not ready to start right away, and joining a Cleveland team with no semblance of a stand-in QB only increased the chances of his getting thrown into the fire too early.
It’s safe to say the work GM John Dorsey has done over the past month has drastically improved the setup Darnold would be walking into. His most notable move was trading for former Buffalo Bills QB Tyrod Taylor.
Now, instead of relying on an emotionally shattered Kizer to hold down the fort until Darnold is ready, Cleveland has a proven vet it can confidently start on Week 1. Taylor certainly won’t blow anyone away, as he’s been above-average at best throughout his career. At the same time, the Browns now have someone who’s won plenty of games and can be trusted to avoid back-breaking mistakes. In already tabbing him as the starter, Cleveland is eliminating the potential of Darnold getting a chance to fight for the job right away.
Taylor’s contract situation makes the entire setup even better.
In trading for a player on the final year of his deal, the Browns avoided investing on a free agent. Such a scenario could’ve involved giving too many years to a vet trying to prove himself. On the flip side, they certainly weren’t going to find a solid free agent who’d also accept a cheap contract to stand in the way for one season.
Thanks to Dorsey’s deal, Cleveland has a quarterback it can trust in 2018, but who may be out of the picture should Darnold be ready the following year.
Of course, Taylor’s contract also creates a bit of a pickle for the Browns. Knowing he’s on the final year of his deal, he likely won’t be too keen on tutoring the player being groomed to take his job.
Enter Drew Stanton.
Cleveland signed the former Arizona Cardinal this week, a move which didn’t cause too much of a stir, but was also never supposed to. All it was meant to do was further ensure Darnold (or whoever the Browns draft) is in a position to succeed.
In the Stanton, the Browns have someone who can take the field in case Taylor gets hurt, further limiting the chances of having to toss a rookie quarterback on the field before he’s ready. The team can now safely tuck Darnold away at the bottom of the depth chart, doing whatever it can to ensure he has the necessary time to develop.
Stanton can also provide the mentoring which Taylor might not be as on board with. Having Darnold share the game-day sideline with an eleven year veteran who knows how to win in the NFL will go a long way towards helping him learn as much as possible.
Kizer never had this. During last year’s miserable rookie campaign, he had two QBs in Kessler and Kevin Hogan who couldn’t tell him the first thing about winning in the pros. While this wasn’t the sole reason Kizer struggled, it certainly didn’t help the cause.
By acquiring Taylor and Stanton, it’s clear Dorsey realized the flaws in last year’s strategy and prioritized creating a better setup for someone like Darnold. He found a quarterback he can confidently label as his starter months before training camp even starts, while also bringing in another vet who can ensure his rookie has a sounding board at all times.
It’s because of this the idea of taking a green prospect like Darnold has become much more palatable. No longer is there serious concern about a rookie QB being doomed to immediately fail based solely on how the team he’s joining is assembled.
Now all the Browns have to do is figure out their glaring problem at head coach, and then I’ll be completely comfortable with drafting Darnold.