In the grand scheme of things, Cody Kessler and DeShone Kizer will be nothing but blips on the radar when looking at the quarterback history of the Cleveland Browns. Yet, even though each player was dealt to a new team this offseason, you could argue both have a significant presence in Cleveland’s current QB room.
In fact, you could argue these two best explain why nobody should expect rookie Baker Mayfield to start in Week 1, no matter how much progress he makes in the coming weeks. The pain coach Hue Jackson endured when working with the previously mentioned rookie QBs all but ensures there’s zero chance Mayfield nabs the starting job before the season opens.
To be clear, Jackson has made no bones about the fact he intends to start veteran Tyrod Taylor in Week 1. He’s labeled the former Buffalo Bills QB as his starter since the Browns traded for him in March. From everything we’ve been told, there’s little Mayfield can do to change this.
Still, we’ve seen more than a few recent examples of coaches starting their rookie quarterback just weeks after claiming such a scenario wouldn’t happen. To many fans and media pundits, this alone gave Mayfield a slight chance to supplant Taylor during the preseason.
I doubt this happens. I say this despite the glowing reviews Mayfield has received to this point in training camp. I’ll say this no matter how well he looks through the preseason.
The simple fact is Jackson’s scars from the past two years are likely so significant that his choice to stick with Taylor is less about choosing the best quarterback and instead a refusal to go down the same road once again.
Sure, you could argue the performances of Kessler (a third-round pick) and Kizer (a second-round selection) shouldn’t have an impact on Mayfield, the first player taken in this year’s draft. At the same time, the experience Jackson had with both has undoubtedly left him extremely hesitant to bet on another rookie early in the season.
Kizer “won” the right to open last season after looking better than Kessler and Brock Osweiler in training camp, hardly something to brag about. He proceeded to spend the entire season getting chewed up and spit out on a weekly basis. It was clear Jackson didn’t trust Kizer, but his lack of a better option forced him to start the rookie for 15 miserable games.
Kessler, while working under different circumstances, was never Jackson’s pick to begin with. The former USC Trojan was severely over-drafted by the previous front office in 2016, taken in the third round despite being labeled by many as “serviceable backup at best.” Just like Kizer, he was thrust onto the field to soon. And, just like Kizer, he left Cleveland without a single win to his name.
The experience Jackson has had working with rookie quarterbacks has been, to be polite, unpleasant. It’s also likely a driving factor behind his refusal to cede any ground when insisting Taylor will start over Mayfield come the season opener.
To be fair, I’m not saying Mayfield should start Week 1. I’m just explaining why we should safely assume he won’t no matter how much progress he makes in the coming weeks.
It won’t be because Taylor is a significantly better option. It won’t be because Jackson is too prideful to reverse course on his constant insistence in going with the veteran in Week 1.
It’ll be because he doesn’t want to go through the same experience for the third year in a row. It’ll be because the stress which came from relying on a rookie quarterback to win games for the past two years was so intense he likely wants to avoid dealing with it again for as long as possible.
Knowing this, and realizing he finally has a capable veteran to work with in Taylor during a season where he’ll likely be coaching for his job, you can understand why he’s been so adamant in his refusals to even hint Mayfield has a shot to win the job in camp.
As a result, it’s time we start making peace with the fact Jackson means it when he tells us Taylor is his starter no matter what.